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Perfume capsules are the latest in scent therapy, but do they work?

A range of newly introduced perfumes promise long-lasting fragrance and therapeutic benefits, all in a capsule. Lounge puts it to the test

Gelatin-based perfume capsules are convenient, but do they pass the smell test?
Gelatin-based perfume capsules are convenient, but do they pass the smell test?

The first time I encountered scent in a capsule was at an exhibit at the Musee de La Parfumerie in Grasse, the perfume capital of the world, off the Southern coast of France. The unique fragrance concept by Australian sci-fi artist Lucy McRae distilled a formulation made of consumable extracts that could be simply swallowed. The perfume would then emanate from your skin (with your sweat) without physical application. I got a whiff of this heady floral fragrance as a sample but couldn't, well, swallow the pill. But I knew that it was a matter of time before the capsule revolution arrived in the perfume industry.

As a product that doesn't render itself effectively to being distributed in sachets, perfume samplers are still fragile test-tube shaped glass bottles that stand the risk of breaking under impact and leaving you harrowed with fragrance overdose. Colourful, gelatin-based perfume capsules as an alternative do sound intriguing if you can get over the initial shock of not finding your fragrance in a bottle. In the past, UK-based EKO has experimented with the gelatin capsule format for bin fresheners and perfume giant Firmenich too has used the technology for better longevity in their home fragrance range. However, you won't find too many capsule-based fragrances intended for personal use.

Mumbai-based perfumery Freshengo has recently launched six alcohol-free perfume variants in capsule format. The claims are tall: of ease-of-carrying, longevity and therapeutic value. They come in shallow, frosted glass bottles of 43 capsules each and you can choose from Black Musk, Lemon Yellow, Aqua, White Jasmine, Maria Regale and Green Earth. Barring the White Jasmine, which is feminine, all other variants are unisex.

The packaging is dramatic and the colourful box opens out to resemble a blooming flower with the jar placed at the centre. Usage instructions are found on the paper packaging; fairly simple—pull, pinch, snap and use. The snap might take a tussle, but is hardly a deterrent. The instructions are to empty the contents out on your palm and apply, liberally, on your clothes. The formula uses a non-sticky silicone oil base that leaves no stain on your garments. A quick Google search yields results about the ill-effects of silicone oil on skin, so we assume the advisory to use it on your clothes finds basis there.

The turquoise-coloured capsule labeled Aqua, the fragrance that I tried first, didn't leave my palms greasy but left them fragrant for the next two hours, despite the repeated sanitizing and hand-washing protocol of these pandemic days. I wish though that there was an alternative way to use the perfume without the lasting scent on our palms coming in the way of the snack that followed.

The fragrance on clothes lasted even longer. A good five hours later I could still get a whiff of the base notes. Aqua opens with a top note of sharp citrus lime that is fresh and invigorating and grapefruit that helps elevate this spike. The heart is a rich jasmine and cassis (blackcurrant leaf) that gives it body and an easy transition into the base notes of amber and cedarwood. The amber note overpowers the base with its warm but sweet depth and the earthy notes aren't easy to decipher. Overall, it proves to be a well-rounded accord that moves from the top to base without unexpected spikes. However, it is a fragrance that is all too common. Formulated in Japan, and imported by the Mumbai-based company, it reminds one of scents encountered in deodorants and inexpensive perfumes. They are unlikely to stand out when you are sampling different accords and are more run-of-the-mill than luxurious.

The other variant I sampled was Black Musk. Even though it is labeled unisex, it is a fragrance that is quite distinctly masculine. It opens with a powdery top note with identifiable lavender that is almost instantly calming. The heart note, despite the use of floral geranium, remains indistinct but helps lead you from the top to the base notes. The base here is a heavy musk elevated by warm, woody cedarwood and patchouli. The longevity of the fragrance is a similar five to six hours but the top notes here evaporated much sooner and it was the base notes that stayed. One can see Black Musk working as a heavy evening perfume that could last you the entire duration of a late-night party.

The Green Earth variant, which promises to be earthy, has a whiff of rose, lemon and lavender with a heart of anise and thyme. The heavy base notes of sandalwood are what one can identify most distinctly, though. If you like floral and fresh scents, we’d recommend not falling for the promises of the floral notes here. Like the other two, this one is eye-wateringly strong and overwhelming as well.

If you are looking for a fresh, new scent, these may not be your best options. But the convenience, longevity and price point may make them attractive.

I was left wanting more (not perfume). While scents like lavender and jasmine can be calming on their own, they are not so in these formulations. Here's a thought: it might be a good idea to let users experience milder, therapeutic and simpler accords in this format. Now, wouldn’t you like to snap a gelatin pill for it to turn into a ocean of calm on a crazy day?

Available on Amazon and Smytten. A box of 43 capsules costs 999.

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