Scent Gourmand

sinless pleasure for the perfume glutton

Scent Trunk – a perfume subscription service in review

Scent Trunk image

My perfume membership plan with Scent Trunk is ending. I thought I’d take the time to reflect on my experience with this perfume subscription service and let you know what I thought of it.

Overview

“With too many options and so little guidance, fragrance shopping can defeat the best of us. By learning exactly what each customer likes to smell first, we help find fragrance that’s right for you. It’s fragrance shopping without the headache.” (on old website)

Scent Trunk makes effort to send you perfumes that you are supposedly more likely to appreciate through their system. They do a good job! I did not like, however, one aspect of the way it dealt with determining a customer’s scent profile: The first option that greeted me when setting up my account was to specify which I preferred – feminine, masculine or unisex fragrances. Well, gosh darn it, I like all three! I ended up choosing the feminine, if I recall correctly. This could explain why I ended up with a fair amount of florals on my menu. Scent Bird appears to have a superior system, wherein the customer chooses notes and liked perfumes to predict preferences.

Variety

Scent Trunk works with smaller niche, indie, or artisan brands. It was not uncommon for me to get four or more fragrances from the same brand over the period of my subscription, however. This would have been great had I been a huge fan of that particular brand, but in at least two cases, I was sadly not. The company does carry stock of a few brands that I’m very pleased with, however, such as Zoologist and 4160Tuesdays. They mix a few expensive brands in with very affordable ones. I must say I would have been happier to sample only the pricier ones, just to feel I was getting my money’s worth.

This is what I like about Scent Bird (I’ve set up an inactivate account with them), where you can actually line up the exact fragrances you want to try. For me this is typically the expensive ones that I would not otherwise purchase in full-bottle size. Not to say I do not splurge on expensive perfume, but definitely not on a blind buy. Indeed, I believe trying out the fancy stuff before investing is a main attraction of a perfume sample subscription service.

Packaging

The packaging (and website) changed several times over the course of my subscription with Scent Trunk. The picture above shows the original logo and box. The logo became tree-less, smelling strips were no longer included (instead the back of the perfume card serves as a blotter) and information about each of the perfumes included became more minimal.

The older, rectangular scent cards had a pretty colour image on one side and the other included a general description, the perfume’s notes, information on longevity and sillage, the perfume bottle image, and a recommended time of day for wearing.  The perfume bottle picture and suggested time of day for wear were eliminated part-way into my subscription. I imagine that bottles are different depending on concentration and can change when/if the fragrance is reformulated. When and where to wear a fragrance can be a highly personal thing, too. I’m glad they didn’t bother indicating the gender to which the fragrance is targeted, either.

In my more recent shipments, a general description and/or story of the perfume was printed on each square paper card, along with other information such as the country of origin, perfumer, sillage and projection levels, top, middle and base notes, and house of origin.

Of course, if you visit the website now, you’ll see that Scent Trunk has completely revamped. They now appear to resemble services like Scent Bird or Scent Box. I guess this business model is proving superior. It must certainly be a lot simpler and less labor intensive from the supplier end, and the client ends up with a larger volume, but just of one rather than three small vials perfumes each month. It’s worth noting that a company called Bergamot used to offer three samples a month, and that service disappeared from the market rather quickly. Olfactif is still around, though. To be honest, unless you live in the United States where there are more options, there is not much in the way of subscription choices. At least there are still plenty of ways to procure samples if not through subscription.

Cost

Off the top of my head I cannot recall the price for the service because I paid a larger sum in advance to obtain a discount, and it was a while ago now. I do recall thinking that the price was reasonable after comparing with what I would have paid had I simply bought samples from other sites. What is reasonable to one person is not necessarily so to another, however, so it’s best to see for yourself.

A main reason I went with Scent Truck is that the company shipped to Canada (Canada-based?). Shipping was still a pain for me, though, living in Asia. I had my packages delivered to my parents in Ontario, and they waited until accumulating a few months worth of scent before shipping them out to me, boxed removed to reduce size and weight. It might have been possible to arrange for direct international shipping with the company, but I chose to go via Canada in order to save money.  What this meant was that I was slightly robbed of the regular delight of receiving a nicely packaged monthly parcel. Also, when my fragrances did arrive, they got quickly lost in my already not-so-petite pile of samples. Many of them took a while to get to my nose, in the end.

Summary

Overall, if your goal is to get your nose on potentially random styles of perfumes from a few niche houses you may not know very well, if at all, I imagine Olfactif might be the better choice now, seeing as the setup of Scent Trunk has been changed. Olfactif only ships to the US at present, however. In the way Scent Trunk used to be set up, over the course of one year I got exposure to almost 30 new fragrances, some unforgettable, but mostly not – as was expected, to be honest. I would only consider buying full bottles of less than 10% of what I sampled. This was understood going into it, though – I simply wanted the joy of sniffing new olfactory delights.

I share the above to advise you that if you are unwilling to pay for stuff you might not like, a subscription service is probably not for you; go to a store and sniff for free instead! For me, however, I feel comfortable paying for the experience and anticipation of something new (and potentially divine). If I don’t like the perfume enough to wear it, I pass it on or find other uses for it, usually in the form of home scenting. I might also add that in my case, living in rural Japan (double whammy), vendors that stock perfume, let alone a decent range of perfume, are few and far between.

Since Scent Bird claims it will soon be shipping to countries outside the US, I think I may give them a go next. If that doesn’t happen soon, though, or if shipping steeply escalates the cost, perhaps I’ll try out the new (and improved?) Scent Trunk.

Update: I just re-created a new account with Scent Trunk. It appears they no longer ship to Canada, which would indicate that they either are based in the US after all or have moved house… I am indeed interested in receiving their free “scent test kit” (to help create a scent profile).

At least since I last checked, Scent Trunk gives 1.5% of all its sales to the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation. This is appropriate, as aromatherapy has been long used in many cultures as a treatment for depression.

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Fragrance to Help Learning? Makes scents!

A few years ago a wee article I wrote was published in a small institutional journal where I was employed in Tokyo. I wanted to find out if scent had any affect on the cognitive process of learning, so I did a little bit of digging. I had forgotten about this piece until today, while updating my teaching credentials. It’s not available online (unless you count the PDF I uploaded to an academic social network site), and it’s mine to share, so I’ve reproduced it below for your reading (hopefully) pleasure.


I am a self-confessed perfume fanatic. I have so many different bottles of olfactory art works in my home that it takes me a while to count them. Ironically, my passion for perfume developed after I moved to a country that is acknowledged as not having the same level of appreciation for fragrance as do some other nations, such as those of the Middle East. Depending on the scent I am wearing, the situation, and the peculiarities of the individuals who get a whiff of me, my use of perfume has surely been the cause of offense. Despite this, overhearing the whispered comment,「いい匂いですね」[(She) smells good, eh?] has become a common occurrence as I walk around my classrooms. I even get complimented to my face from time to time, which I not only find pleasing, but also interesting, as Japanese is not a language that employs the practice of complimenting as a form of ice-breaking or small talk to the same extent as English.

My interest in fragrance has sent me scavenging the Internet in search for answers to the question of why some people find some smells attractive when others do not, and why this depends so much on the individual, their culture, and even their age. When first introduced to a new scent, the human brain links it to a person, thing, event, or moment. The brain forges a link between the smell and a memory, associating lilies with funerals or chlorine with summer by the pool. The next time that scent is perceived, the link is already there, ready to elicit the emotion or mood associated with the memory the scent evokes. Lilies might be irritating and the smell of chlorine might cause happiness, and yet the reasons are not clear to the person experiencing those feelings.

This is part of the reason why people like and dislike different smells (Dowdey, n.d.). “As humans, we’re not immediately predisposed to respond to a scent and believe that it is good or bad,” says psychology and odor expert Rachel Herz, “When we like or don’t like a smell, that is learned.” This can be seen at the individual level: “Some people may smell a rose and be reminded of their father’s funeral. Others may like the smell of skunk because they have a positive attachment to it from childhood.” Likewise, this is true at the cultural level: In North American, a popular ingredient in candy and gum is wintergreen, but as wintergreen is often used to make medicine in the UK, the odor is less enticing there (Science of Scent, 2005). Finally, preferences are seen also at the generational level: “People born before 1930 love natural smells like grass and horses, while people born later are fond of synthetic smells like Play-Doh and SweeTarts” (Vlahos, 2007).

Marcel Proust was one of the first to write about memory recall as a strong, unconscious reaction to a smell. When someone smells something that triggers a very detailed, visual, and emotional memory of a childhood event they thought they had long forgotten, they are experiencing the “Proust Effect,“ which Chu and Downes assert to be a better cue for memory than the other senses, because odor memory falls off less rapidly than other sensory memory (2000).

But can scent have any impact on learning? Is my いい匂い [good smell] affecting my students’ learning in any way? Right brain function has tremendous potential for things like mass-memory and automatic processing. In most people, however, the pathways between their left and right brains have not been fully constructed, so this potential never fully develops. Science has found that certain scents, used properly, can be highly effective tools in building these neural pathways. Here’s a peek into some of the research on the positive effects of exposure to good smells:

Acute exposure to pleasant fragrances has been shown to facilitate the performance of mathematical tasks (Baron 1990), vigilance tasks (Warm et al. 1991), and word construction and, decoding of written messages (Baron and Bronfen, 1994; Baron and Thomley, 1994). Data gathered from research by Akpinar in 2005 showed that certain essential oil aromas increase students’ attention levels and enhance their memory, generally indicating positive effects on cognitive learning. Although lavender is known for its sedative qualities, Sakamoto (2005) found that “during recess periods after the accumulation of fatigue it can prevent deterioration performance in subsequent work sessions.”

Oliver and Moss (2012) suggest that the pine-like scent of rosemary oil may improve speed and accuracy when performing certain mental tasks. In their research, 20 people were asked to perform subtraction exercises and a task to see how quickly they could process new information before and after being exposed to the scent of rosemary. Participants’ blood levels of rosemary’s main chemical component – of 1, 8-cineole – were measured after the experiment. Results saw a strong correlation between amounts of 1, 8-cineole in the bloodstream and high task scores. Specialists do not fully understand how essences such as rosemary can improve mental ability, but an increasing body of literature shows that positive mood is triggered by scents, and this in turn is linked to an increase in productivity and performance, as well as many other benefits such as stress reduction.

Freeman showed that smell memory is context dependent and can be modified and updated when facing new experiences, implying that our olfactory sense is continuously dynamic (1991). Applying this knowledge to education, Björn Rasch and his colleagues at the University of Lübeck found that smelling the scent of roses while learning a task and then being exposed to the same smell during sleep helps memories to solidify. The section of the brain called the hippocampus is believed to serve as the temporary in-box for memory, where new knowledge or experiences are loaded and stored until they can be filed elsewhere for long-term storage and access.

During sleep, the memories in the hippocampus are reactivated and transferred to the cortex. As one might imagine, a lot of this short-term data never makes it to more permanent storage in the brain, but with scent being used as a trigger, such as in the case above of the roses, a lot more information makes the journey over. Simulating this experience for one’s own benefit is not that straightforward, however. Rasch discovered that timing was crucial for the test to work; the rose smell had to be switched on and off during the night so that the brain would not get used to it, and the smell was only effective during “slow wave” sleep, a sleep stage wherein the hippocampus is most sensitive. Not only this, but the smell trick is useful only for certain types of learning that rely on the hippocampus. It is not useful for remembering the skills needed for playing an instrument or perform a sport, for example (2007).

Certainly, trying to emulate precisely the study above may prove a little tricky, but it will not stop me from sharing the results of Rasch’s research with my students, and getting them to do a little bit of their own experimentation: While studying for a test, students could wear a perfume or essential oil that they really like on their wrist, and smell it periodically while studying. They could then make sure they are wearing that exact scent on test day, or perhaps carry something like a scarf scented with the fragrance, and again smell it periodically during the exam. Perhaps the smell will unlock something in their brain during test time that will allow them to more easily access the information they had previously reviewed?

Based on the work that has been done so far in the field of smell, students may not even have to go that far; simply surrounding themselves with favorable scents while studying may increase their learning efficacy, pushing memories out of short term and into long term storage. There appears to be a lot that teachers could do to help, such as employing room spray or essential oil diffusers where possible.

One would have to take care to use the right type of fragrance, however. Certain types of scent stimulation, like food, can disrupt the accelerated learning functions of our brain. Chemical smells from some air fresheners, perfume, and even some essential oils can also be distracting and could block learning. To avoid the issue of chemical sensitivity, and to be more consistent in using the same odorous materials as studies involving scent have employed, pure essential oil usage would perhaps be the better choice. Aromatherapists tout the use of certain essential oils to provoke specific outcomes.

Research is lacking in the area, but perhaps the popular practice of using scent in this way can no longer be so readily brushed off as pure pseudoscience, despite the fact that a lot off aromatherapy marketing is full of exaggerated and false claims, especially in the area of health. In addition to the scents of rose, rosemary, and lavender mentioned above, peppermint, lemon, jasmine, grapefruit, frankincense, cinnamon, and vetiver are mentioned in aromatherapy literature as having a positive effect on learning and creativity. While more scientific evidence is in the making, why not try these scents in the classroom? At the very least they will produce a more pleasant learning environment for students.

One thing is for sure: As long as students respond as positively as I do to the fumes wafting off my person, I will continue to enjoy wearing my fragrances to class.


References

Akpinar, B. (2005). Do scents affect people’s moods or work performance? Pakistan Journal of Social Sciences, 3(7), 952-960.

Baron, R.A. (1990). Environmentally Induced Positive Affect: Its Impact on Self-Efficacy, Task Performance, Negotiation, and Conflict. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 20(5), 368-384.

Baron, R.A., & Thomley, J. (1994). A whiff of reality: Positive affect as a potential mediator of the effects of pleasant fragrances on task performance and helping. Environment and Behavior, 26(6), 766-784.

Baron, R.A., & Bronfen, M.M. (2006). A Whiff of Reality: Empirical Evidence Concerning the Effects of Pleasant Fragrances on Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 24(13), 1129-1220.

Chu, S., & Downes, J.J. (2000). Odour-evoked Autobiographical Memories: Psychological Investigations of Proustian Phenomena. Chemical Senses, 25(1), 111-116.

Do scents affect people’s moods or work performance?: Scientific American. (2002, November 11). Scientific American. Retrieved August 18, 2013, from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=do-scents-affect-peoples

Dowdey, S. (n.d.). How Smell Works. HowStuffWorks “Science”. Retrieved August 19, 2013, from http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/human-biology/smell3.htm

Freeman, W.J. (1991). The Physiology of Perception. Scientific American, 264(2), 78-85.

Herz, R.S. (2005). Odor-associative Learning and Emotion: Effects on Perception and Behavior. Chemical Senses, 30((supp 1)), i250-i251. Retrieved August 18, 2013, from http://chemse.oxfordjournals.org/content/30/suppl_1/i250.full.pdf+html

Moss, M., & Oliver, L. (2012). Plasma 1,8-cineole correlates with cognitive performance following exposure to rosemary essential oil aroma. Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, 2(3), 103-113 .

Rasch, B., Buchel, C., Gais, S., & Born, J. (2007). Odor Cues During Slow-Wave Sleep Prompt Declarative Memory Consolidation. Science, 315(5817), 1426-1429. Retrieved August 18, 2013, from http://www.sciencemag.org/content/315/5817/1426.full

Sakamoto, R., Minoura, K., Usui, A., Ishizuka, Y., & Kanba, S. (2005). Effectiveness of Aroma on Work Efficiency: Lavender Aroma during Recesses Prevents Deterioration of Work Performance. Chemical Senses, 30(8), 683-691. Retrieved August 19, 2013, from http://chemse.oxfordjournals.org/content/30/8/683.full.pdf+html

Science of Scent. (2005, January 5). Brown University. Retrieved August 18, 2013, from http://brown.edu/Administration/News_Bureau/2004-05/04-069.html

Vlahos, J. (2007, September 9). Scent and Sensibility. The New York Times. Retrieved August 19, 2013, from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/09/realestate/keymagazine/909SCENT-txt.html

Warm, J.S., Dember, W.N., & Parasuraman, R. (1991). Effects of olfactory stimulation on performance and stress in a visual sustained attention task. Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Science, 42, 199-210. Retrieved August 19, 2013, from http://journal.scconline.org/pdf/cc1991/cc042n03/p00199-p00210.pdf

DIY Poopourri – make your own perfumed eau de “toilet”

Poopourri is clever product that has been successful due to its concept and zany marketing. How it works: before you release your burdens into the porcelain god, you spray Poopourri into the bowl, being sure to coat the surface. The oily surface wraps around your baggage as it plops down, and the surface film reunites again to block your waste below, all the while releasing a refreshing bouquet of delightful smells upward toward your nose and the general vicinity. It’s like you were never there! This saves embarrassment if there are people who want to use the room after you have completed your business. If you haven’t yet seen any of the company’s videos, prepare to be entertained:

The ingredients in Poopouri do not include harsh chemicals and are therefore both safe to breathe and flush. The concoction consists of essential oils and natural compounds. Well, then, you should be able to make your own, if that is true. And in fact it is true, and you can do it much more cheaply.

Recipe:

Find a container for your DYI blend, preferably a dark glass container to prevent light from getting at the delicate perfumes. Find out how much it contains (leaving space at the top) and divide that amount by at least 8.

  • 4 parts distilled water – boiling and cooling tap water is fine
  • 2 parts rubbing alcohol (or 2x that amount of vodka)
  • 1 part carrier oil (like avocado oil which has a light scent)
  • 1 part vegetable glycerin (No glycerine? Add another part carrier oil OR try (scent-free) dish washing liquid or liquid hand soap- both acts as a surfactant.)
  • about 20 drops of your blend of essential oils for each ounce of your mixture.
  • (optional) food colouring (however much you want so as to be able to see it – you may want to know if you have the basin covered enough)

The recipe above can be tweaked. I’ve read different versions online, but they all have the same basic ingredients.

A surfactant, by the way (like soap or detergent), is a substance that emulsifies fats and oils, as well as absorbs odors such as sulphur. It keeps the bottle where the product is housed from clogging and the toilet bowl from getting an oily ring-around-the-bowl. It also keeps the plumbing pipes clean.

To use your own DIY poopourri, simply shake and spray (about 4 times, depending on size and power of your spray nozzle) into the bowl – forming a nice, even, greasy coating – before you go.

Now here’s the fun part for perfumistas: Try it with perfume instead of (or in addition to) essential oils! It’s one of many ways to make use of old or unwanted perfume. Using perfume is neither as potent or deodorizing (unless you use a lot), nor is it likely as safe for your sewage system as most essential oils, but it does work. How much you will need depends on the strength of the concentration. Oil-based perfumes are ideal. If you’re using an alcohol-based perfume, you’ll probably need less rubbing alcohol/vodka.

If you are on the go, you can decant your pooourri into small spray bottles, or small glass dropper bottles (recycle those bottles of e-liquid vapers use, recycle eyedropper bottles, or recycle skincare serum bottles). Spray bottle do disperse the product a lot better, but droppers can work as well.

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