A perfume to weather flu season

Eucalyptus, incense, menthol and pine – Lizzie Ostrom prescribes the scents to see you through winter

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By Lizzie Ostrom on

A couple of weeks ago, struck down with my first cold of the season, I popped to the chemist to buy my favourite of all pharmacy products: Karvol. I’m sure many of you remember these little capsules which break open to ooze a few drops of pine-scented serum on to a tissue. Allegedly, they decongest like Vicks or Olbas Oil but, really, it’s all about the fragrant camphorous rush.

So addicted as children were my sister and I that, when our gran babysat one night and refused to give my sis a Karvol capsule (fretting as to whether it was suitable for a poorly six-year-old), we revolted and launched a campaign as fervent as Heathrow airport’s when lobbying for their new runway. Eventually, she relented. Our eyes rolled back in their sockets as we slouched on to our pillows, gripping the Karvol-scented handkerchiefs to our nostrils.

So, it was a real shocker when I found out that Karvol has been discontinued; it wouldn’t surprise if all that pine turned out to be a bit too irritating and Granny was right after all. Unless I trawl eBay for old half-used packets from people's medicine cupboards, I must do without. Trivial as it is, the thought of never inhaling Karvol again makes me feel quite sombre. 

As I write, I’m wearing a perfume that, while not akin to Karvol, is one of the only scents I want as much as a pack of balsam tissues when under the weather (another is Noir Epices from Frederic Malle, £34 for 10ml, which transports spices through your airways as a laser penetrates thick fog). Assuming you’re not so bunged up that smelling anything is pointless. It is Ormonde Woman from Ormonde Jayne. You have to be careful in perfume not to overdo the evergreen-forest aspects in a fragrance or it can be like sucking Strepsils, where you get that lovely second of honey and lemon before the eucalyptus comes interfering and you wish you’d bought normal sweets. This fragrance is extremely clever, as it balances a rush of green grass and pine with sweet resinous woods, so doesn’t ever smell like you’ve upturned a tub of VapoRub all over. For anyone who loves a new launch, this unfurling smoky green style has been augmented further this autumn with the release of Tom Ford’s Vert d’Encens from the 1970s-inspired Les Extraits Vert range.

If subtlety is not what’s called for, then may I recommend the amazing Alt-Innsbruck barbershop cologne, which, since 1953, has hailed from Austria’s Tirol, land of the lederhosen. This is one you can’t stop smelling compulsively. It combines warm, hay-like tobacco leaf with menthol. I would say don’t pour this on your freshly shaved face, as instructed; instead, put it on tissues, like Karvol, and enjoy bringing down your hot sweats with imaginings of shivering, snowy mountain tops. If you want to go really literal and smell like Tiger Balm, the gold standard is Heeley perfume’s Espirit du Tiger, but you could also wear the balm itself (patch test!). Incidentally, an associate told me he used to wear limoncello and other novelty digestifs as skin perfume when he had no money, and reported great success.

My final tip is for Body Kouros, a men’s fragrance on which women too should pounce. This is nothing like the leonine 1980s yuppie Kouros, but is a hot/cold dance between eucalyptus and incense. It stays close to the skin and has a liquoricey thickness which is very reassuring. I don’t believe any of these scents would disinfect you, unless you use them as rubbing alcohol, but they will prop you up, revive and not get in the way as your usual fragrance might do, as if summoning you to go out to the pub when you feel dreadful. And the real acid test to know if you’ve got a cold or flu – if it’s the latter, how you smell will be the last thing on your mind. 



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