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In the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, encapsulation refers to a range of dosage forms—techniques used to enclose medicines—in a relatively stable shell known as a capsule , allowing them to, for example, be taken orally or be used as suppositories. The two main types of capsules are:
- Hard-shelled capsules, which are typically made using gelatin and contain dry, powdered ingredients or miniature pellets made by e.g. processes of extrusion or spheronisation. These are made in two halves: a lower-diameter "body" that is filled and then sealed using a higher-diameter "cap".
- Soft-shelled capsules, primarily used for oils and for active ingredients that are dissolved or suspended in oil.
Both of these classes of capsules are made from aqueous solutions of gelling agents, such as animal protein (mainly gelatin) or plant polysaccharides or their derivatives (such as carrageenans and modified forms of starch and cellulose). Other ingredients can be added to the gelling agent solution including plasticizers such as glycerin or sorbitol to decrease the capsule's hardness, coloring agents, preservatives, disintegrants, lubricants and surface treatment.
Since their inception, capsules have been viewed by consumers as the most efficient method of taking medication. For this reason, producers of drugs such as OTC analgesics wanting to emphasize the strength of their product developed the "caplet" or "capsule-shaped tablet" in order to tie this positive association to more efficiently-produced tablet pills. After the 1982 Tylenol tampering murders, capsules experienced a minor fall in popularity as tablets were seen as more resistant to tampering.