One Thousand Scents

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Cleaning Up

I love being really clean. If I could manage and justify it, I'd shower two or three times a day. I don't care that it probably wouldn't be good for me: I'd do it anyway.

As a consequence, I love soaps. Bar soap will do, and I've made enough of it myself: not made from scratch with fat and lye (I wouldn't trust anything I had made with lye), but the melt-and-pour kind that you colour and scent and mould, which may be the saponological equivalent of paint by numbers but at least won't dissolve the user's skin. Last year I brought my mom and stepfather at least six pounds of the stuff on a visit: flowery and fruity things for her, sandalwood and almond for him. Then a few months ago in a two-week fit of creativity I used up all the plain soap that I had and made at least fifteen pounds, sixty-plus four-ounce bars. The first six batches were named after London subway stops such as Green Park, a jade-green eucalyptus-and-citrus blend; Blackfriars, an inky-black* brick confusingly scented with orange and orchid; and of course Mornington Crescent, a shimmery yellow lavender-and-lemongrass wakeup call. After I ran out of likely tube stops I started mixing the colours and inclusions (mostly pearl powder, aka shimmer, which comes in different colours) and then deciding the scents and names based on that: an opaque pale-orange soap of course became the orange-and vanilla Creamsicle, while a flashy green-glittered soap became the minty Live Wire, and an unexpected sandalwood and coconut blend went into dark tan with thick swirls of gold shimmer called Bronze Age.

But liquid soap is what I mostly use, because, being a man and having very short hair, I can use it head to toe. I understand that some people might like to use specialty shampoos, but for most guys, a liquid soap that they can use for everything — shampoo, shower gel, and hand soap — is ideal. It certainly is for me.

A good source for soap is the local discounter, which in Canada is usually going to be Winners, our equivalent of the U.S. chain TJ Maxx. A couple of months ago I bought three bottles of liquid soap that looked promising and were gratifyingly cheap; I couldn't open one of them to smell it, and that should be a lesson to all of us.

Though the package of hand soap and lotion in a metal holder was completely sealed in plastic, I thought something called "Peppermint Kiss" by Simple Pleasures might be nice for Christmas, maybe a nice creamy confectionery vanilla-mint. It isn't; it is without a doubt the worst soap I have ever used, because everything about it is wrong, every single thing. Some liquid soaps are too fluid (Yves Rocher is a particular offender in this regard), but this has the opposite problem: it isn't even a gel, but a jelly, so it doesn't spread out as you rub your hands together, but breaks up into clumps. Adding water doesn't do much to improve the situation, because even if you can get it to behave in water between your hands it hardly lathers at all, however much you use. I tried to convince myself that it couldn't have been manufactured that way, that maybe it got frozen in transit and was damaged as a result, but even if the texture wasn't deliberate, the scent must have been: it was cheap and fruity and disappointingly short on peppermint. The lotion was acceptable in texture but burdened with that same scent. I tried to use the soap for a couple of weeks, but I hated it, so into the garbage it went, a lesson learned.

The other two I bought were from a company called Olivia Care. They smelled nice enough in the store, but of course you can't really tell until you get them onto your skin.

One of the soaps is called Apricot Honey, and it is an astonishingly accurate rendition of apricot. Not so much the honey, but when it smells that precisely of apricot, it doesn't matter. It is a big, potent scent, and it stays on your skin for a while, a good half hour or so. (It's so long-lasting that I use only a tiny amount as a hand soap and never use it as a shampoo/shower gel, because Jim, unfortunately, hates the smell of peaches and apricots.) I got a great big vat of the stuff, not the bottle pictured above but a tall 25-ounce pump bottle with a really nice label, for $6.99; so worth it!

The other is Mandarin, and once again the fidelity is just astounding: fresh out of the bottle, you can smell the whole fruit, pulp, peel, bitter white pith and all. It isn't as durable as the Apricot Honey, but of course it isn't, because citrus smells almost never are, and in truth what remains on your skin after you've washed it off is clearly synthetic. But for one brief moment, it's utter joy, and at $5.99 for an 18.5-ounce bottle, I got my money's worth.

So what have I (and I hope you) learned? That soap is one of life's little pleasures. That you need to haunt the discount chains for soapy bargains. And that you should always, always sniff before you buy.

* Paste or gel food colour, the sort you use for icing, makes excellent soap colour. Wilton black food colouring makes a beautiful black soap and won't stain your skin, but when it's diluted in a whole lot of water in the shower, it isn't black at all: it's actually blue-green, which is startling at first. You may want to warn recipients if you decide to do this.



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