Toilet Preparations, Etc.
( Originally Published 1931 )
IN the great industrial museum in Munich is an exact reproduction of an apothecary shop of the Middle Ages. Here are preserved hippopotamus teeth, mummy dust, snake powder, dried spiders, the secret potions given to lovelorn maidens, and the various panaceas which our ancestors took in all good faith.
American visitors to this relic of a bygone culture are said to get many a self-complacent laugh at the expense of the Middle Ages. When they return home they visit the corner drug store or a neighboring "Beautie Shoppe," where they cheerfully buy mysterious concoctions of their own day and age, which in liquid form can perform one set of assorted miracles and, as a paste, can do the rest. They slather them-selves with mud from various founts of perpetual youth. They devour whole pages of advertisements which conjure up dread diseases, label them with horrendous Latin names and then proceed to annihilate them with some hybrid name registered in the United States Patent Office. And these good Americans pay through the nose for the "hippopotamus teeth," the "mummy dust," and the "love potions" current in this delightful day and generation.
Science is admittedly on the march and is advancing along a broad front. Among its camp followers are the diploma mills which will confer the degree of Doc-tor of Science upon any and all who will fork over fifty dollars, and the so-called "skin foods" which will confer radiant beauty at the rate of from two to ten dollars per ounce. The diploma method of proving P. T. Barnum's famous dictum is the cheaper, as it requires only the initial cost and no upkeep.
Just to reassure any women readers that the writer does not consider himself a Galahad slaying a female dragon or even rescuing beauty in distress, let us start with a discussion of hair. It may be woman's crowning glory but it is man's supreme worry and his expensive folly.
The scalp is just as liable to disease as other parts of the body. The difficulty is that, with some exceptions, even the most virulent diseases of the scalp don't hurt beyond a possible itching. Not feeling pain, the victim is not scared, as he would be if he had acute indigestion or a sore throat. The result is that he tinkers with the trouble himself instead of going to a doctor. He reads glowing advertisements and he listens to his barber. Influenced by one or the other, he buys a hair tonic. These tonics are in general distinctive for their high alcoholic content. Alcohol is a pretty powerful thing even when used externally, and it may be the worst thing for the particular disease which has developed in the scalp. The victim does not know this because he has not obtained a proper diagnosis. He may get disgusted with the first tonic and switch to another. The chances are very good that here again alcohol will be the dominant ingredient. And so he goes on losing hair, temper, and money until he becomes philosophical. There-after he wastes no more money and he loses his temper only when his friends become facetious.
There are between two hundred and two hundred and fifty "hair restorers" on the market. They are composed of water (which may also be obtained from a faucet at home) to which are added alcohol, a harmless bit of essential oil, vegetable or mineral extracts and sometimes a slightly acid irritant. The manufacturing cost varies between one-tenth and one-twentieth of the retail selling price. It was noted with amusement by the store buyer for a certain New York department store that out of some fifteen or twenty salesmen for "hair restorers" who called on him one day, all but two were bald.
Liquid shampoos are in the same class with "hair restorers" if they are advertised to have any properties other than cleansing. The average "shampoo" is nothing but a bit of soap dissolved in distilled water and alcohol with a dash of perfume added to give a nice smell. Reduced to simple terms, this type of shampoo is merely a convenient way of using soap on the hair. One pays for this convenience merely ten times the cost of a satisfactory soap. A coconut oil shampoo is composed of coconut oil soap dissolved in water. Good soap usually contains sufficient coconut oil to produce an adequate lather.
Before leaving this question of hair there are two simple statements which really tell the whole story. The first is that barbers and heads of "beauty parlors" are prohibited by law from diagnosing and treating diseases of the scalp, as that is a matter for duly licensed doctors. The other statement is that your scalp and hair will be healthier if the time wasted in applying concoctions not prescribed by a reputable hair specialist, is spent in dressing your hair with a good brush.
"Skin foods" are like hen's teeth but unfortunately more plentiful. The skin, like other organs of the human body, gets its nourishment from the blood and has absolutely no facilities for absorbing or digesting anything applied externally. Furthermore, the pores in the skin cannot function as they should if they are clogged with foreign matter. If the advertisements of the so-called "skin foods" inspire in any one a special interest in his or her face, the best media for expressing this interest are warm water, soap, a face cloth, cold water, and a towel. Massages and preparations with a camphor or alcoholic content may pro-duce a soothing or stimulative feeling, but this is merely transitory and has no lasting benefit.
It is claimed that only ingredients of the best quality are used in the preparation of "skin foods" and "skin tonics." After examining the analyses of two nationally advertised tonics of this type one can readily understand that it would hardly be worth the effort to search for cheaper substitutes. One of the preparations boasts the following analysis: Water, 82 per cent; alcohol, 13 per cent; boric acid, 1 per cent; balsam tolu, glycerin, and an aromatic oil, 4 per cent.
The actual cost to the manufacturer of these ingredients was less than ten cents a pound, yet a six-ounce bottle of the preparation was marked by the producer to sell at retail for seventy-five cents, or at the rate of two dollars a pound. In this connection it should be observed that in this general type of specialty product the manufacturer fixes wholesale prices which will give him most of the inflated profit.
Another "skin tonic" contained: Water, 92 percent; glycerin, 1/2 of 1 percent. The remainder was mostly alcohol with a little boric acid. This cost about eight cents a pound exclusive of the bottle with its fancy label. A four-ounce bottle was marked to sell for $1.50, or at the rate of $6.00 a pound.
Mud packs are apparently losing their vogue. How-ever, if the shopper feels the urge for one, let her ask the price and consider it in the light of what she will get. The typical mud pack is composed of fuller's earth, a bit of perfume, alcohol, glycerin, and water.
A good face powder can be made for twenty-five cents a pound, yet some brands sell at the rate of two dollars for three ounces. Of course such brands are treated with some coloring matter and with a dash of perfume, and they are sold in charming containers with fancy labels; but the difference between twenty-five cents and ten dollars is a staggering price to pay for the little more one gets.
Much the same is true of lipsticks. A maker who specializes in them turns them out at a cost of nine dollars a gross for the sticks and from ten to twenty-five cents apiece for the cases. The sticks sell for as high as three dollars apiece. This is an expensive stick but other brands sell at proportionate prices.
Cold creams have come into general use but many of their advertised virtues are conspicuous by their absence. Properly used they are cleansing, and they do soften the skin. If a light alcoholic wash follows their application, the effect is decidedly refreshing. But here again prices are ridiculous. Fifty cents is a liberal maximum for the actual cost at the factory of the ingredients of a pound of the best quality of cold cream, and twenty-five cents a pound is a fair estimate for the average cold cream on the market. The manufacturing includes no extraordinarily expensive processes. Yet one of the most popular creams retails at the rate of eight dollars a pound, another at six dollars and still another at two dollars and fifty cents a pound.
Soap has joined the toilet preparations which aspire to be panaceas. Its fundamental purpose is to clean things, when mixed with "elbow grease" and water. In. its simple form it is a composition of fatty acids, water, and alkali so constituted that the free alkali will not exceed one-fourth of one per cent; and that the fatty acids are neither rancid nor easily liable to become so. Soap of this type can be manufactured to be retailed profitably at a price of ten cents for a four ounce cake and that means an honest four ounce cake which is neither blown up with air to look larger nor loaded with water. It will meet efficiently the purpose for which soap has been developed but the manufacturers have come to believe that the market for soap can be dressed up a bit, and we are now what may be loosely described as treated to the toilet soap and to the medicated soap.
Toilet soap comes in all sizes, shapes, colors, and smells. It provides an opportunity to palm off inferior ingredients because the bright hues hide discolorations due to the presence of foreign matter, and the perfume blots out any chance odors of rancidity. These benefits to the manufacturer permit him to charge the consumer considerably higher prices than prevail for really good soap. Of course, many of these toilet or guest soaps are well made of good ingredients, but their shapes, colors, and smells add nothing practical except swollen profits to the makers.
Medicated soaps, on the other hand, forego the aesthetic attack on the public's pocketbook to concentrate on quackery. It is perhaps sufficient to say that dermatologists have been known to use a certain medicated soap, which is widely advertised for its healing and soothing qualities, in order to produce a definite irritation of the skin in treating certain diseases.
Castile soap is technically a soap in which the fatty acid is derived exclusively from olive oil. This is an excellent base for soap. Certain manufacturers there-fore describe as "Castile" soaps which are really made from inferior products. The Federal Trade Commission is trying to stop this misbranding and the issue is before the courts at this present writing. Certain other manufacturers combine Castile with some other word in describing their products (for example, "cocoacastile" is sometimes used). Suffice it to say that the only type of Castile soap in which you should be interested is one wherein olive oil provides all the fatty acid content.
As perfumes are wholly within the luxury group, the determinants of value are quite different from those controlling staple necessities. If a perfume manufacturer can produce a unique odor which the public wants, there is no more reason for him to base his price on his manufacturing costs than for an artist to base the price for his painting on the cost of the canvas and the pigments used in the picture.
At the same time the sale of perfumes and scented beauty preparations has increased to such an enormous volume, that the shopper should have some idea of the many millions of dollars which she and her sister shoppers in the United States are spending annually for nothing at all.
You probably know that certain brands of perfume are priced as high as seventy-five dollars for a two ounce bottle; but do you know that the highest possible production cost for two ounces of any perfume is two dollars?
You probably have read fascinating accounts of the distillation of attar of roses and of natural oil jasmine, and have been amazed at the prices at which these precious fluids are held; but have you been told that one pound of such a concentrate may supply the per-fume for 1,600 ounces of the stuff you buy?
When you think of perfumes you probably think of broad acres of flowers; do you also think of heaps of bituminous coal? Many perfumes are still extracted from flowers; but many others are derived from coal tar, and certain highly prized odors can only be made synthetically.
And so it goes. The father of the modern perfume business turns out to be neither a botanist nor even a chemist, but a former journalist. We begin to suspect that the approved formula for any popular per-fume is a smart address in Paris, a smart advertising agency in New York and a smart sales manager. Prices are deliberately fixed to appeal to the sucker, rather than to the thrift, element in all of us. We like a certain odor and we shall probably continue to buy it, but it is just as well to have in mind that we pay as we smell through the nose.
MEDICINES, PATENT AND OTHERWISE
Closely allied with the sale of toilet preparations is a miscellaneous list of medicines, antiseptics, etc., which are sold without prescription from physicians. Some of these are patented or trade-marked monopolies, others are staple products which never were patented, or on which the patent rights have expired. A feature of this list is that it shows the shopper in an amusing light. The great American public, having read the advertisements in its daily press and national weeklies, feels itself fully competent to select and use without medical advice certain mouth washes, antiseptics, tonics, sedatives, etc., etc. ; but then proceeds to show its incompetence by making price an index to quality.
Take aspirin as an example. For years it was a product distributed under that name and under the monopoly of Bayer. When Bayer's patent ran out, a well-known American firm of manufacturing chemists introduced its own make of aspirin. Bayer's aspirin was then selling for from 79 cents to one dollar a bottle for 100 tablets. The rival product was distributed to the retail trade at a price which permitted one New York store to offer it at 39 cents per 100 tablets. Did it sell? No. The store was forced to increase the retail price to 49 cents before the public would have any faith in the new product.
As further illustration consider the so-called anti-septic mouth washes. I have in mind two which are extensively advertised. One of them was found in a laboratory test to be a most successful breeder of germs at certain temperatures. The other has been carefully analyzed and found to be inferior to a third mouth-wash which has not been widely advertised. This third formula can be profitably retailed at one half the current price for No. 2, but the manufacturers of No. 3 had to increase the retail price before they could find a market for the product. Here again the price had to be raised to approximately fifty cents a bottle before the public would have confidence in it.
In other words the great American public has apparently set a price "deadline" at the half-dollar mark as its test of this type of product. Either way one looks at it, this is an expensive procedure; for fake preparations can flourish and good ones must either overcharge or go out of business.
The intelligent way out of this predicament for the individual shopper is to turn to the family doctor. He can get from the American Medical Association an analysis of, and report on, any preparation of a medicinal nature produced for the retail market. The important feature of this procedure is that the shopper can thus get not only a careful analysis but also an understandable interpretation of the technical report.
In selecting what are known as bristle goods hair, tooth, and nail brushes the shopper should consider first the shape of the article with reference to its utility. In a hair brush this is not so important but in a toothbrush it is the paramount consideration.
Toothbrushes : Visualize the shape of the two rows of teeth in your own head. Seen from the outside they are convex. Properly to reach all the interstices between the teeth as well as their surfaces, the cleaning tool or brush should be concave. A brush presenting a concave face may readily be obtained; so far so good. But the inside surfaces of the rows of teeth are concave and to clean them effectually a brush with a convex face is required. Now where is the toothbrush which is at once convex and concave?
There isn't such a thing; hence the obvious solution of the problem is the use of two brushes, one for the outer and the other for the inner surface of the teeth. However, the public is not yet educated to this double task in the care of the teeth; under these circumstances a slightly convex brush is better for general utility.
There are on the market certain brushes which are slightly concave on the face and have a pointed tuft of bristles protruding at the end. This protuberance is supposed to do the work on the inner concave surface of the teeth and to reach the spaces between them. With such a brush the point is used in an ineffectual attempt to accomplish what can be done only with a full brush.
In selecting toothbrushes the tendency is to pick one which is too large to be comfortably manipulated within the mouth. For the normal adult a brush containing three rows of bristles with a total of not more than thirty knots or tufts, is standard. The bristles should be of medium stiffness; if they are too hard they will tear the gums unduly, if too soft they cannot do the work. The handle should be rigid enough not to bend or break easily; pyroxyline (celluloid) handles are recommended as superior to wood or bone as they are free of cracks which harbor dirt and germs. In some cases the tufts of bristles are wired into the back; here there is danger that an end of the wire may protrude through a tuft and cut the gum. Where this happens the brush should be discarded immediately. As a rule, however, brushes are well made and can be produced at a cost of from twelve to eighteen dollars per gross.
Hair Brushes : With hair brushes it is generally true that the more you pay the cheaper the brush is in point of service. A shopper dropped into a department store recently with a brush for which she had paid nine dollars some thirty years ago, and which had been in constant use over that period of time. It was an expensive brush, as to price, when she bought it, nine dollars representing almost twice that sum in purchasing power today; yet unquestionably that particular brush had earned its way and had been a good investment.
The first point in a hair brush is the quality of the bristles. They should be of the same diameter, stiffness, and resiliency. View the brush as what it really is, a multiple comb designed to remove dust and dirt from the hair and scalp. If the bristles are too soft they will not penetrate and will in a short time become practically useless.
Hair brushes come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials. They should be examined closely for defects in workmanship. See that the bristles are firmly embedded in the back, that they do not pull loose and that they spring back into place quickly on passing the hand over them. The price is regulated largely by the material of which the handle and frame or back are composed and by the general design and decoration; but the main considerations from the standpoint of service are the evenness, the liveliness and spring of the bristles. The more frequently and thoroughly the hair brush is used the less the need for "tonics" and luster lotions for the hair.
In this connection special care should be taken in selecting toilet cases and fitted overnight bags and suitcases. Hair brushes and clothes brushes figure in practically all of these special sets. If the bristles in these brushes are not good, the set will be of small value to the user, however handsome the case and its fittings may appear to be.
The old-fashioned housewife would not have known what to do with a rubber glove if she had had one. If she thought about such an article at all it was in connection with surgery, nursing, and the sickroom. But in recent years rubber goods of various kinds have become almost a household necessity. They still are, however, bought largely on faith; few shoppers being able to distinguish between those of good and those of inferior quality.
A hot-water bottle, for example, should, it is obvious, contain a fair amount of real rubber. The government standard calls for not less than 60 percent, with 40 percent of a compound of other ingredients. This "compound," composed of antimony, zinc oxide, and talcum, gives weight and wearing qualities to the composition at the expense of elasticity, and improves or cheapens the product in accordance with the quantity, variety, or combination of the compound.
Hot-Water Bottles: A hot-water bottle is, in its composition, an opaque mixture which offers little in its appearance by which its quality can be judged in a casual inspection. Weight or thickness is not always, as some shoppers think, an indication of strength and durability. Some inferior products are made heavy with the object of deceiving prospective purchasers. One of the best bottles on the market is comparatively light in weight, yet it has stood every test. Some hot-water bottles contain but 40 per cent of rubber, others as high as 96 per cent. The "feel" of the skin of the bottle, its pliability, its elasticity are indications of its rubber content.
The compound in the product (the ingredients other than rubber) gives it its color and adds to its attractiveness. If this compound is scientifically proportioned and does not exceed 40 percent of the content, the bottle should give good service for two or three years.
It should be medium in weight, flexible, should have a high tensile strength and should withstand heat without excessive deterioration.
Gloves: Rubber gloves are being used more and more every day in homes for protecting the hands while washing dishes, cleaning silverware, polishing furniture, cleaning woodwork, doing painting jobs, and canning, as well as in the sickroom. In this product the feature of tensile strength is highly important. Tests have shown that much depends upon the method by which the rubber has been "cured." In the manufacturing process the gum rubber and the filler compound are dissolved and amalgamated in a petroleum solvent mixture, the exact constituents of which are peculiar to certain factories and are regarded as trade secrets. Into this mass is dipped a form in the shape of the desired product. The compound adheres to the form and coagulates, or hardens. This is then "cured" by treatment with acid, steam, or vapor. Of these processes the steam cure is perhaps the best, although an article treated in this way may not, on being stretched, recover its original shape so quickly as one that has been acid-cured.
The tensile strength of a good grade of steam-cured rubber glove is 5,592 pounds per square inch; that of a comparable acid-cured product is 2,500 pounds. The elongation or stretching quality is 780 per cent for steam-cured and 500 per cent for acid-cured. One manufacturer claims 850 per cent elongation for his steam-cured product.
Weight is not the important consideration in judging gloves. A 49 per cent steam-cured glove of light weight will give better wear than a heavier acid-cured glove, because it has a greater tensile strength and is less likely to deteriorate.
An acid-cured glove can usually be detected by the odor of the naphtha or benzine which clings to it; or, if the shopper is not averse to touching the glove with her tongue, she will quickly recognize the acid taste.
Fountain Syringes: In fountain syringes it is not so necessary to have the tensile strength required of gloves or the heat resistance required of hot-water bottles. The bag should be properly designed with sufficient material in the back and in the eyelet to prevent tearing or pulling out of shape. The thickness of the skin is largely a matter of personal taste. The tubing should be large enough to permit a free and rapid flow of the liquid contents of the bag, and the various attachments should be of good hard rubber with screw connections. The proportion of at least 60 percent of rubber to 40 per cent of compound is an essential to good quality in this product, as it is in gloves and hot-water bottles.