I was standing in the toiletries aisle the other day looking for shampoo when a bottle of Herbal Essences caught my eye. I picked it up and opened the cap for a whiff, curious to see whether it smelled the way I remembered. Sure enough, the scent was as unchanged as the packaging – a reminder of the lingering floral fog that followed me, and countless other girls, around Sixth Form.
I bought it for nostalgia’s sake – the yellow chamomile variety, given my pink rosehip preference of yesteryear wasn’t available. The difference was barely discernible – it still had that overpoweringly sweet aroma that accompanied me through drama and English classes – though curiously, its scent has nothing of its original staying power.
Still, the trip down memory lane got me thinking about the other beauty products that made an impression on me way back when. Here’s a selection:
I was never one of those kids that threw a tantrum at bath time, in fact it was pretty much my favourite part of the day. The ticking of the two-bar gas fire as it heated up my grandma’s bathroom was the soundtrack to the tub filling up. I loved watching her tip the blue gel out of Sailor Matey’s head and seeing it hit the water, where it would bloom for a second before transforming into a rainbow of froth. Long after I’d pruned and the foam had dissipated I’d beg for a top-up, coaxed out of the tepid water only by the promise of Ovaltine and a biscuit.
Matey was obviously the start of my borderline obsession with bath products because as soon as I started to earn pocket money, I would trot down to the gift shop where the bath pearls were piled high in bowls like a sweet shop display. I later likened the way I approached that table to the scene in Amelie where she submerges her hand in the sack of grains; I liked the way the jelly-like orbs slipped between my fingers and how later, the silk of their skin would melt in the water.
Like a magpie, I’d buy them by the handful along with translucent, fruit-shaped soaps. I later graduated to buying them from the Body Shop cause, well, the 90s. Also, see Dewberry.
Speaking of which, was there a teenage girl alive during the Britpop era that didn’t have some sort of cucumber-scented face product from the Body Shop or Boots? Fuck knows why we all wanted to smell like a salad; the same reason we all bathed in CK One I suppose – it was the done thing.
Still, whenever I get a whiff of artificial cucumber from an emergency pack of face wipes purchased at a train station, it make me slightly whimsical for the days of Sugar, Sun-in and chokers.
If ever there was a moment to borrow from the book of Kurt Cobain, it would be to honour Impulse. Every single girl aged between 11 and 16 had a can of Free Spirit or O2 rolling around the bottom of their Kickers satchel, ready to deploy post-netball. The genius of the teen body spray was in the candy-coloured packaging which made you want to collect them all. By the time GCSE year rolled round, many of my friends had graduated to So..? and by A Level it was a toss-up between Hugo Deep Red and Davidoff Cool Water. But for a time, Impulse really was the smell of teen spirit.
Juicy Tubes appeared around the same time I started sneaking into pubs and, at 16, wearing a shiny layer of sugary gloss seemed like a prerequisite to getting past the bouncers. Purchasing one however was a literal leap from the high street to high-end and cost a whole day’s wage from the Saturday job. Nevertheless, we all had a Juicy Tube – mine in Lychee – and would seemingly pull them out in sync and apply between nervous swigs of Smirnoff Ice. They were ultimately pointless; the colour was barely noticeable and their stickiness meant every rogue strand of hair found its way into your mouth. But for many girls, they marked that first step into luxury beauty and for me, a taste for expensive brands that has never really gone away.
What beauty product takes you back? Leave your comments below 💄