Saturday, August 23, 2014

Hair That Smells Like Food

Today I opened a new bottle of shampoo. I took a sniff before lathering it on my hair. Mmm. Butter and brown sugar. It smelled delicious, like a butter tart, or warm caramel sauce on moist fudge cake, or perhaps bread pudding fresh from the oven. My shampoo smelled good enough to eat.

Now, I have to begin by explaining that I have a thing about the way shampoo smells. When I was a small child and my mom washed my hair, I used to cry and complain, and beg her not to put the stinky shampoo on my hair. I hated the highly perfumed drugstore shampoo we had at home. My mom probably thought I was making a big fuss about nothing, although she did shop around to find another shampoo that I would not insist was "too stinky."

As a child, I suffered frequent headaches. My parents attributed them to reading too much and having eyestrain. (I did read a lot: a book a day throughout my middle childhood and early teens, including in bed in low light conditions when I was supposed to be sleeping.) Also, starting as an infant, and from time-to-time right up to the present, I sometimes get a rash on my skin caused by eczema.

It wasn't until I was an adult that I finally made the correlation between my headaches and perfume, and decades later before I ever heard the terms "scent sensitivity" or "multiple chemical sensitivities." Luckily for me, I seem to have just a mild version of it. If I am stuck in a room beside a highly perfumed man or woman, I am fine if I am few feet away or if I am only near them for a couple of minutes. (I do find that men's scented products like shower gel, deodorant, and aftershave are often much worse than women's products.) I use laundry detergent without added scents or dyes, unscented moisturizer, and unscented deodorant that does not have aluminum in it. I never use perfume, cosmetics or hair dye, which suits me fine as I have always seen myself as more of a "natural woman" than fitting the media-constructed type of airbrushed femininity.

Also, not all types of perfumed products bother me. I have found a brand of shower gel that has a range of light scents that does not cause headaches or skin rashes. It works for me so I consistently buy that brand. And with shampoo, well, I am that woman at the hair salon who always opens the bottle of shampoo and conditioner and sniffs before buying them, and who always declines hairspray. Products that smell like fruit, coconut, vanilla, aloe, herbs, pine, and some kinds of flowers (but not lilac, lily, or lavender) all seem to be fine. I usually can tell just by sniffing.

So this brings us back to hair that smells like food. Somehow, it seems odd, culturally, for people to be walking around with hair that smells like pina colada, lip gloss that smells like vanilla latte, or sunscreen that smells of coconut cream pie. This strange preoccupation with products that smell like food extends to candles, soap, and markers (felt pens). In an era when our food is becoming less and less like real food, our personal products are becoming more like food. If my hair smells like dessert all day, is that scent going to work on my subconscious so that I will be more likely to order a piece of cheesecake or head to the drive-through for an iced chai latte? Is the proliferation of products that smell like sugary foods contributing in some small way to the epidemic of obesity?

I am sure that the marketing departments know exactly which scents will tempt us to buy a particular product, and that the chemists are busy cooking up new concoctions to attract the nose. The strong florals and musks popular 40-50 years ago gave way to herbal combinations in the 70's and 80's, and now the trend is towards the smells of tropical fruits, chocolate, sugar, and vanilla.

Edible hair. At least it doesn't give me a headache.     


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