In Praise of Unguents

Great word, unguents.

unguents

Peter Thoeny (flickr.com

I have been thinking about how make-up and beauty products are not purely visual – we are not only concerned with how they make us look. Two things reminded me of this: the Mink 3D printer that will apparently print makeup; and my discovery that sweet almond oil is the best body moisturiser ever, and my subsequent disappointment at this discovery.

Disappointment? Yes. It turns out that all my very dry skin needs is a bottle of pure sweet almond oil, something easily affordable from a health food shop. I have been searching for this holy grail for 15 years. Why would I be disappointed?

I enjoyed the search, of course. Because there is nothing like browsing a shelf of lotions and potions, selecting one and then trying it out at home. That first experimental sniff at the product’s perfume, and a little dab on the back of the hand… slathering it on post-shower and enjoying the halo of a brand-new scent… assessing how soft the skin is a few hours later. Now that I have found the perfect moisturiser I will never need to experience all that again. And the almond oil isn’t even scented, goddamn it (I know, that’s a good thing for perfume-wearers. I know).

This tells me something interesting about my engagement with the capitalist monster that is the beauty industry. It is not that we are simply convinced of all the things that are wrong with the way we look, and then sold products that will ‘fix’ these faults. That is part of it, but actually we are not purely visual creatures, and we are not only buying beauty products to feed our obsession with looking better. It is also that we cannot resist the unguents.

Beauty products create a space of sensual luxury in our lives, little moments in which we can forget about the washing machine that’s broken again, and what we can make for dinner when there’s nothing in the fridge. In that moment of trying out a new body butter we are reminded of our bodies, and how to enjoy them. A raspberry scent that takes you back to childhood summers; smoothing cream over your skin to remind yourself of less innocent pleasures – we need that. And my almond oil, although it is nice, works so very well that it sort of becomes functional. Just another essential.

robot woman

PVBroadz (flickr.com)

Which brings me to Grace Choi’s ‘disruptive technology’, the Mink printer, touted as the invention that will challenge the whole beauty industry. Although many are questioning whether it will actually do what it says (see Mali Pennington at Wild Beauty), my first thought was that I wouldn’t want one anyway.

Choi’s argument for the Mink printer is that makeup is all about colour. We buy makeup to get the latest colours, in order to look good and be fashionable. Therefore, if you can print an eyeshadow, blusher or lipstick in any colour using your Mink printer, you will never need – or want – to spend £30 on an eyeshadow again.

I think Choi is missing something. The unguents. When I choose a lipstick, it is not only colour I’m looking for – the lipstick also has to be moisturising, long-lasting and preferably with SPF, and has to feel good on my lips. I enjoy trying out all the different lipsticks at the fragrant, glowing beauty counters, my head clear of other thoughts until I find the lipstick that looks and feels right on me. Unless Choi also offers a wide range of bases – uncoloured lipsticks or eyeshadow blocks in every conceivable formulation – she is not disrupting the beauty industry or replacing what it offers. If her standard eyeshadow powder makes my eyes itch or the colour creases after an hour, then I won’t be interested.

We often forget that beauty is not only visual: something can be beautiful to each of our senses, or (even better) to several at once, and we often forget that makeup and beauty products offer this broader beauty too. At least, we might forget, but our bodies don’t.

Hand me the body butter.

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7 responses to “In Praise of Unguents

  • Shawna

    I think you are so right! I don’t use much makeup but when I do buy some it is very much about the texture, as much or more than the colour. Perhaps you can find a pretty decanter or pump bottle to put your almond oil into and then it will feel more like a lovely ritual with a fancy unguent.

  • BroadBlogs

    “Beauty products create a space of sensual luxury in our lives, little moments in which we can forget about the washing machine that’s broken again”

    When I was interviewing mothers of young children one of them said she had never been able to understand why her mom had liked bath oils and scents until she had babies. Suddenly she had time out for herself and could care for herself, instead of just caring for everyone else. It seemed to restore her.

  • dr sweetyshinde

    Massages feel great; so do cosmetics. Why should we feel guilty about liking cosmetics? Enjoy.

  • Kayleigh Herbertson (@ms_articulate)

    There are so many added layers when it comes to buying make up, I also go for ethical choices in that I want something made in my home country, not tested on animals etc. People forget that make up isn’t just about colouring ourselves, on a personal level I want *all* my purchases to represent my ethos.

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