Friday, December 29, 2006

Product Whore no more...

It all started out so simple. I was a poor grad student, and I was in love with this skin serum that cost about $50 a bottle (sounds almost cheap now!). When I realized that Prescriptives gave away nice-sized samples at every department store counter, I hit the malls. Around Christmas, I could get a year's supply of samples in half an hour -- three or four counters per mall, two or three people working each counter, and huge crowds meant no one noticed if I hit the same counter more than once. I would decant them into a clean glass bottle, and voilá -- full-sized serum for free.

I graduated and moved to New York, the nexus of both cosmetics counters and parties with gift bags. As an editor with an office in a hot downtown zipcode (marketers didn't know I ran a university computing mag) I soon found myself on the mailing and invite list for lots of beauty industry parties and give-aways. I was lucky, I always had larger apartments and more closet space than your average New Yorker, so I built up a fabulous stash. Ricky's was having a sale on Philip B hair products? Stock up! Bliss having an end-of-year clearance to make way for a new product line? Stock up! Bendel's invitation to a Christmas party with cocktails, snacks, and deluxe samples at every counter? I'm there!

Free stuff and great deals are addictive, of course. Say it with me girls -- Gift With Purchase. But once I started advancing in my career, I had more discretionary beauty funds, so I could actually pay for what I wanted. Anyway, the go-go 90's were over and there were fewer freebies and mini-burgers being passed around on silver trays in Bergdorf's basement. The quest for a deal may have passed, but the chase after new and high-end products continued. Bigelow's has a new product line? And it's half-price at Bath & Body Works? I'll take one of each, please!

When I moved into the new house, I refused to actually start sleeping there until the bathroom was fully set up and unpacked. I wanted supreme order in this new life. The products alone filled up an entire floor-to-ceiling cabinet, and the actual first-aid and medical items have been banished to the medicine cabinet in the guest bathroom. I was kind of ashamed (glass doors!), but my real estate agent, accustomed to his clients in the South End, said I had nothing to worry about.

And then the rash hit.

As skin peeled and flaked off my face, as the red itchiness spread across my neck, the nice allergist restricted me to nothing but plain Dove soap and baby shampoo for two weeks.

No moisturizer in the dead of winter? No conditioner, when my hairdresser just told me that my hair was severely crunchy, even though I just cut off six inches? No makeup for Christmas and New Years?!?!?!

No, no, no! Dove, baby shampoo, and a little hydrocortisone cream until the inflamation went down.

Cruel? Surprisingly not. My hair has never looked better -- soft, silky, shiny. My skin has almost totally normalized. Oh, the irony!

My dad fears that I've developed a chemical sensitivity. I don't know about that, but I think it's probably a good idea for me to dial it down, before I turn into one of those bubble-living freaks.

I'm in the midst of allergy testing right now, and we already know that I'm reacting to the hair conditioner I've been loyal to for years. Funny thing is, I don't use much on a daily basis. But when I gathered everything I'd used at least once in the past month, it was over 20 products!

So I'm going to change myself from a Product Whore into a pure, sensitive soul. Once the allergy testing is done, I'm packing up the bulk of my magnificent stash and dropping it off at a local women's shelter.

But before that happens, you, my beloved friends and loyal readers, get first dibs. Drop me a line and let me know when you want to stop by to rifle through the archives to my beautiful past.

PS: I just noticed that the rash is flaring up again on my face. Could it be possible that I'm allergic to cashmere, too? Oh, the injustice!

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