Thursday, October 29, 2015

Scent Of A Woman, Scent Of Her Shampoo


Lately I've been testing the same Japanese shampoo and conditioner set that my best friend uses. Both of us are serious fragonerds, so we have many perfume overlaps in our collections and we often wear stuff that the other one adores. It's what we do. But smelling of the same hair products is different. It makes me feel my friend's presence around me, and it's equal parts comforting and eerie. People often talk about scent memories. How a certain perfume or a smell transports them to a time and place, or conjures a lost loved one. But oddly enough, some of my strongest scent-related emotional reactions are not to perfume, but to shampoo. Or rather, the way shampoo/conditioner smell on one's hair.

I had a friend in middle school who used to wear Jontue. I'm sure she bathed in it (we all did in one thing or another), but what I remember most clearly about her is the scent of the cheap green apple shampoo she used. Just thinking her name brings that smell forward, and the long afternoon we spent in her room talking about the biggest mystery of the universe: Boys.

I'm not even going to start on the evil of the old Herbal Essence shampoo. The idea of smelling that green mess makes me want to cry for my meek, insecure, and utterly miserable twelve year old. I'm pretty sure that if I smell it in person I'll go back to being the ugliest creature on God's green earth. The memory is so powerful, and decades later it's as real as anything else around me right now.

The words "Flex Shampoo" immediately send me to the summer of 1982, months spent walking outside barefoot (I can't believe it, either), my little sister dragging behind me as we were looking for preteen adventures. It was a summer we were largely unsupervised, our parents tangled in all kinds of grownup stuff like selling and buying houses, dealing with older relatives, and other things we didn't understand. But my long and wild hair constantly smelled of Flex, and I felt I was just about to cover all the secrets of adulthood.

Years later, there was not one boyfriend in my life who wasn't addicted to the smell of just-washed hair. They'd bury their faces in my hair and inhale, feeling the magic of femininity. For some it was the first step to intimacy. For another it was the desired sensation of coming home from the army. It was a warm hug, a soft figure in their arms, and the complete opposite of "boy smell".  Countless generations of women behind me nodded in agreement. It's all in your shampoo.

Why do shampoo scents have such an effect on us? Shampoo and conditioners have a distinctive and strong sillage, especially on people with long and thick hair. Some of them use potent synthetic musks and other aromachemicals in their formulas to achieve this very effect. These are usually simple, easy, and very pleasant smells, with a familiar hook from green apple to vanilla that draws you in. Many girls over indulge in hair products before they're allowed to leave the house covered in perfume. It all contributes to that wave of nostalgia.

Do you have shampoo memories? Were your boyfriend/girlfriend addicted to smelling flex on you?

Image:TEEN Magazine, July 1969.

32 comments:

  1. Not only do I remember those models, but I actually liked Herbal Essence!
    I can't use a shampoo if I don't like the scent, no matter how good it is...

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    Replies
    1. It's part of the magic, I think. You're surrounded by the scent, so you have to enjoy it, otherwise the shampoo becomes a torture.

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  2. LOL .... I loved the smell of that old 1970's Herbal essence shampoo and made my Mum buy it along with Breck shampoo (which dried my hair out but .... I did not care as I was a "Breck girl" !!! LOL )

    I use a lot of shampoo's now and I must say I smell them before I buy them but I am still waiting for a shampoo that makes my heart quiver with delight at its scent.
    Probably the Perfume Police have done this today :(

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    Replies
    1. I'm trying to think of a shampoo with a truly amazing smell... the best I get is "nice" or "pleasant". Some people swear by Aveda Shampure or by the Lush stuff.

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  3. Oh, Clairol Herbal Essence.........I LOVED the fragrance, hated the shampoo.


    I could, but won't write a book here about my search for the shampoo. Every time I find one that's good for my baby-fine, rather oily hair, it is either reformulated or discontinued entirely. I wish I was joking!


    Gillette had one in the 1980s called For Oily Hair Only. It was wonderful!


    Then, there was Helene Curtis' Salon Selectives...


    Another Gillette offering, Silkience.......


    I liked Revlon Flex, but much too conditioning.


    I currently trade off between Johnson's Baby Shampoo and a medicated one called Nizoral.....



    Lawrence and Rosa del Gata in Ohio

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Lawrence, I was about to suggest baby shampoo. I find them the least offensive and most gentle. I do borrow Ori's Head'n'Shoulders every other week or so, to make use I get rid of all the goop buildup, and it's also doing wonders for my allergies and itchy scalp. Rosa should thank her lucky starts she doesn't need her hair washed.

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  4. I recently used a sample of Oribe shampoo, and it brought back memories of a 1970s Herbal Essence "creme rinse", which was actually a clear liquid. (This was before conditioner became commonplace.) I loved that creme rinse (for the scent) and thus I'm not surprised that people rave about the Oribe product scent.

    In college, my roommates decided that there would be one brand of hair products in the bathroom, and that was Finesse. It's a miracle we made it through that year, as Finesse was not kind to my hair. But I will forever remember those blue bottles and that scent.

    I think my favorite hair product memory is of Vidal Sassoon. The original version had an almond scent that I loved. It's also the very first real conditioning product I ever used on my hair, and I thought it was miraculous.


    ReplyDelete
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    1. Oh, Finesse! It was murder for my hair. I do like the Oribe products, though the scent leaves me indifferent. Their shampoo, conditioner, and non-rinse cream are very good for my hair. The price less so.

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  5. It took a bit for any real memory to come up...I can always find some new shampoo I like, and I am blessed with very few allergies and easy-going hair...then I remembered Chenti Panthenol. Oh to smell that again. It was sold in health food stores, and it had an herbal, mineral, yellow-floral smell - maybe a little patchouli, too. I did love the old Herbal Essence and used it quite a lot, but once I found the Chenti, I always had it until it disappeared in the 80's.

    Kathy
    Bloomington, IN

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    Replies
    1. I just watched a marathon of Back to the Future (can't believe how ridiculous they were), and my one thought was "send me there and I'm SO going shopping. From Saks to the drugstore.".

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  6. Love the smell of herbal essence but never have used it after using it one time. My hair got dry maybe because of the strong scent and smell. Some say that when a shampoo has a strong scent then it contains strong chemicals too.

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    Replies
    1. I doubt it's the scent. The problem with that old Herbal Essence was the lack of conditioning agents and the fact that the detergent itself stripped the hair off its natural oils.

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  7. I agree with you that Herbal Essence was evil. What Japanese shampoo are you trying? I use Shiseido Tsubaki, which I kind of like the smell of, and it doesn't clash with my perfume. Recently, though, I thought I would try the Tsubaki "Head Spa" shampoo and conditioner. It does not smell the same as the regular Tsubaki (which means camellia in Japanese, whether it smells of camellias, I couldn't say). Instead, it smells of the dread Herbal Essence!! But, waste not, want not.... I'll use it until the bottle runs dry.

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    1. You got me. I'm using the same thing, the Damage Care set. I've been experimenting with various camellia oils (Amazon is a treasure trove).

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    2. I think the Damage Care set smells the same as the original. It's the Head Spa set that smells of Herbal Essence, so you're safe.

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  8. Now that you mentioned it I remember that green apple scents were very popular some time in the seventies. We had also a green apple shampoo over here and EVERYbody was using it because it smelled completely different than all the other shampoos. Unfortunately I don't remember the name anymore...

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    Replies
    1. Once in a while I get a craving for that green apple smell, but no one makes a shower gel or a soap that smells like that. Or maybe I'm looking too high-end.

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  9. Oh! Flex shampoo!! it's the scent of the summers at my parent's apartment in Cullera, a village near Valencia in Spain. The scent of the shampoo, mixed with the smell of the very calcareous water of that part of Spain, is part of my best scent memories.
    Also, when I was nine or so (mid 70s) the scent of the Avon conditioner my mother used in my very long, very straight hair, so prone to tangles. It smelled like lilacs with a colour to match.

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    1. I don't think I've ever tried an Avon shampoo. With their wide scent catalog I bet they had some spectacular ones.

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  10. Big waves of memories with shampoo!

    I loved Herbal Essences.
    I also vividly recall Agree.
    And, Flex, absolutely.
    The one I liked was Vidal Sassoon, it had a cherry almond scent.
    Then there was Silkience....and Finesse....
    and Pantene....
    and Pert!
    lots of shampoo in the 90s had a strong freesia note and that's why I think Chanel Beige and Diptyque Ofresia smell like shampoo.
    Sadly, for me, the fragrance of shampoo never stays in my hair. I have never once had anyone tell me they can smell my shampoo and I can't smell it on myself either. And, I wash daily. It's weird, but I guess I never have to worry about shampoo competing with my perfume!

    ReplyDelete
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    1. It's probably a good problem to have. My hair is unnaturally thick. Really, like a Persian cat or something, and it's a magnet for scents. I sometimes think of wearing a shower cap or a lunch-lady hair net or something when doing things around the house just to make sure it doesn't capture the scent of cleaning products, cat litter, or fried egg.

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  11. Oh, shampoo memories! They are so powerful, almost primal for me. I'm on an *extremely* tight budget these days, but I was so desperate recently to evoke memories of a particularly happy time in my childhood that I spent what seemed like a king's ransom on bottles of the original Herbal Essence and Wella Balsam on ebay. And a while back I managed to get for a quite low price two bottles of Faberge Organics Wheatgerm Oil and Honey shampoo. I actually have been using the Faberge Organics a fair amount, but it's almost amusing how it just strips the hair as if it were a powerful laundry detergent (and it's not the one formulated for oily hair). I would give a great deal for a perfume that smelled like the original Wella Balsam from the 70s. Sadly, it never really worked well for my super fine, thin, nothing head of hair (so wish I had hair like yours!), but I used it religiously anyway just for the scent, although the boys I dated seemed to most love (or notice) the Faberge Organics shampoo. I also loved the almond scent of the original Vidal Sassoon shampoo - great associations.
    Anna

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    1. Wella had a styling product in a red tube. It was all the rage in the early eighties but was quickly forgotten. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the Husband's ex girlfriend (she actually introduced us) was a devoted user of that stuff. Despite my gratitude to her I got rid of every tube of that crap I've found in his place during the first couple of weeks together.

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  12. Pantene--sandalwood. Mmm.

    Calypso

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    1. I need to stick my nose into some Pantene soon.

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  13. I loved green Prell shampoo back in the 60's ! The smell lingered in your hair for a long time. I only use green Palmolive dishwashing liquid now (on my dishes!) because it's smell reminds me of Prell.
    Jackie

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    1. Jackie, I know the smell of that Palmolive detergent. Had no idea it was like Prell! I use those Quantum Titanium tab thingies in my dishwasher. Not exactly the stuff memories are made of.

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  14. Oh-I used my baby sitting money to buy Redken's Oliance-smelled like rich carnations-like a Bellodgia sort of scent. i still love any of the Phyto lines of shampoo-reminds me of a lovely, tiny French salon when I was first out on my own, in my twenties :) Thanks for the memories,
    Carole

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    1. Oh, I agree! Phyto smells very French. I think I know what I'm buying at Ulta next week,

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  15. Flex is my all time favorite shampoo scent. I would dearly love to smell it again. And from my past, waaaaaaaaaay past, I loved Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific, Lemon-Up and baby shampoo. But Flex is and always will be #1!

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    1. Someone at Revlon needs to pay attention and realize they're going to make bank if they bring back the original Flex. Just in a better formula, please!!!

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  16. Thanks for the scent memories, I remember all of these and agree that the shampoo scents of the 70s-80s were amazing. I have strong memory associations with so many of them.

    Body on Tap (Orzene, a Greek brand, is a good replacement and has an 80s scent), Flex, HDR (by Revlon; 'Hair's Daily Requirements"), L'Envie (which smelled like various popular perfumes at the time like Opium and Giorgio), Faberge Organics, Suave and Alberto Vo5 balsam & protein ones, Ivory, Halsa, Dimension, Almay (out briefly around 1990, the shampoo and conditioner were both gels and smelled incredible), Breck, Agree, Prell, Jhirmack, Revlon Aquamarine, Perma Soft, Helen Curtis Vibrance, Avon Parfait shampoos..I remember all of these and thought they all smelled amazing! Those were the days :)

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