Nineteenth Century Chemical Peel

I greatly enjoy Jane Austen and have read most of her novels by this point.  (I’m trying to pace myself, since I know no new novels will be coming out.)  I am also greatly fascinated by the later history of cosmetics as various chemicals started coming into play.  When these two come together, this it’s downright delightful!

I was reading Persuasion not too long ago, and I came across a reference to Gowland’s Lotion.  As Austen so rarely makes direct references to products of her time, this stood out sharply, and you know I just had to start hunting down the reference.  Gowland’s Lotion was a simple (4 recorded ingredients) lotion guaranteed to remove “every kind of coarseness, eruption, and unpleasant appearance.”  In short, this lotion was all the mode for clearing up blackheads, pimples, freckles, and blotchiness  in order to give fashionable ladies of the court a smooth, translucent complexion.  Oooh la la!

Doesn’t that sound amazing!?  And historical sources tell us this stuff really worked!  You can even look at the ingredients and, with any knowledge of chemistry, see how it’d work.  The ingredients – bitter almonds (essential oil, maybe?), sugar, water, and mercury chloride [mercurous chloride, most likely] – would certainly take care of freckles, zits, and uneven complexion.  They’d take them right off, along with a good layer of skin!  Mercurous chloride is a fairly strong acid; it’s a corrosive that’d strip a layer of skin.  Combined with the exfoliation the sugar provides, the user certainly would be left with a blemish-free complexion and a “lovely” rosy glow.

By the time Austen wrote Persuasion, Gowland’s Lotion had already received some bad press.  However, it’s all about who you know, and John Gowland had already been appointed the Official Court Apothecary in the court of Frederick, Prince of Wales, heir to George II.  Therefore, all the fashionable young ladies of the court were using Gowland’s Lotion to achieve their enviable complexions, and this trend would have spread to the lower classes, provided they could afford a jar.  Not being able to afford a jar meant not only keeping your skin in-tact, but also avoiding the risk of mercury poisoning.  I think I’ll keep my freckles, thank you very much.

What cosmetic treatments have you heard of that would be considered “crazy” by today’s safety standards?

Hard Business Lessons

I’m a great business owner.  I’m far from perfect, and I certainly make mistakes.  But I’ve got a good deal of experience behind me, enough that people come seeking my advice.

Know what ticks me off?  When a customer gets under my defenses and stomps all over my boundaries – and I let them!  I’m ashamed just admitting that this happened to me, but it did.  I want to share with you the learning opportunities I had from this experience.

First, a little background.  When this wholesale customer came on board, I was making cold process-method soap, as well as melt & pour novelty soaps in various shapes.  When the customer wanted some of both kinds of soaps, I had no problem making and selling them.  When she wanted to add other novelty soaps, I shrugged and said, “OK, sure.”  Then something happened.  First, she wanted soaps in shapes and designs that simply don’t exist, and she didn’t seem to understand that I couldn’t purchase a mould that doesn’t exist.  Second, I changed; something within me changed.  These soaps that I used to enjoy making were now making me miserable.  They took forever to make, were really vulnerable to moisture in the air and dings, and I had to clutter my work space with my wrapping system, because it’s important to wrap these almost as soon as they come out of the mould.

You know what?  Life’s too short to be miserable doing anything.  I own my business and I work for myself, not for any of my customers.  This means I choose what I offer and what I make.  It took a variety of very unpleasant emotions for me to buck up, pull up my big girl panties, and put a stop to all this unhappiness.

And I did.  First, I chose not to let this customer dictate my day’s agenda.  She wanted me to drop everything – taking care of my younger, teaching my older, maintaining my schedule and goals for a particular day – to do something for her that would take an hour or two of two hours I had left to meet my goals for this day.  I promised I’d make what she asked a priority for the next day.  This wasn’t an urgent thing for me.  The task was out of my hands and out of my control.  (That was a win for me.)  She didn’t communicate with me at all once I’d fulfilled my commitment to her; she was mad that I’d set and maintained that boundary.

Second, on the urging and encouragement of my awesome business colleagues, I set new policies in place.  They, apparently, were tired of hearing me talk about how much I hate making these novelty soaps.  I drafted a memo outlining my new policies regarding the novelty soaps.  Following the practice and teachings of one of my grad school deans, I sat on it for 48 hours, sending it out yesterday morning.  Then things started feeling “off.”  The customer tried to manipulate me, but I could fall back on my company’s check policy.

Finally, I decided it was time to fire the customer.  This isn’t ideal to have to do in any situation, but to everything there is a season.  With resolution, I sent a professional, polite, brief email stating my intent to dissolve the business relationship.

My mistakes in brief…

  • I allowed a customer to dictate what products I would make and sell.
  • I didn’t set boundaries against the text message blitzes I’d endure during my working times, teaching times, and late at night.
  • I didn’t listen to my gut soon enough.

The take-aways…?

    • Have policies in place.  These policies should outline what products you’ll sell, which products, if any, will be exclusive, and policies regarding payments.  This way, instead of arguing with a customer, you can simply say, “It’s a company policy.”
    • There are some great apps out there (I now have one on my phone) that will block texts and calls with an automated message, and you can write your own custom message and decide during which hours texts will be blocked and which numbers will be blocked.  This saves me much anxiety in the evenings, so I know if my phone chimes, it’s a soccer coach or friends.
    • Some people rely purely on logic and rational thought processes to the exclusion of everything else.  Our guts – those visceral feelings we get – are there for a reason.  Once that starts flaring (and it’s not heartburn), we need to attend to our visceral feelings, analyze them, and take action.
Raising a glass of sweet white wine to ends of chapters and beginnings of new chapters
Raising a glass of sweet white wine to ends of chapters and beginnings of new chapters

The dissolution of the business relationship didn’t exactly go smoothly, and it wasn’t particularly pleasant, but it’s over and done.  I spent my evening celebrating the lessons and relief with my family and friends, and I capped the celebration with a glass of wine and some dark chocolate.