Remember when it seemed unreal to contemplate a world in which you did not use Flex shampoo and cream rinse? When you couldn’t conceive of the day when you would wash your face with anything other than the translucent Neutrogena bar? When your bangs were never high enough until you’d spritzed them to a crisp with Aussie Sprunch Spray?
Nowadays we’re all about sulfate-free styling products and organic shower gels, but back in the ’80s, we thought our VO5 Hot Oil treatments were the height of beauty technology. We recently took a look at all the lip balms from the ’80s that we miss desperately, but that got us thinking about the millions of products we loved as kids and teens, the products and potions that made us smell like a bouquet of carnations and gave us “salon-style” tresses that seem to have disappeared from the drugstore shelves. Where on earth are they now?
1. Agree Shampoo
No one had strong feelings about Agree, not the way they did about technological wonders like Pert Plus (the original shampoo-and-conditioner-in-one) or Salon Selectives (I still don’t really know why some women look like they just stepped out of a salon). Agree was the aptly named shampoo that showed up on the edge of the bathtub and you used, agreeably, because you were a kid and it had been sitting on the same corner of the tub since the ’70s.
Why was Ten-O-Six called a “lotion”? It was an astringent, a toner, that my older sister swore by for combating acne. It was also not clear why the product was called Ten-O-Six, which I can only assume had something to do with its pH balance or something equally ’80s-scientific. We didn’t question the fact that Bonne Bell, the people behind America’s least serious beauty product, Lip Smackers, made our very serious antiseptic cleanser. That amber bottle said “serious about skin” in ways no tube of Oxy ever could.
3. Studio Line by L’Oréal
Stu-Stu-Studio Line by L’Oréal was the first brand of mousse I owned, and it was certainly the best. One pump rubbed back and forth briskly through my bangs, and I had plumage as multi-petaled as a peony, and just as gorgeous.
I will never forget the day in 1986 when I came home from ballet class and found a gigantic, pink bottle of Tickle sitting on my dresser. The message was clear: I stunk. It was difficult to come to grips with smelling bad, but it was also exciting to be grown up enough to need deodorant. That roller ball was so very huge — much too big for anyone’s armpit, but that was, weirdly, its selling point. Much more than Teen Spirit, the smell of Tickle takes me back to my formative years, when “having B.O.” was just about the worst thing on earth. I was luckily spared from such a fate by my trusty baby-powder-scented roll-on.
5. Clairol Herbal Essence
The lady with the long, wavy blonde hair woven through with flowers was just about the dreamiest figure ever to gaze at while lying in a tepid bathtub, scrubbing away any facial impurities with a scratcy ol’ Buf-Puf. There wasn’t a house in town that didn’t have Clairol Herbal Essence. Years later, I went off to college with the ’90s version, which had none of the hippie chic splendor of the goopy green original.
6. Love’s Baby Soft
You weren’t really grown up until you wore perfume, and the perfume of choice for the under-13 set was Love’s Baby Soft. It was around in the ’70s, when the ads were vaguely disturbing and played up the sexiness of young girls, but it was the ’80s when we discovered this girliest of the girly fragrances. Love’s Baby Soft is what Valerie Bertinelli must have smelled like, what Vicki from Love Boat smelled like — it was the powdery smell of pretty girls with banana clips and Bermuda bags and retainers made of paper clips.
7. Lee Press-On Nails
Oh, the glamour of long, grown-up nails! Oh, the trail of peril we left in our wake when the “superstick tabs” proved to be hardly super and definitely not sticky! I like that the package here is designated “Natural Length” at approximately 3 inches long.
8. Tinkerbell Scent
This snazzy little kit came with Tinkerbell Cologne, a large bottle of flowery-scented brown liquid that was definitely going to spill all over the bathroom plus a scented soap and a companion talc so that every little girl could smell like a bunch of sickeningly sweet chemicals. I didn’t understand the connection between this Tinkerbell and the Peter Pan Tinkerbell, and I guess I still don’t.
9. Tinkerbell Bo-Po
Mom loved Brush-On Peel-Off Nail Polish because it didn’t require polish remover, but did she also love it when we peeled it off and left pink petals of Hocus Pocus Pink all over the house? The only thing more satisfying than peeling Bo-Po off your nails was peeling Elmer’s Glue off your hands.
10. Body on Tap
The sight of the Body on Tap shampoo bottle is what I imagine an acid flashback must be like. The bottle looked like a Michelob, and the shampoo was actually one-third real beer. You have to wonder why this one didn’t take off.
11. Stiff Stuff
This stuff smelled disgusting, but it did the trick where all other hairsprays failed. If you wanted big hair, you had to have Stiff Stuff. It was to be used sparingly, otherwise you could end with a rat’s nest so snarled a whole bottle of No More Tangles wasn’t going to get it out. But used correctly, you got hair just the right amount of stiff that would stay in place right through the final slow dance of the night (“Always” by Atlantic Starr).
12. Bonne Bell Blushing Gel
Everyone’s first blush! It went on as a gel, but dried to a strange red Kool-Aid stain on your cheek! Sometimes it would congeal a little in the tube and you’d squeeze out a chunk or two. There was something so romantic about a “blushing gel” — as if putting this stuff on guaranteed you’d be adorably embarrassed by some flirty boy’s attention.
There was no souvenir of a summer vacation more precious than Sun-In highlights, proof you’d spent the break “laying out,” covered in Hawaiian Tropic Dark Tanning Oil, maybe on someone’s roof. If you were like me and you had black hair, you got pretty much no results from Sun-In, or maybe you had one brown patch that turned bright orange. It didn’t matter that it looked terrible — you had “natural” highlights, and that was all that mattered.
14. Flex Shampoo and Conditioner
I was a little surprised to find that there is a Facebook group devoted to bringing back the original Flex formula. My friends and I loved Flex when we were young, but as soon as we got wise to Finesse and the other “fancy” shampoos on the market, we were done with Flex. “It strips your hair!” was the party line at my school, and we turned our backs on Revlon’s famous shampoo and cream rinse, searching for nutrients in brands like Fabergé Organics, and of course, that new girl on the block, Pantene Pro-V.
Raise your hand if you’re Sure! It was no Tickle, but it worked. We had a spray can of Sure in the locker room that the entire population of seventh-grade girls passed around after gym class.
16. Aqua Net
For feathers that stayed perfectly feathered and bangs that looked like a tidal wave, Aqua Net was the “professional” solution.
17. Jean Naté
What the hell was Jean Naté? Does anyone really know? It was an “After Bath Splash,” and it sat on the back of our toilet for 20 years, doing precisely nothing. I don’t think anyone ever opened it. Good thing the bottle was gallon-sized, so there was plenty to go around in case someone ever got crazy and decided to try it. There was a big bottle of…pee-colored something in all my friends’ bathrooms too, sometimes with a matching tin of powder, both unopened.
For the wet look. Life was so much easier before all the powders and sprays and tonics we use today — boy or girl, you just took a massive palmful of Dippity-Do and slicked it into your hair, and you were ready to go. A simpler, more innocent time.
“When a man you’ve never met suddenly gives you flowers, that’s Impulse.” When you are a preteen and you see an ad with that kind of promise, you are desperate to try this confounding body spray, Axe before there was Axe, a purse-size aerosol that was not deodorant, not perfume, but some combo of the two that would make men so besotted by your scent they’d steal a bouquet and chase you down the block to present it to you. I wanted it so badly. I wanted to live in a world as spontaneous, as impulsive as that commercial.
20. Sea Breeze
Sea Breeze must have been pure alcohol — whatever chemical reaction took place when you put it on your face was so intense it tingled and burned like an acid bath. I was convinced that I owed my zit-free skin to Sea Breeze, and not to the fact that I was 7, still too young to have zits.
21. Anaïs Anaïs
Anaïs Anaïs, probably named for Anaïs Nin, but little did we know or care, was the first real grown-up perfume I owned. It came in a very deluxe package that was made out of milk glass or porcelain with the most heavenly peach-colored lily watercolor scene painted on the bottle. It smelled like roller-skating and Depeche Mode and Seven Minutes in Heaven.
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