Magazine article The Spectator

Forget Defence Spending and Concentrate on Moisturising Cream, Shampoo and Petrolemum Jelly

Magazine article The Spectator

Forget Defence Spending and Concentrate on Moisturising Cream, Shampoo and Petrolemum Jelly

Article excerpt

Discomfort this winter with itchy legs has led me in an indirect but deeply rational way to the conclusion that there is, after all, something to be learnt from the Spanish Inquisition. The Spaniards persecuted unbelievers. Greater social damage, however, is inflicted by belief. What we need is the relentlessly prosecuting intellect which characterised the Inquisition, but harnessed instead to the knocking down of misplaced faith of every kind.

My Society for the Confounding of Error and the Prosecution of Twaddle, SLEPT, will therefore aim to copy from the inquisitors of old the merciless persecution of dangerous nonsense, while avoiding the pitfall which was their undoing: rigid adherence to a nonsense of their own. So far as possible we shall adopt the scientific method in our inquiries.

SLEPT will be, at the outset, modest in its aims. I shall for the moment leave religion alone, and start with a lesser but comparable nonsense: moisturising cream. Like the purveyors of theology, the manufacturers of beauty products grow fat on the wilful gullibility of those whose faith is so important to them that they shrink from asking the questions that those who peddle it cannot answer.

From the calves down, but especially the ankles, I get occasionally itchy in winter. The skin is dry, I just cannot stop scratching, and this happens only during the coincidence of freezing temperatures outside, and savage central heating indoors. The cooling of air robs it of moisture; the reheating of the dehydrated air then produces a fiercely demoisturising atmosphere; and this is almost certainly what is causing the dry skin and itchy legs in winter.

The skincare business makes great play with dry winter skin, and suggests that their products can remedy the problem.

Everything claimed by everyone connected with the beautification of the body for this life, or of the soul for the next, should be treated with violent suspicion. It is, for instance, easily established that the entire skincare industry consists of little more than the perfuming, tinting, packaging and marketing of two of our planet's most plentiful natural resources: calcium carbonate and mineral oil. Ninety-eight per cent by weight of the contents of a chemist's shelves is basically pulverised rock and Vaseline, its value, unadorned, being about one tenth of I per cent of the shelf-price of the packaged products. If Johnson & Johnson had a mission statement, it should be Poncifying Chalk Powder and Adding Value to Petroleum Jelly'.

I decided to try an experiment on my legs. These are ideal for experiments because most of us men have two of them which we keep quite separately in trousers. One can be used for the experiment, the other as a 'control'. Accordingly I applied a liberal covering of a well-known and expensive patent moisturising cream to my left leg, and nothing to my right, persisting with this regime for four weeks. After this, a week's pause (nothing to either leg); then, for a further fortnight, I repeated the experiment but swapping legs and this time using as moisturiser a tub of the cheapest, unadulterated petroleum jelly on the market.

Finally, for a week, and after another pause, I tried the same with a light covering of engine oil (Mobil, SAE 20W-40). The results were as follows:

(1) All three moisturisers offered immediate relief from the itchiness, relative to the untreated leg. …

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