Well, the title says it all, really.
When I’m abroad, the things I love most of all to bring home with me are ordinary, everyday products that look different and tempt me with their exotic labels and brands I’ve never heard of. Often it’s cosmetics.
So one of the times I went to China for the weekend, I ended up bringing home a girly beauty cream. It was supposed to be a firming body lotion, that much was written in English. I was younger then, and used to believe in the promises of those firming products, though in retrospect, I didn’t really need them back then. Who does in their twenties, really?
Other than the most basic product information, this is a firming body lotion, most of the text and the list of ingredients were beautifully indecipherable in Chinese letters. Again, my young self didn’t really care about lists of ingredients quite yet (I would learn my lesson!) and this actually shocks my current self, who scrutinizes mercilessly every single label when buying cosmetics, groceries and clothes.
The packaging was cute indeed: a girly pastel color, maybe pink, with a drawing of a girl sitting on a chair, one high-heeled leg over the other, spreading the lotion on her arms luxuriously, smile accentuated by her red lips. The font of the English text suited the picture.
Fast forward a couple of weeks. I was at home, at the time single and living alone. It was a quiet Easter Sunday, one of the few days of the year that the town had closed its doors to business and most people were enjoying Easter dinners at home and with family.
As a student with a full time job, I was planning on just relaxing during the much needed Easter break. And so it seemed the perfect time to try on my new lotion and pamper myself a bit! It had a nice scent and I rubbed it all over my thighs and legs. Luxuriously, just like the girl in the drawing.
Five minutes later, I noticed something weird. My skin was burning! The sensation kept getting stronger and stronger, until it felt like my skin was burning from the inside out. Panic crept upon me! I took a shower and tried to wash off the lotion, but it didn’t help.
I rubbed on some unscented, basic lotion which I keep in store for those winter days when my skin gets really dry from the cold and the wind. It didn’t help either. I took another shower to wash that lotion off, too.
I pondered my options, heart beating as fast as the Chinese lotion’s effects were getting stronger. All I could think of was to go to a pharmacy, the personnel would be able to give me some advice. But it was a holiday, and I knew the only pharmacy that was open was a long tram ride away. And the trams didn’t operate that often during Easter. But I had no choice.
When I finally made it to the tram, my thighs were burning like they were on fire as I tried to sit calmly in my seat. Legs on fire! Try to look normal!
In the pharmacy, the only staff member on duty was, of course, male. He didn’t seem to understand at all why I would use a suspicious lotion with ingredients that I couldn’t identify and that might be banned in the EU for toxins.
He was being quite dramatic, really. I couldn’t bring myself to add that the packaging was really cute – and that it was, in fact, a firming lotion, not just a regular body lotion. (Maybe it was burning away fat from the inside? Possible, right?) I let him do his lecturing and concentrated on breathing.
He finally showed me which tube of cortisone to select and I was on my way.
But this is a story with a happy ending: the cortisone helped, I’m still alive, and I never bought souvenirs again with ingredients, instructions for use, or effects that I didn’t understand. Exotic is nice, but now I have some limits. Lesson learned – the hard way!