Burts Bigelow

It's a secret no girl likes to share: one Saturday a few years ago, in a fit of rock-bottom desperation, I called Jessica Simpson. Or, rather, a hot line number for Proactiv, the line of skin-care products Simpson was hawking to a 3 a.m. audience of girls just like me: lonely little things, sitting in our dorm rooms and bedrooms and kitchens with one thing on our minds—zits.

Ready for another secret? Jessica Simpson is a liar—or at least in my case. Proactiv did nothing for my blotchy acne patches or cumbersome oily/flaky combination skin, skin that I had struggled with since puberty and would continue my losing battle with until my mother suggested Burt's Bees.

Five years later, I'm still hooked on the stuff—namely its Tomato Bar, the facial soap that keeps my face wondrously Simpson-esque, or whatever. But, as sometimes happens in the incredible life of a writer—or, well, just once, two Thursdays ago—a giant New York-based P.R. company will send a bucket of beauty products to your desk, and then? Well, it's your duty to test them out.

In this case, the products were from C.O. Bigelow, a company that first opened as an apothecary in Greenwich Village 167 years ago and now hawks upscale original-recipe beauty products with old-timey extracts in pretty bottles at places such as South Coast Plaza's Bath and Body Works. I gave them a test run to see how they fared against my time-tested—if not so old-timey—regimen, a mix of Burt's Bees and, well, whatever else is lying around. Here's how it turned out:

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PRODUCT:No. 502 Mentha Lip Shine ($7.50)
KEY INGREDIENT(S):peppermint oil
SMELLS LIKE . . .a candy store.
BUT IT'S ACTUALLY MADE FOR . . .treating chapped lips.
HOWEVER, YOU COULD ALSO . . .use it to lose weight. Every time you get hungry, just lick your lips a little—like sweets, but sans the calories.
COMPARABLE TO . . .Burt's Bees Beeswax Lip Balm
VERDICT:Depends on where you're headed. For a day outdoors in the sun, go with Burt's. For attracting or smooching a hottie, Bigelow's natural, sugary shine is unparalleled.

PRODUCT: No. 047 Rose Water Skin Tonic ($15)
KEY INGREDIENT(S):witch hazel extract, triple rose water, chamomile extract
SMELLS LIKE . . .your grandmother.
BUT IT'S ACTUALLY MADE FOR . . .cleansing and perking up tired-looking skin.
HOWEVER, YOU COULD ALSO . . .dab a little behind each ear and land a Don Bren of your own.
COMPARABLE TO . . .Burt's Bees Rosewater & Glycerin Toner.
VERDICT:Tie, but only because there are so many ways you can manipulate rosewater. Bigelow scores points for the pretty purple bottle, though.

PRODUCT: No. 010 Skin Tonic—Witch Hazel Formula ($15)
KEY INGREDIENT(S):witch hazel extract, rosemary extract, clary sage extract
SMELLS LIKE . . .Sea Breeze astringent.
BUT IT'S ACTUALLY MADE FOR . . .detoxifying your skin and managing those pesky T-zone oil slicks.
HOWEVER, YOU COULD ALSO . . .use it as a backup aftershave. Although a word to the ladies—don't.
COMPARABLE TO . . .Burt's Bees Garden Tomato Toner
VERDICT:Burt's. In comparison with the soft-yet-effective cleanse of the Tomato Toner, Bigelow's Witch Hazel formula is a bit too harsh.

PRODUCT: No. 001 Rose Wonder Cold Cream ($15)
KEY INGREDIENT(S):rose water and extract
SMELLS LIKE . . .your grandmother, again—but with the faintest hint of Cinnabon?
BUT IT'S ACTUALLY MADE FOR . . .removing makeup, cleansing and moisturizing.
HOWEVER, YOU COULD ALSO . . .rub a thin layer into your skin before bedtime. You'll wake up with skin as soft as gram's.
COMPARABLE TO . . .Noxzema—admittedly not a "natural" product, but name a 24-year-old who actually uses "cold cream."
VERDICT:Bigelow, although the temptation to leave it on is formidable, making it troublesome for oily skin types.

PRODUCT: No. 006 Lemon Body Lotion ($24)
KEY INGREDIENT(S):lemon oil and extracts
SMELLS LIKE . . .it could be the creamy filling inside a lemon layer cake.
BUT IT'S ACTUALLY MADE FOR . . .your body—spread this silky goop all over your arms, legs, hands and even your face.
HOWEVER, YOU COULD ALSO . . .actually try it as the creamy filling inside a lemon layer cake.
COMPARABLE TO . . .Burt's Bees Carrot Nutritive Body Lotion.
VERDICT:Bigelow all the way. Who likes smelling like a carrot?

PRODUCT: No. 007 Dr. Hiosous Quince Hand Lotion ($15)
KEY INGREDIENT(S):quince fruit extract
SMELLS LIKE . . .your favorite summer citrus cocktail.
BUT IT'S ACTUALLY MADE FOR . . .those precious phalanges—you need 'em, and they need protection.
HOWEVER, YOU COULD ALSO . . .have a sleepover: first, rub a generous amount over your hands, then slip on some gloves. Finally, sleep—what did you think you were going to do?
COMPARABLE TO . . .nearly every other hand lotion ever made— they all serve the same purpose, right?
VERDICT:Bigelow. Other lotions may make your hands equally soft, but the trick lies in the quince, a fruit connected to Greek mythology and believed to ward off the evil eye.

PRODUCT: No. 117 Dr. Keightley's Mouthwash Concentrate ($12)
KEY INGREDIENT(S):flavored with cinnamon, peppermint, clove, anise, spearmint
SMELLS LIKE . . .a cinnamon swirl after-dinner mint.
BUT IT'S ACTUALLY MADE FOR . . .fighting odor-causing bacteria.
HOWEVER, YOU COULD ALSO . . .empty it out and refill it with your favorite booze. The clear glass bottle with Bigelow's old-timey font could make you want to drink anything.
COMPARABLE TO . . .mouthwashes used in dentist's offices, although only in taste. There's no ADA logo anywhere on the bottle, so no word on whether it fights plaque.
VERDICT:Listerine, Scope and all the rest. Plaque is a total bummer. Also, you have to dilute Bigelow's mouthwash—who has time for that?

PRODUCT: No. 022 Peach Nut Oil Liquid Soap ($15)
KEY INGREDIENT(S):peach kernel oil
SMELLS LIKE . . .Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Pure-Castile Soap.
BUT IT'S ACTUALLY MADE FOR . . .washing everything imaginable at once: works on hair, face and body.
HOWEVER, YOU COULD ALSO . . .soak your nails, do laundry, clean the house, wash the dishes—and the floor, and the car, and the boat—oh, and soak your feet.
COMPARABLE TO . . .Dr. Bronner's Pure-Castile Soap.
VERDICT:It's close, but I'll have to give it to Bronner's—there are no Bible quotes and peacenik messages on Bigelow's bottle.

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