For centuries alcohol of various types has been stored in glass or ceramic containers. Drinking spirits may be aged in wood casts but usually transferred to crockery or glass prior to consumption. Have you ever seen or purchased an expensive fine cologne or perfume in anything but a glass or possibly metal container? How many bottles of vodka or whiskey or scotch have you ever seen or purchased in a plastic container? There is a reason why glass is the preferred container for alcohol based products. The alcohol and glass do not interact with each other. They don’t “contaminate” or “degrade” each other. The relationship works.
Over the past year or so I have experienced an interesting phenomena. Anecdotal I admit but telling to say the least. Gradually over many many months I have brought home a variety of classic after shaves all of which were all sold in plastic bottles. My wife has a very picky and sensitive nose when it comes to after shave and cologne scents she likes. She adores Dior Fahrenheit and it's "smell-a-like" Brut Dominant. She likes sandalwood scents and surprisingly loves Pinauld Clubman Lilac Vegital. I have exposed her to several classic after shaves over the preceding months. Old Spice, Aqua Velva Ice Blue, Murray & Lanman Florida Water. Clubman After Shave Lotion, and many others. A year ago universally all of the after shaves I just listed were quite strongly and negatively reviewed by my spouse. She did not like any of them. "That stinks," or "Peeuw, that's terrible," was an often heard response when I walked into the room after finishing a shave. It was very discouraging and often I would only wear an offending after shave when I knew I would not be around my wife until the aromas faded.
A couple of months ago I came across a flea market find - neat looking thick glass bottles for ten cents each. I bought about a dozen and found corks that would fit the tops. I filled each one with after shaves that previously were contained in a plastic bottle. I noticed a difference in the aromas after they had been transferred to the glass bottles a few weeks. The only way I can describe it is that the "artificial plastic petroleum" underlining scent was leaving. Then a few weeks ago I started hearing a few different things from my spouse following my evening shaves. "Oh, that smells good, what is it?" or "Mmmmm, I really like that one." My response is usually something like, "I thought you didn't like that one, it's 'XYZ' after shave." "Well, I like it now," SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed) would reply and I would just smile as my ASAD (After Shave Acquisition Disorder) kicks into high gear and my mind races considering the possibilities.
What has changed? A few fleeting months difference and nothing has changed in my health status that would explain a different biochemical reaction of any after shave with my skin. The weather is basically the same and there has been no change in our home environment. I'm not using significantly different types or aromas of shaving soaps or creams or after shave balms or face lotions. The only change has been transferring the after shaves from a plastic bottle to a glass bottle and allowing it to steep a few weeks. I have moved the plastic bottles that still contain product to another cabinet since people who are super sensitive often claim that unscented products can become contaminated by scented products if they only sit in close proximity to each other on the shelf in sealed "plastic" containers.
Alcohol definitely does react with many plastics and once that reaction begins many plastics can clearly alter the composition of an alcohol containing liquid. Many after shaves that previously were sold in glass containers were constructed using isopropyl alcohol or a blended isopropyl alcohol. Isopropyl alcohol degrades plastics. Its reaction to plastic is what starts a chain reaction with all the other chemicals involved in the creation of an after shave. Alcohol attacks the cellulose that is often used in the production of plastic bottles (modern polymers) which in turn causes the plastic to attack the other chemicals in the aftershave formulation. The end result is that the product placed into the bottle is different than the one later removed from it. Just sitting in a plastic bottle alters the mixture.
Plastic containers for after shaves were probably introduced as a cost reducing measure or to prevent breakage during shipping beginning in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. Because plastics are not as “sealed” as glass more elements of the aftershave escapes (through the plastic itself) causing the quality to degrade and the product itself to be “different” over time. Many classic aftershaves have been reformulated to compensate for this situation and to help extend the shelf life of the product.
Different types of alcohol have been brought into play which may be less destructive to the plastic but more irritating to human skin. Usually some type of ethanol is used which is less destructive to plastics but also more sensitive to other factors such as ultraviolet light and environmental temperature. Ethanol types of alcohol are less stable and quicker to change its properties even if it interacts less with the plastic container. Most aftershaves contain SD40 alcohol, which is an ethyl alcohol.
An additional factor in the reformulation process has been the introduction of special coatings on the plastic bottle that strengthens it against the effects of alcohol and the other elements contained in aftershaves. This coating is generally known as a CARC coat, or Chemical Agent Resistant Coating. Yet over time even this coating will break down and interact with the contents it is meant to contain. Just how long it takes for this coating to erode, no one really knows for sure. No one really knows how the interaction of these products with the aftershave over time interacts with the human skin or whether or not any toxic chemicals are absorbed into the human body as a result. No one knows and very little if any long term testing is being done to find out either. Bottom line profits rule. Never forget that when corporations are involved.
Most classic aftershave fragrances are based upon recipes that employed genuine essential oils and extracts. Natural essential oils and extracts do not play well with most plastics. With the introduction of plastic containers and as further cost saving (profit increasing) measures the natural pure extracts have been replaced by synthetic substitutes that are kinder to their plastic containers and to the delight of the corporate decision makers usually cheaper. This situation may also impact the “reformulated” end product. All of these interactions and changes are reasons why a product seems to be much “different” than it was in days gone by and why certain products can smell “sour” or have an “off” scent that you don’t remember previously.
Old Spice and Skin Bracer may have still been sold in glass bottles in the early 1990’s but prior to then they both contained saccharine. It assisted in providing the “spicy” scent and kick. For those of you who don’t remember, back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s diet sodas were gaining in popularity and consequently the primary non-caloric sweetener used was saccharine. It is not surprising that as demand increased the price of saccharine skyrocketed. Donald Rumsfeld who later became Defense Secretary was a huge investor in an alternative sweetener called NutraSweet and was hot and heavy to get his prize sweetener approved by the FDA. There were several studies that showed NutraSweet caused cellular damage due to turning into a type of alcohol when heated above 96 degrees Fahrenheit and was basically poisonous. To improve NutraSweet’s case, rumors and false studies were circulated that saccharine was carcinogenic, which were all later proven to be complete falsehoods. During these sweetener wars of that era, the cosmetic companies eagerly pulled saccharine from their products, not because of the potential health risks but because if and until an alternative diet sweetener came along to replace it saccharine was in high demand and expensive. After all no one would be able to tell the difference since no one was drinking and tasting after shaves.
It is for these reasons that I transfer all of the aftershaves I own to glass bottles. Not only is it an aesthetic factor, which it is indeed. A glass bottle is just more classy and pleasant than plastic. I would much rather drink a cold beer from a tall glass bottle than from a flimsy aluminum can. A glass bottle simply adds to the total experience and does not detract from it in any way. For all the entrepreneurial types out there here is a niche market for you to explore. Since vintage aftershave bottles are in short supply, at least those in good condition, we need someone to create reproduction classic after shave bottles so we can have the traditional experience without necessarily having to find the limited vintage after shave bottles.
Another factor I see batted about regarding the old formula aftershaves versus the newer formulations is that the “the scent doesn't last as long.” How long does the fragrance endure once applied to the skin? Probably some of the very same factors related to plastic versus glass come into play, namely cutting corners and weakening the strength of the formulas. There isn't a lot we can do about how strong an after shave is straight from the bottle, but there are some things you can do to improve the staying power of your after shave.
Unfortunately, your body’s chemistry causes after shaves and colognes to evaporate more quickly from your skin in some situations. If most after shaves don’t last very long and the scent leaves quickly, many perfumers would say that your skin ‘throws off’ fragrance. There are so many variations that come into play when we talk about body chemistry and individual differences. The list is almost endless: the food you eat, what you drink, your overall health, specific medical conditions, types of clothing you wear, the dryness of the skin, the time of year, and even the color of your hair could determine how long your after shave lasts.
Yes, I said it – what is the natural color of your hair? Someone that is a true blonde will often have drier skin. Dry skin lacks the oils needed to hold scent. As a result, fragrances evaporate more rapidly from the skin. Brunettes usually have skin that holds fragrance well because most dark haired people also have darker complexions which usually are richer in natural oils. Then we all know what they say about redheads - hot blooded – hot headed - fiery. A true redhead is most frequently very fair skinned and has a complexion that is delicate and sensitive, dryer skin with fine pores and a slightly higher body temperature. Many cosmetic experts contend that a fair complected person’s skin releases the true notes of most fragrances but the warmth of the skin tends to make fragrances fade quickly.
So now let’s get down to the brass tacks of the matter and what is your biggest concern. Instead of an after shave lasting for 3 to 4 hours, it disappears within an hour, sometimes shorter. The rate of evaporation triples or even quadruples on your skin for even the most potent cologne. If you are one of those individuals who feel most scents do not last very long on your skin, the acidity of your skin is a possible culprit. Lick your wrist. Yes, I said taste your skin. Does it have a sharp, tangy taste? That’s a sure sign of acid. And the more acidic your skin, the more it will tend to throw off perfume.
Medicines, too, will change your body’s chemistry. Low fat diets, stress, spicy foods, fast foods all affect body temperature and chemistry and could encourage the skin to throw off perfume. The level of acidity in a person’s body can also be a further health risk beyond your ability to have longer lasting after shaves. Current research, particularly in Italy, the motherland of traditional wet shaving, suggests that lowering the body’s acidity could be a possible cure for cancer since cancer cells cannot survive in a low-acidic high alkaline (pH) environment.
So, beyond changing your total body chemistry what can you do to prolong your after shave’s staying power? The solution - put an emollient or moisturizing layer between your skin and your after shave. ‘Layer’ your fragrance to extend its life. Use an oily lotion or balm both over and under your after shave. Match your fragrances when possible – soap, after shave, balm or lotion followed by after shave or cologne. It will slow down the rate of evaporation and double the life of your after shave or cologne.
I almost fell out of my chair when I read about doing the layering technique. I have in the past taken some flak for recommending using an aftershave and then a lotion/balm and then putting more after shave on top. I was told that I was defeating the purpose of the lotion/balm and was washing it away with the alcohol heavy after shave on top of it.
Instinctively, I knew the after shave - balm/lotion - after shave technique worked. Until I started doing some research I didn’t know why it worked, but the layering and the barrier idea makes a lot of sense to me. I know there are many soaps, balms, after shaves and colognes that do not have corresponding matching companion products and in fact there are very few products that do have complete “sets of products” available for the traditional wet shaver. Nevertheless, we can choose products that do not clash with one another, products that “work well” together.
I’ve written comments many times when discussions ensue about Pinaud Clubman Lilac Vegital. This product more than any other I have found is very sensitive to body chemistry. It is also one of those after shaves that smells very differently in the bottle versus how it smells on the body. It is a polarizing scent and evokes different thoughts and memories for different people.
Here is what I have jokingly posted in the past about Clubman Lilac Vegital: “It takes a special man to be able to wear the Veg and have its unique properties turned into lilac ambrosia on the skin. For all you other. less fortunate lads, those that the Veg just putrefies and extracts all the poisons and the stink from your bodies...I shall petition the Great Maker of all wonderful shaves that you be cleansed and purified, so that one day, you too shall be blessed by the sweet anointing of Pinaud Clubman Lilac Vegital."
What can I say, some guys are blessed and some are not. All kidding and joking aside, there are some fragrances that you simply will not be able to wear. Nevertheless, I encourage you to take some time and examine your personal situation regarding how you wear and store your after shaves.
I honestly believe that you will get a better result by not storing your after shaves in plastic bottles. I also believe it is healthier and you are possibly being exposed to fewer potential toxins by using glass bottles. I believe that you can potentially learn some important information about your general health and gain some clues about potential health problems by understanding how your body is processing and responding to the things you put on our skin.
Tastes change and vary over time...YMMV and all that, but if something changes and an after shave you previously enjoyed now smells different or “off” don’t just ignore the situation, set it down and pick up something else. Try and understand what is happening and why. It could simply be a change in taste and personal preference or it could be something more.
Good Shaves, Be Happy, Be Safe