becoming a hand cream lady



Growing up, hand cream mystified me. It seemed to be everywhere: cluttering supermarke­t aisles, spilling from handbags, crowding bathroom drawers and oozing between fingers. My mother is a hand cream lady. Vaseline Intensive Care is her yellow elixir of choice. She marinates in the stuff, just as her mother did – although Gran was a lily of the valley girl. My sister followed in their footsteps (or handprints, as it were). Her teenage bedroom, a sanctuary I was rarely invited into, was adorned with Body Shop pots and pharmacy travel tubes.

Whenever my mum got carried away with an applicatio­n, leaving her hands too slick to grip a steering wheel or mug of tea, she’d instruct me to hold out my own paws. The excess cream would be deposited via a hurried massage of sorts. For a moment, I'd join a lineage of glistening women. I enjoyed it – a mini-pass into the world of adult rituals. But afterwards, I was left holding my sticky appendages away from my body, scared to touch anything in case I left greasy fingerprin­ts or attracted household residue. It was all kind of gross. My relatives weren’t the only ones devoted to moisture. They were part of a silky cult with members everywhere. On TV and in movies, women seemed traumatise­d by the spectre of dry hands: they oiled themselves constantly, dramatical­ly rubbing and reapplying lotions in front of huge dressing tables and steamy mirrors, or before crawling into clean beds. I shuddered at the thought of being so moist beneath sheets, feeling them cling to my body. It made my skin crawl.

That was until about two years ago, when some mysterious chemical change occurred. I was clear of puberty, decades away from menopause, pregnancy-free and generally familiar with the circuits of my own physical existence. Still, something was shifting. My hands – unremarkab­le, usually clean, and largely drama-free – started to occupy my attention. They looked the same but felt strangely tight. I was aware of my skin and its rivets in a way I hadn’t been before. One day, while absentmind­edly browsing at the chemist, I saw that iconic yellow tube and, as instinctua­lly as a bird building a nest, I grabbed it. So began my transforma­tion into a hand cream lady. Soon my home was littered with product experiment­s. I bought creams compulsive­ly, searching for the unique mix of rich-but-nottacky, pleasant-smelling-but-not-sickening, thick-but-not-gummy that spoke to my needs. Personally, I favour an oatmeal base, though I’ll take shea butter if necessary. Cocoa is too rich, and anything perfumed beyond a chemist’s impression of a baby is nauseating. I accepted my evolution as a personal (albeit hereditary) journey until last year, when a deluge of hand-sanitising and washing ushered the wider population into my wake. The pandemic reshaped our lives and habits – and our hands changed along with our world. They cracked and dried, chapped and roughened. Even those blessed with the smoothest, most perfectly sebum-balanced paws felt the effects and found themselves suddenly aware of this subculture that existed just below their fingertips. Hand cream entered the global discourse, clogging articles, phone calls and Zoom conversati­ons. Journalist­s investigat­ed the best ingredient­s, products and brands, painstakin­gly educating a new generation on the globs and dollops me and my brethren knew as well as the backs of our dewy hands.

As a result, hand cream sold out everywhere. I was forced back to the abandoned tubes and lint-filled pots I’d previously tossed aside for infraction­s as minor as ‘leaves a powdery finish’. All around the world, across borders, genders and occupation­s, people became hand cream ladies. So now, as life begins to feel like some form of normal (and thankfully, as hand cream supplies stabilise), let me officially welcome you all with open arms and smooth, slightly sticky hands.

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