The Great Lotion Experiment, Part 1

I have many first world problems. Seamless always takes too long to deliver my food.[1] My hoard of hotel toiletries is getting out of control.[2] I keep coming up with perfectly timed Arrested Development Season 4 references but pretty much no one I know has actually finished that season so my gift for witty pop-culture references is lost on the masses.[3] It’s a hard life.

One of my totally-real first world problems is that I play the piano and I suffer from chronically dry hands. My hands are so dry, in fact, that I am 100% incapable of opening those little plastic vegetable bags at the grocery store because my fingers generate zero friction. The dry hand thing may be related to my obsessive hand-washing habits, but who knows? (It’s a chicken-or-egg situation—which came first, the problem or the neuroses?)

With my hands in their natural dry state, I basically can’t play at all, unless you are charitable enough to call it playing when my fingers slip all over the keys like a giraffe wearing socks on a roller rink.

The Catch-22 of living as a Pianist with Dry Hands is that while lotion is the obvious solution to solving the dry-slippery problem, most lotions out there just leave one’s hands wet-slippery and leave gunky residue on the keys, which definitely fixes the problem in that doesn’t, it just creates new ones.

Think I’m making this up? The dry-hands/slippery-hands conundrum is actually its own section on PianoFundamentals.com:

When the fingers are overly dry or wet, they may become slippery. Too much washing using strong detergents can cause the hands to become dry. Application of most quality moisturizing lotions such as Eucerin will solve this problem. In order to avoid smearing the piano keys with excess lotion, apply in small amounts and wait until the lotion is completely absorbed into the skin before applying more. Several small applications will last longer than a single large amount. Wipe off any excess before playing the piano. People who tend to perspire while playing must also be careful about slippery fingers. If you initially apply a lotion because the hands were dry, but you begin to perspire while playing, you can get into terrible problems with slipperiness if the fingers have excess lotion. Therefore, if you tend to perspire, be careful about using any kind of lotion. Even without any lotion, wet or dry fingers can be slippery. In that case, practice using thrust and pull motions so that you can control the finger positions more accurately. These motions require some slippage of the fingers over the keys and are therefore more compatible with slippery fingers.

Jesus tapdancing Christ, did you see how complicated the whole lotion thing was? Life when you’re a pianist is difficult enough, and we have this dry/sweaty slippery nonsense to worry about on top of everything.

The Solution

But in college, I made an accidental discovery for the ages—one whose brilliance was on par with, say, the discovery of penicillin, or the invention of the sticky note. I happened to buy a travel-sized tube of Vaseline’s Total Moisture lotion one day to replace a tube that had run out, and I discovered that this humble substance always left my hands with the perfect amount of grip to play the piano, without any stickiness, slipperiness, or residue whatsoever. No matter how dry or sweaty my hands were to begin with, this magical lotion would solve the problem.

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I soon became ultra-dependent on the stuff. I put my Vaseline lotion on every time I practiced, before every lesson, before every performance in a studio class or chamber class, before every concert, before every jury. I kept a tube in the green room during every recital. I discovered what it was like to live a life free of worry over whether or not my hands would slip right off the keys whenever I put my hands to the keyboard.

At one point, one of my friends, a fellow piano major, came up to me right before class. “Sharon,” she whispered conspiratorially, “I always see you using that lotion, so I got one myself, and oh my gosh!—it’s so perfect! It’s the perfect texture for playing the piano! I told [another piano major], and now she uses it too!”

It was official. I had created my own cult.

Now, if this were the life I’d been promised in movies and musicals, this would be the end of the story—I’d discovered the Lotion to End All Lotions, I could get on with my life playing the piano, etc. etc. etc. But this is real life, and we live in a world full of disappointment and betrayal.

The Downfall

A couple of years ago, having reached the bottom of the Costco-sized pump of Vaseline lotion I kept by my piano, I popped into a Target to pick up a replacement. I made a beeline for the Vaseline shelf of the lotion aisle, and saw, to my horror, that The One Lotion no longer existed.

Instead there was this impostor container, featuring nonsensical copy on its label like “pure oat extract!” and “multi-layer moisture.” I left with the intention of ordering the original stuff online, and indeed made an eBay order, but I just received a bottle of the new stuff.

I tried it out, but the results were grim. The evil Vaseline people had reformulated the Lotion Holy Grail. New Formulation had a slightly greasier feeling that left my hands noticeably more slippery—not so much that it was unusable, but enough that I, after years of using the original formula, could definitely notice. I made some halfhearted attempts to find a replacement lotion, but to no avail, so I just sucked it up and got used to playing the piano with slightly slippery fingers.

About a year and a half later, after I had miraculously used up almost all of New Formulation, I once again stopped by Target to reluctantly buy a replacement, and experienced the worst kind of deja vu. Once again, I stood helplessly at the shelf and found that Vaseline had reformulated once again and replaced New Formulation with yet another incarnation, this one boasting of “micro-droplets of Vaseline® jelly.”

I knew this was the end. I don’t know what made me buy it—desperation? blind optimism?—but I bought a bottle of Formulation #3, took it home, and discovered that it was the devil incarnate of lotions. It was ultra-greasy, ultra-slippery, and made my hands feel like they were coated in something. It also left gross residue on the keys, forcing me to introduce thorough key-cleaning into my practice routine.

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This, my friends, is devolution in its purest form. On the left we have the pinnacle of human innovation, in the middle we have what happens when you mess with perfection, and on the right we have the downfall of humankind.

FYI, I am not the only crazy lotion user on the internet. The Amazon reviews for the first reformulation feature similar complaints, so I am not alone! Whoohoo!

When I get to this part of the story (because yes, I am a terrible person who forces this story onto other people regardless of whether or not they actually care about lotion reformulation) my friends usually ask me, “Why didn’t/don’t you write a letter to the Vaseline company?”

The embarrassing answer is that I actually did. Deep in the throes of righteous lotion-related anger, I sat down and started writing a letter to the executives at Vaseline, but two single-spaced pages in, I thought about it and came to the depressing conclusion that no matter how heartfelt my story, nothing would come of it. No business-minded person, having taken the Most Perfect Lotion in All of History and perverted it so fundamentally, would undo rounds of cost-cutting measures just based on one long-winded letter. (DearVaselineExecutives.docx is still sitting somewhere in a folder on my computer.)

So there we have it: my problem. My massive, world-shattering, memoir-worthy first world problem. Tomorrow (yes, tomorrow!) I will weave you a tale of mystery and intrigue and my inability to be concise and how exactly I solved this problem. And there will be pictures!

Update: Part 2 is here!

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