10 September 2010

When Skincare Was A Piece Of Cake

Skin care in the old days was a piece of cake, or rather, a cake of soap. More specifically, Lux soap. Things were simple then. No need for such things as cleansers, toners, moisturisers, anti-wrinkle and whitening creams, etc.
Photo taken from Wikipedia
Lux soap was endorsed by popular Hollywood and Bollywood actresses of the era. Below is a Lux soap advertisement in a local Chinese newspaper dated 25 May 1932:

Do you know who is the actress in the above photo? Here's a clue: the Chinese characters in the advertisement say 路斯傑特登 or Lu Si Jie Te Deng. (The answer will be reviewed in a week's time.)

Not only did Hollywood and Bollywood actresses grace advertisements for Lux, even Chinese actresses did the same:

The above illustration is taken from the book "Vintage Singapore - Souvenirs From The Recent Past". It is a paper poster advertisement from the 1940s, commonly hung on the walls of coffeeshops then. (I don't know who is the actress in the above photo. Do you?)

Just like snake oil which could cure multiple ailments, most people in those days washed their hair with just soap and not shampoo. The whole family would share the same piece of soap. So if you found hair stuck onto the soap, you would know that the one who used it before you had washed his/her hair.

The humble piece of soap had so many uses that you could even use it to wash your underwear!

Photo taken from Wikipedia
And it is cheap - only 10 cents. However, for washing of clothes, most households used another type of soap which was even cheaper in order to save money. One such popular brand then was Labour soap. But still, I believe that people in those days didn't have so much dirty laundry to wash especially in public.

I heard that some poor families even used Labour soap for their baths to save money! It would certainly be cleaner than if they had used just water.

You can see a neon sign advertising Labour soap in the photo below.

Photo courtesy of NAS showing New Bridge Road, Singapore. Circa 1962. (You could see Majestic Theatre in the background.)
The neon sign was animated which was no mean feat considering that moving images did not arrive in Singapore until the next year via black-and-white TV. And our lives changed forever after that.

The jerky 3-step animation showed the man's arm swinging downwards to hit the soap object with the mallet. As a kid when I first saw the neon sign, I could not help but wondered if the Labour soap was made that way, i.e. by hitting it with a mallet. Of course, now I know that the sign was misleading, like most advertisements.

For those of you who don't know how a bar of Labour soap looked like, let me try to describe it to you. It was about a foot long, i.e. about 30 cm, if you are more used to metric measurements. Its cross section was a 2-inch or 5-cm square. The opaque soap was yellow in colour and was wrapped in waxy paper of a colour which I don't quite recall but I think was blue. The long bar of soap would be cut up into smaller, more manageable pieces like these:

However, you won't get so many pieces from just a single bar but maybe three or four.

To end this post, here is a song titled "A Little Bit of Soap", a hit song by the Jarmels which reached Number 12 on the US charts in 1961:


peter said...

There was also a blue colored soap bar, long one, which had to be cut into small blocks. Why blue, I got no idea?

There's also a blue colored powder which was added to clean water to rinse the white clothings. Why they use, I no idea.

yg said...

peter, the blue colour soap was meant for wahing white clothings too. i think you can still get this soap.
in those days, lux soap was a luxury item. yes, we used the labour brand soap as an all purpose soap.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

'A Little Bit Of Soap' has always been a favourite song among the boys at school.

We remember discussing the lyrics and Lux soap in more ways than one!

One thing for sure. Those were memorable years. Now soap comes in liquid form.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Could the chinese actress be Li Li Hwa?

Anonymous said...


> The whole family would share the same piece of soap...

This reminds me of my visit to a neighbouring developing country, a few years back. I stayed in my friend's house, in the countryside.
The first morning there, my face soap, which I kept in a soap dish and placed above the wash sink, was missing. I found out that one of the kids took it for bathing purposes. They explained to me, later, that it was not unusual to share such items. Upon hearing this, I mumbled to myself, "Luckily, he did not take my toothbrush." Hahaha!

During our younger days (in the fifties - we were small and innocent kids), when we shared the same piece of soap, we would also notice some short, wirly curly hairs stuck on the soap. We wondered where they came from... no one in our family had such curly hairs on their heads. Hahaha!

Using toothpicks, Cheddar cheese cubes, poked together with onion pearls, go down well with chilled beer!
(Victor, are those from a real bar of soap or did you cut up a block of cheese - for illustration purposes?) Hahaha!

Lam Chun See said...

When I was doing my NS, I always found it more convenient to use a bar of soap to wash small items like socks and briefs - rather than soap powder; and bring the big items like uniforms home over the weekend. And do you know the brand of my soap?

Give you a hint; blue colour, 3 letters.

R. Burnett Baker said...

I still buy Lux soap in the dollar store here in Rochester, NY!

fr said...

I also think the actress is Li Li Hwa.

Anonymous said...

Yes. The lily is a beautiful flower.

Unk Dicko said...

Looks like LI Li Hwa.
All my growing up years we used the soap which was good and economical for large families like mine.
Nothing wrong with this soap at all.
It did the work it was supposed to do..kept us clean!

Thimbuktu said...

Like unk Dicko, A tube/row of "Labour" brand soap could be cut into appropriate sized pieces for bathing, dishes and laundry on wooden washing board for the family. Cheap and good...but not LUXurious.

According to the 1929 Lux Toilet Soap ad:

98% of the lovely complexions you see on the screen are cared for with LUX Toilet Soap.

Curious...LUX soap never been seen on ads for men ;)

Anonymous said...

From Lam Soon's 'Labour' and Lever Bro's 'Sunlight' laundry soap to 'Breeze' laundry detergent...

In the old days of large family units, washing of clothes by hand represented the norm. Many did not have amahs to do their laundering. It was laborious work, but to our dear mothers, it was a tireless task. It personified their 'labour' of love.

Not only did we depend on Sunlight soap to clean our soiled laundry, but we also depended heavily on direct 'sunlight' to dry them. We did not have a full closet of clothes, unlike today. Those who owned one or two pairs of clothes dreaded days of continuous rain. (Of course, we prayed for rain -cats and dogs - in times of water rationing}. Particularly, if we strung our favourite shirt and pants to dry for use at a function later that evening. We had to resort to ironing the wet pair of clothes to assure that they dried in time for use. One could imagine the hissing sound of steam and smoke when the hot iron met the very wet clothes!

Today, we have the "simple to operate" automatic washers and dryers - plus domestic helpers. Managing the laundry is now a 'breeze'.

Lam Chun See said...

I think Lee Li Hwa was one of many famous actresses who acted in Lux ads; but I don't that photo is of her. Probably from even before her time. Btw, did you know that LLH was also called the Elizabeth Taylor of the East.

Tom said...

I remember my mother use to buy A block of soap called Carbolic it was a rough soap, it contain the disinfectant phenol or carbolic acid ,it was bought in chunks cut of a huge green or orange blocks, you used it for hair washing, and having a bath, and household uses coming from a big family we all used that soap ,it was horrible.