My First… Cleanser

Debra Brock reminisces on her skincare debut

Twenty five years ago I was lucky enough to be living in Paris. When work wrapped up for the day, I’d do the obligatory tour of the office shaking hands with everyone then get the RER train to Porte Maillot and take Franco’s step class at the Gymnase-Club. Franco’s class went like this: Franco arrived, air kissed the front row, cranked up Haddaway on the stereo to warp factor 20 and launched immediately into a complex step routine including a “32 knees up” at one end. Thirty minutes later, after zero cool down, he’d switch off the stereo, wish us all a lovely evening and we’d stagger out into the night with beetroot-red faces. I’d then amble home along some of Paris’ loveliest streets, looking at all the beautiful window displays and dreaming of buying a butter soft leather handbag or spendy bottle of perfume.

3380810012217One night, without really thinking, I wandered into one of the pharmacies with my wet hair and tomato face and asked them to recommend me some skin care. The sales assistant’s hand flew to her mouth. “MAIS MADAME”, she said at a volume guaranteed to get the attention of everyone in the store and very possibly the entire neighbourhood, “YOUR SKIN! It’s so red! And stressed! What have you been doing?” A customer suggested knowingly and to great amusement that perhaps I’d been having a “cinq à sept” with someone between work and home. I tried to put him straight by explaining that I’d been having a 32 knees up with Franco, but for some reason that seemed to cause further hilarity. I was about to give up and maybe have a tiny beetroot-faced flounce, when another assistant took pity on me and shepherded me over to the Clarins stand. And, after a lengthy discussion, I owned my first ever set of grown up skin care (and had also developed a life long love of the Gift With Purchase).

Lord knows what I was using before I went through the one-way door into the world of proper skin care (I genuinely can’t remember. Soap? Shudder) but now I had reached posh packaging nirvana there was no turning back. And in my new regime was the one product that I’ve repurchased continually for 25 years: Clarins Cleansing Milk with Gentian, otherwise known as the-white-one-not-the-green-one. I think in those days it came in a glass bottle, not a plastic one, but essentially it feels unchanged. There’s probably been some behind the scenes tweaks, but it still smells divine, feels velvety and does a really solid cleansing job. It’s not my go-to cleanser when I’ve had a big night out with every product in the world on my face, as clearly that’s a full on code red balm cleanser situation. But the Cleansing Milk has been my trusty companion all these years and I use it every morning with a flannel without fail. It took off my wedding make-up, and came with me when I went to the hospital to give birth (I thought I was going to put make-up on post-birth. Yes, I know). There have been many amazing advances in product technology in the last 25 years and I’m unfailingly keen to give them a whirl, but I’ll always have a soft spot for Clarins Cleansing Milk. There will forever be a place on my bathroom shelf for the big white bottle.

Clarins Cleansing Milk with Gentian, 200ml, £19.95

Clarins Cleansing Milk with Gentian, 400ml, £24.50

Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterPin on Pinterest0
Related - Features
  • Alkistis

    Lovely piece, Debra. Really evocative.

    My first cleanser was the Lancome Clarifiance face wash which smells the same as their Visionnaire serum. I bought the serum when it first came out JUST because the smell reminded me of my first cleanser.

    • Debra Brock

      Thank you Alkistis. It brought back very mixed memories writing it but I have fond memories of the glass bottle. Completely understand why you bought that serum.

  • Bekahbea

    That’s a great story; as a fellow post-exercise beetroot, I feel your pain.

    My first cleanser was something called pHisoClear. It would probably have dissolved verrucas and stripped paint; I’m embarrassed to say that I used it for years. When I finally bought a proper cleanser, it was Lancôme Galatéis, mainly because it was a one-step wonder and didn’t involve water on my face, which I thought would make my skin feel tight. Then Darphin Azahar micellar water. Hot-cloth cleansing was a complete revelation to me; just goes to show, life (and proper skincare) begins at 50!

    • Debra Brock

      Hot cloth cleansing for the win. Still with my beloved Clarins in the mornings.

  • Beklet

    I remember the first time my mum gave me her Lancome wash off cream cleanser as my 17 year old skin was so parched after using first Pears and then Dove to wash my face every day. Always with a flannel. I knew then I would never go back to soap and I must have been the only person in student halls using posh cleanser.

    • Debra Brock

      I think you must have been! I genuinely can’t remember what I was using then but I bet it was paint stripper.

  • Sherry Trifle

    Lovely piece. Clarins – the blue one in the glass bottle – was also my first cleanser back in 1990. 25 years ago. Bought in John Lewis Sheffield ! I still use it every morning. I love this article for the memories xx

    • Debra Brock

      Thank you x

  • lovestruck

    this is such a lovely piece! I really hope it’s the beginning of a series…. loved the beetroot face thing too – is this a thing? i too am a beetroot faced exerciser!

  • KatInEurope

    I have used the Clarins cleansers since I was 14 (I am now not 14 ahem), they were my entry drug so to speak. Other people got bikes and a Commodore 64 for Christmas, I would get a bottle of this.
    And if I was lucky, a copy of Elle.
    Now I buy the huge special sizes with the pump top when I see them and it is one of the few things that I will dismantle and balance upside down to get every last bit out. Even back then, always used a hot flannel. The smell and feel are like home.
    Is nice to know am not alone! x

    PS I have got the toner as well, but it is a bit of a dustcatcher…

  • Caroline

    Clarins was also my first foray into grown up skincare and makeup, aged 21; it was my birthday present to myself, and I bought the cleanser, toner and moisturiser. I thought “well, I’m now definitely an adult; I should start doing something to act like one”.
    My love for all things Clarins endures to this day.

  • Manon

    My first cleanser was a tawny liquid called Bonnie Bell. It had an *interesting* scent but my oldest friend introduced me to it when I started staying over at her house to escape my awful home life. Bonnie Bell was my protection against accidentally being spotted wearing make up by my parents who banned the wearing of it- my father because he had old fashioned ideas about ‘tarts’ and my mother because she could not bear her daughter to be more beautiful than her. She did not want to be confronted with the passage of time in the form of Yvette blue eyeshadow and my cat like flick of Miners liquid eyeliner.

    Bonnie Bell cleanser is the scent of female solidarity and friendship and I still keep an old bottle of it in a cold spot in the pantry. When I open the top and sniff it I am taken back to a time when going out on a Saturday evening meant a whole day of make up trials, much swapping of clothes and harmless practice flirting with my friend’s brother. Her brother and myself, we shook hands on a deal based upon this: should we both get tired of being virgins or become too daunted by the thought of losing ours to a possibly careless lover, we would do each other the favour. He kissed my cheek to seal the deal, inhaled, and said “You smell just like my sister, best not wear that perfume if we, you know….”

    We didn’t require the services of each other but I still smile when I recall that pact, borne from trust, friendship and a certain amount of teenage hormones. They are both still my oldest and most loved of friends.

Related - Features + see all

What I’ve Learned in 2015, Part Two

More SHB contributors reflect on the past 12 months in life, and in beauty.

What I’ve Learned in 2015, Part One

Some SHB contributors reflect on the past 12 months in life, and in beauty.

My Worst Look Part Two

Paul Nicholas perms, sweaty polo necks, the…

My Worst Look Part One

Mullets, poodle perms and a satchel called Hamlet, The SHB team reveal the components of their all-time looks from hell.