By Howard Lewis Russell

Fancy soaps have heir place, but what works best for the heavy jobs? We asked the experts

Fine-milled French soaps can be wonderful gifts and gorgeous — almost too gorgeous — to use.

This exquisite, triple-milled bar embossed with delicate birds and blossoms, made from the finest quality Shea butter, is infused with aromatic wisteria, jasmine tea, pomegranate and honeysuckle, to gently cleanse, moisturize, protect and nourish your skin, while the sensually elysian plant extracts of poppy, mangosteen and cherry fruit add botanical richness in an ultra-creamy blend, leaving a delicious snow drop fragrance, smooth and long-lasting, rich and healing. Delight yourself as you revel in bathing bliss luxury, to remember that once you feel pampered, you are ready to pamper others.

Soap. In the world of human essentials food, clothing, shelter and sex soap just doesn’t make the cut. It and everything from automobiles to zodiac signs, the written word to the wheel is just perfume.

But for us 21st century beings, imagining a world without soap would be tantamount to life void of oxygen: how could one possibly survive? Soap is the only manufactured substance with which every human comes into contact first in his life that remains a daily necessity thereafter.

Ironically, in our antiseptic world where fat is enemy number one, and nothing ever tastes as good as thin feels it’s amusing comfort to note that nothing ever feels as good as fat smells, either. Soap is fat, traditionally, animal fat: rendered fat is boiled with an alkali (wood ash will do) and soap is the quick, odiferous result.

Soap has come a long way since the Babylonians, in 2800 B.C., first boiled oxen tallow with ashes to produce civilization’s first crude form of lye. Today’s scented miracles of translucent glycerin, silky liquids and fragrant, hard moisturizing bars are the wondrous endgame from century upon centuries of trial-and-error, incorporating such intermarriage as potassium salts, sodium and sandalwood, to metallic radicals and lilac, aloe and olive oil, mistletoe and myrrh: a trip down any soap aisle of any drugstore anywhere on the planet can literally leave one breathless.

How does one go about choosing a soap from the abundance, considering that the sole objective shared by every brand of skin cleanser is to remove gunk from our epidermis? We consulted the expert who’d know best: a drag queen.

Edna Jean Robinson (a.k.a. Richard Curtin) is, if anyone ever was, a modern-day guru on the subject of facial cleansers. As the leading entertainer/superstar of Dallas’ famous Rose Room, Robinson knows a helpful thing or two about harsh makeup removal and skin care.

Drag queens know that Albolene removes makeup best

"Choosing the proper soap comes down to three horrors," says Robinson. "The three biggest problems are: 1) quick removal; 2) no breakouts; and 3) no build-up of oils. And quick removal is essential, and safety especially, when unburdening a lot of eye makeup."

"Because of the vehemence of the makeup needed for drag, it takes a hearty cleanser to remove it," agrees Coy Covington, a Dallas actor known for his cross-dressing roles. "My all-time favorite was Pond’s Clear Cold Cream like the regular Pond’s but clear and easier to use. Naturally the product was discontinued and can’t be found by even the most rigorous Internet search."

But impersonators are an inventive bunch. Covington notes that when a suitable remover was not available, "I have seen cooking oil, mayonnaise and in one bitterly dire circumstance bacon grease used. It didn’t remove the makeup particularly well, but the dog loved it."

Robinson claims to have the perfect solution. "I used to use baby oil for makeup removal, but baby oil is really hard on the skin, and because it’s not water-soluble, over time it can accumulate behind the eyeballs," she says. "Albolene is what we all use now makeup comes off and moisture stays in. It cleanses and moisturizes better than old cocoa butter, even. [Rose Room legend] Cassie Nova started us all on it."

Covington seconds the endorsement: "It is the only thing I have found that can cut through the war paint."

Asked then about imported gourmet soaps versus everyday, drugstore varieties, Robinson is quick: "Imported soap is for decoration to make the trailer smell pretty and look nice. Ivory soap is supreme," she champions emphatically. "It floats … you know, like me."

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice Body & Fitness print edition February 15, 2008

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