Charleston is a cute town. For those Yankees like me, here’s a quick D.L. Charleston is a small city in South Carolina, not to be confused or confuddled with Charlottesville, Virginia, Charlotte, North Carolina, or Charles Town, West Virginia. I give up, right? To be perfectly honest, when I arrived, I estimated there to be a 1 in 4 chance I’d booked a hotel in the wrong city. Thankfully, lady luck was on my side.

I was walking through the Charleston City Market when a small secluded shop caught my eye. Maybe I was sick of growing homemade coasters and bottle cap mosaic art, I don’t know, but I was compelled to go in.

Inside I found myself up close and personal with the only other person in the sixty square foot space, Ausar. Ausar wasted no time deserting his lunch of sushi and gyoza to transform into the most charming salesman in the world. He sold nothing but shea butter, pure and raw, imported straight from his home country in Ghana. That was literally his only product. It sat in the middle of the one table in the room in a great big wooden bowl the size of my upper body, a great big mound of shea butter hunkered down within. The shea butter was a kind of grey, yellow, indescribably off-white color, with the consistency of lard. Need a great moisturizer, cuticle softener, lip balm, acne cream, cure to pretty much any ailment known to skin? Ausar assured me, his 100% Ghanan shea butter was the answer.

For shock value, he pulled out a box of many sitting under the table and opened it to show me the microwave-sized block of shea butter inside. Straight from Ghana to me to you, he said. After I bought a year’s supply – 8 oz. for $27 – I figured, even if it wasn’t as advertised, it was money well spent to quell my curiosity. That’s when he really wanted me to understand just how organic it really was. Ausar dipped his pinky finger into that great big hunk of shea butter, dug out a sizable chunk, said, We cook with this in Ghana! What’s good for your body can go in your body! and proceeded to eat a hunk of shea butter to demonstrate. I left the shop dazzled by hilarity and immediately bamboozled one of my friends to pay a visit and pay down for his own year’s supply of shea butter.

So now, the real point of this blog post becomes apparent. Because I’ve returned home to real life and I’ve decided to run a little experiment, away from the charms of a captivating shea butter salesman from Ghana. The Lotion Experiment, I’m calling it.

Introducing first… from the red corner, weighing 8 ounces… he hails from Ghana, Africa, and is touted by many to cure any and all skin ailments… 100% Pure African Shea Butter!!! And in the other corner, from the CVS on 15th Street within walking distance from my apartment… Aveeno Eczema Therapy Moisturizing Cream for Sensitive Skin…!!!

The Lotion Experiment
The goal of this experiment is to decide on the best moisturizer to be using in my daily moisturizing regimen.

Lotion 1: 100% Pure African (Magic) Shea Butter
Lotion 2: Aveeno Eczema Therapy Moisturizing Cream for Sensitive Skin
Hands, to serve as applicators

Spread left arm and left leg liberally with Lotion 1, until skin surface feels saturated.
Spread right arm and right leg liberally with Lotion 2, until skin surface feels saturated.
Repeat for 5 days.
Record results.

Day 1

  • Shea butter takes EFFORT to apply. It’s less buttery than originally anticipated, and certainly 300% less spreadable than Aveeno lotion. It’s a little bit of a workout to get on. Reminder to self to record the amount of time it takes me to apply, starting tomorrow.
  • Aveeno lotion glides on like normal.
  • After application, I observe my right and left legs. Do they look different? My roommate laughs and says yes. She’s joking, I confirm. They do not look different in the slightest.
  • Do they feel different? My hands are covered in shea butter and lotion and must be excluded as feeling devices. I enlist my roommate to come touch my legs. She declares my left (Shea leg) to feel slimy, and my right (Aveeno leg) to feel sticky. Upon clarification, this means my left leg is smooth and my right leg sticks. Reminder to self to have more blinds incorporated into the experiment so the party feeling my legs has no bias of knowing which leg has which lotion.
  • Morning after. Left leg feels smooth, right leg feels soft.

Day 2

  • Shower. Left leg sticks, difficult to wash off, like something’s there. Right leg washes as normal.
  • After shower. Left leg feels smoother and softer, right leg feels more dried out. Again all of above assessment may be subject to my internal confirmation bias. Ausar was a very charming man.
  • Day 2, application. It takes me 7:06 minutes to apply the Shea butter, and 1:02 minutes to apply Aveeno. If time is money…
  • After application, walking around the apartment. Left leg feels normal. Right leg feels cool, as if the lotion has water / alcohol content which is evaporating off my leg.

Day 3

  • It takes me 4:12 minutes to apply the Shea butter, and 1:16 to apply Aveeno. My Shea butter times are getting better.

Day 4

  • I apply the stuff and start cutting corners, reducing the experiment to legs only. It takes me 2:09 minutes to apply the Shea butter, and 44 seconds to apply Aveeno. No further observation.

Day 5

  • It takes me 2:18 minutes to apply the Shea butter, and 1:02 minutes to apply Aveeno. I am no longer optimizing my application time.
  • I enlist my mother to help assess differences immediately post application. I explain to her the experiment and her role in it while facing opposite directions, so as to avoid any bias from any micro expressions my face might signal. I do not tell her what lotions I am using, and which leg is which.
  • She says, left (Shea) leg has more resistance on the surface, feels thicker, richer, potentially greasy. Right (Aveeno) leg obviously feels better. Ultimately inconclusive.
  • Morning after, I make her to feel my legs again. She feels no discernible difference. From my self assessment I think my right leg feels softer and left leg feels smoother but there’s no way to tell if my judgment is impaired. Results are a wash.

I do not know if 100% African Shea Butter or Aveeno lotion is the better moisturizer. I am ultimately unwilling to continue this experiment past the course of 5 days. Even if I were to make this longer term and figure out a way to measure the true differences, (it did occur to me that one of my friends owns a microscope), I’m not willing to sacrifice the time it would take to establish that differential, creating semi-permanently unevenly moisturized legs, after which I would need to spend an possibly equivalent amount of time evening out the moisturizing regimen between legs.

Two things do hold true.

  • African Shea butter takes double the time for me to apply. Let’s say I make $100,000 a year (which I don’t, but let’s say), divided by 48 weeks, divided by 40 hours per week, and 60 minutes per hour, as an estimate to value my time. (I could argue that my time outside of work is even more precious, but let’s keep this objective.) That amounts to 87 cents per minute. So, each time I apply African Shea butter instead of Aveeno lotion, assuming a 2 minute application time, I am losing 87 cents. If I apply African Shea butter daily, that’s $317.55 per year.
  • One year’s supply (let’s take Ausar’s estimate at face value) of African Shea butter cost me $27. I don’t know how many Aveeno lotions I go through a year, but the bottle is small and the lotion goes quick. One bottle costs $8.11 on Amazon. So we break even at 3.33 bottles of Aveeno lotion for every year’s supply of African Shea butter. Given the calculation in bullet one, if I truly want to take into account the value of my time, choosing Aveeno lotion is a no brainer.

In conclusion, though I certainly enjoy the thought of being alternative to the norm, and using 100% African Shea butter specifically imported by Ausar from Ghana to moisturize my skin, and though the Shea butter certainly did not prove to be worse than the commercial lotions chock full of awesome unnamable chemicals available at my local pharmacy, I could not justify a full switch to a 100% African Shea butter moisturizing regimen. Sad.

The Lotion Experiment, closed.


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