Back in Time with Pears Soap

I’m sorry to say that there are a few ways in which I am terminally cheap. One is with toiletries. I am always amazed, even flabbergasted, by the fancy shampoos and soaps that other people buy. I’m not judgmental. It fascinates me. I even admire the courage and insistence on self-care. But I personally tend to throw in my grocery cart whatever is on deepest sale. I don’t buy anything frightening but I don’t generally buy names, either — unless it’s Ivory Soap in a 48-pack.

I think I got this from my mother. When I was growing up, our family of seven bought industrial-size jugs of shampoo from Caldor and decanted it into small bottles for shower use. Somehow I imbibed the idea that fussing too much about toiletries or any kind of personal supplies was a bit precious, or effete. No fuss! was the watchword. And certainly no extra expense.

Things loosened up later. But during my childhood there was only one area where this unspoken rule was suspended. Beside their bathroom sink, in a small woven soap dish, my mother and father kept a curvy, concave cake of Pears glycerin soap.

I don’t recall Pears ever appearing in any other bathroom. This was a special luxury, just for parents.

They always wore the bar down to a transparent golden-brown sliver. If I used their sink I would fish out this tiny remaining wafer and wash my hands, inhaling the special smell of Pears soap.  It was magical. Even today, the light herbal scent takes me right back to Mom and Dad.

I don’t think I had seen a bar of Pears since my parents died. But it was reassuring, somehow, to know that this small emotional tuning-fork of my childhood was out there.  (Mom and Dad are gone, the house is gone, my hair is grey, but Pears Soap continues!)

Imagine my dismay when I read recently that after 220 years of production, Pears Soap has been outsourced to India and is now owned by Hindustan Unilever, which has changed the formula. Apparently the soap now being sold as “Pears” smells like industrial pine floor cleaner and is loaded with chemicals.

This being 2010, a group formed on Facebook to agitate for a return to the traditional Pears product. Supposedly Hindustan Unilever has agreed to “revise” the formula. Read here. Whether the new, re-revised formula will come close to the centuries-old one, no one knows.

In the meantime, in the U.S. the remaining old-style Pears soap is being sold off in “Dollar Tree” stores. By bizarre coincidence, we in the mountains who have few shopping options have this chain of dollar stores nearby. The last time I was at the hardware store I went next door and bought 20 bars of old-fashioned, old-formula Pears Soap.

Yep, at $1 a bar. Profligacy! But I figured, $20 for several years of inhaling the scent and returning to my childhood, and Mom and Dad?  Cheap at the price.


3 Responses to Back in Time with Pears Soap

  1. PatrickOfLondon says:

    Is the original soap still available in your local stores? I loved the original Pears soap from childhood, and despise what “Hindustani Unilver” did with the formula in 2009. I would gladly pay (if affordable, to a pensioner like me) to have some boxes of the genuine original article shipped to me here in London, England.

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      Hello, Patrick. I am some hours away from home dealing with a family situation. Today I passed a Dollar Tree store and thought, “I will stop and see if they have Pears Soap!” And indeed they did. I bought six bars. To my sadness, however, when with great anticipation I opened the first box back at my rented room I was not reminded of my parents and the safety of childhood, but of Pine Sol. It appears to me that all the “old formula” must be gone. I’m as sorry as you are. I would have been happy to post some to London.

      • PatrickOfLondon says:

        Hello, Admilkmaid!

        Thank you for your interest and information; however I can only share your regret at what Hindustan Unilever have done — it appears you have been sold their reformulated, re-perfumed, lasts-a-fraction-as-long-as-it-did-before variety.

        Basically what happened, so far as I understand it, was that the company that manufactured Pears soap sold out to an Indian company in around 2009. The former manufacturers had always remained faithful to essentially the same formula and manufacturing process, both some 200 years old at that time, that were created by the founder Andrew Pears after he gained his apprenticeship in 1789.

        That’s why it used to say on the back of their soap box, before they sold out, that the same manufacturing process had been followed for around 200 years, and that the soap was natural and original. It also used to say on the front of the box that the soap was hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic (meaning the soap had a low likelihood of causing an allergic reaction, and did not block skin pores).

        It would appear from the new box that none of these claims can be made for the new soap — so they’ve been dropped from the packaging. When Hindustan Unilever bought the rights to the recipe, they abandoned it and designed a new one that – among other things – dissolves in water much more readily, so that a bar of the new soap lasts only a fraction as long as the old (good for the cash tills, but not for the customer).

        Rather cheekily, trying to cash in on the long heritage of the original soap, and trying to give the impression of continued originality, the Hindustan Unilever box now says “Pears is a 200 year old brand”. Sure, the brand-name is 200 years old, but the soap is now a 21st-century marketeer’s creation.

        To help people avoid getting fooled about whether they’ve really found the original soap in a store (which is unfortunately increasingly unlikely), below is a link to a website showing pictures of the old and new boxes.

        I never expected to feel so passionately about a soap, but in this case, I do!

        Kind regards from London,

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