How CLEARASIL And I Met When I Was 13

It was 1951, I was 13 and Clearasil was new to the market. It was invented in 1950 to fight pimples, a powerful medicine which gave hope to millions of teens around the world, and it was very popular in my little corner of the world, the small town of Lebanon, Pennsylvania.

Clearasil was “skin-colored to hide pimples and end embarrassment”, and it could be bought on the relative cheap (.59 cents). It supposedly would rid us of the dreaded scourge-the pimple, which every teenage boy and girl worried over, cried over, wanted to commit harakiri over.


In those days of no computers and mobile phones – to name a few hundred astounding inventions – soap and water scrubbings, or a visit to the doctor, were the choices we had to rid the blackheads, or the red, raw eruptions.  Neither of these methods were usually successful. So we, the future of the present old people, “went bananas” as they say, when we discovered Clearasil.

I broke into my piggy-bank one morning and bought a tube of Clearasil from the local five-and-dime, a luncheonette store called Kresge’s. The next day, I smeared some of this pinkish-white stuff all over my face. I had to do this at school, and way under my parents’ radar, as any teenager to this day would understand.

In those days, that miracle medicine, when on the skin, looked like Michael Jackson’s face when he was performing in the early 2000’s; white-white and theatrical. When it dried, I kind of got the feeling that I was wearing a white mask, and the longer I wore it, the stiffer it got.  But then again, I was pimple-free.  The stiffer it looked, the better I thought I looked. But you know the saying, “when something is too good to be true.”


My school was an old, old, broken down McMansion, run by old, old (plus two young) nuns who barely spoke English.  They were well educated ladies, but they lapsed into Slovak whenever they spoke to each other.  They took no nonsense and they showed no mercy.  If you have ever been schooled by nuns you will understand.  And woe to the boys.  Rulers on knuckles were the order of almost every day, the nuns rarely cracked a smile, and the boys would have to kneel on stones when they were bad.

We had no cafeteria, and no hot water  Our lavatories were converted stables, OUTSIDE! (though luckily they were segregated for the boys and the girls), and we could only flush on the third rotation and had to count to know whose turn it was to flush. There were no mirrors in the restrooms, we didn’t have hallways (because it was a house), and for 8 years, I only had seven other classmates.  And like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classroom’s in Little House On The Prairie, there were two grades to a room.  And can you believe that my parents were paying for this? Yep, it was a private school! I would longingly look out the window of this dark, cold McMansion and dream of attending the big, brick public school across the road. However, at graduation, I was the student with the highest average, among all eight of us…I know, wow!

Being a fairly new teenager to the school at the time of this Clearasil story, how proud I was of me. I was sporting this pasty white, pimple-free face.  So there I was, preening, smiling like a jackass eating bumblebees, so sure I looked lovely.  And then, from on high I hear the fateful words from Sister Cornelius.

“Mary!  What on earth did you put on your face? Go out to the lavatory [she would be referring to that nasty stable that I would be hiking to a mile away] and wash that makeup off.  YOU ARE NOT A MOVIE STAR!!”

As I said, there was no hot water, and if you did not bring your own hanky, you were out of luck; the McMansion was not stocked with towels, and we did not have paper towels at this time.   I tried to wash off my masque, but it refused to come off, except in streaks.  It also dried in streaks, thick, pasty race tracks down my face.  If I looked outrageous before with my white masque, I could looked far worse now, and there was nothing I could do, I had nothing to wipe my face with.

I walked the mile hike back to my classroom, red from embarrassment seeping through the thick white streaks on my face, red-white-red-white, where I had to take my seat among my classmates.

And then, as I sat shivering in embarrassment, as gently as a kitten, one of my classmates, a boy named named Leonard, turned to me and said, in a soft voice “Mary, you really did look nice.”  And those five words saved my day.

Doris Day