To mark Canada 150, Globe Style's Clearly Canadian series explores iconic examples of domestic design. Canadian Booster's Lanolin Hair Cream is the country's homegrown answer to Brylcreem.
Created in February 1920, Canadian Booster's original hair care product was a dandruff hair tonic. The brand changed ownership several times but production continued uninterrupted – first by the Olineon Co. Ltd. and, then in the 1980s, by Blistex Ltd. – until the manufacturing division of distributor Toronto Barber and Beauty Supply bought it in 1989.
A purveyor and distributor of skin and hair care products since 1937, Toronto Barber and Beauty Supply specializes in men's grooming heritage products like the small-batch J.M. Fraser shaving cream (created in 1956). TBBS was founded by the grandfather of the company's current president, David Kaufman. Kaufman's grandfather Isaac emigrated from Poland and became a straight razor salesman who worked the barber shop and mining town circuit.
Given Canadian Booster's original proximity to the U.S. border at Windsor, the brand was also popular in the northern U.S. and a sample flask resides in the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. In the 1990s, Lanolin's original embossed glass bottle was replaced with a recyclable squirt bottle but little else about the product has changed since its inception. Certainly not the formula nor the tiger head emblem.
The recent retro barber shop revival means the cream has seen an uptick in demand and become a product beloved by hipsters. Despite demand, there are only a few thousand bottles manufactured each year, and it's created the way it was when it was first developed: compounded in small quantities by hand (now in a facility closer to TBBS's Toronto headquarters).
The word for lanolin comes from lana (wool) and oleum (oil) and it is sometimes called wool grease. The organic multi-purpose moisturizer acts as a protective barrier and soothes skin in everything from foot lotion to nipple cream – and it is an ingredient in hair pomade. Lanolin is a byproduct secreted by wool-bearing animals, but no animals are harmed in the harvesting. As Kaufman jokes, it's not tested on animals, "it's tested on barbers." Although it is now the pillar of an expanded seven-item Canadian Booster collection, including trendy new additions such as after-shave and beard oil, Lanolin Hair Cream remains the brand's unassuming star. Slick but inexpensive, and with a light, naturally fresh scent, it remains resolutely normcore: It comes only in one large size, costs about $15 and lasts forever.
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