It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for all week: It’s Saturday night, and you’ve planned an awesome date with that stud from sociology class. Although you’re excited, you’ve got a problem: your hair. A quick glance in the mirror suggests you’ve either been shampooing with sandpaper or chilling with Beaker of “The Muppets.” After a moment’s panic, you scout the room for answers, eyeing a half-empty beer from last night’s party laying on the counter.
That’s when you spring into action. Remembering a trick your mother once taught you, you grab the can and hit the shower. Between wash cycles, you pour it over your head, letting the stale suds drench your parched frizz. You emerge minutes later, your lush locks looking considerably better. It’s not perfect, you think, but perhaps tomorrow you’ll finally remember to pick up that conditioner.
Despite modern society’s ability to cover most humanly needs, sometimes you’re just not prepared. The clock is ticking and you need to improvise — it’s a situation reminiscent of a certain 80’s TV star. For a variety of reasons — whether convenience, price or lack of preferable alternatives — people do choose to use these crazy tricks.
The roots of the revivalist do-it-yourself approach can be found in contemporary medicine. After the surge of elixirs and “cure-alls” during the 1800s, medical practices became more specialized during the latter half of the 20th century. Traditionally, certain medicines are categorized by the specific problems they are intended to fix. Just one example is acetylsalicylic acid, a common painkiller more popularly known by the brand name Aspirin. As early as 1974, studies demonstrated that, in addition to its anesthetic effects, Aspirin prevents blood platelet accumulation in most patients.
As a result of this research, a daily regimen of lowdose Aspirin known as Aspirin therapy is often taken by patients at high risk of heart attack in an attempt to lower this risk. Due to this clot-preventing ability, emergency services often recommend Aspirin to patients reporting a potential heart attack in order to help lessen the potential damage. In this way, what was once an off-label use became one of Aspirin’s major selling points.
Another interesting case is the invention of Listerine. Originally developed in 1879 as a surgical antiseptic, Listerine spent its early years touted as, among other things, a floor cleaner, cold remedy and gonorrhea cure. During the mid-1890s, it was discovered that Listerine could kill oral bacteria, and dentists began using it to treat patients. Finally, the decision to capitalize on this windfall was made in 1914, and Listerine became the first modern mouthwash marketed in the United States. Through an aggressive ad campaign, Listerine’s manufacturers shaped bad breath into the social taboo it is today, securing their sales.
Bringing it Back Home
Although the off-label movement’s roots lie in medicine, the benefits naturally extend to the home. During the 1950s, the term do-it-yourself (DIY) was coined to describe the rising breed of at-home innovators. The term itself original referred to home repair, but eventually grew to encompass a generally ambitious attitude towards problem solving.
Anyone who’s ever owned a pet dog can relate to the experience. Sparky, your energetic and thoroughly bored pooch, unwisely decided to chase a skunk, and now your house is filled with that unbearable odor. The traditional remedy — which involves bathing Sparky in tomato juice — works through a process known as olfactory fatigue, where the stronger smell of the tomato juice masks the skunky smell. Although better remedies exist, the tomato juice trick will certainly work in a pinch.
In a similar vein, toothpaste can be utilized as a sort of makeshift spackle. Apply some to fill in a gap, smooth it out and wait for the result to harden before sanding it down. As a word of caution, be sure to only use traditional toothpaste; many newer gel based toothpastes will produce undesirable results.
Collaboration of DIYers can often lead to improved results. In 2007, an online discussion spread over several audio forums culminated in the rediscovery of an obscure technique for cleaning vinyl records. Rather than paying to have records cleaned professionally, hobbyists discovered that by using wood glue, which is chemically similar to the composition of the vinyl used in records, the glue would peel off rather than bond, taking dust with it.
Sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether a particular remedy will be effective. Although spicy foods often seem to clear up congestion from allergies, recent research hints that this temporary relief may actually worsen allergic response in the long run. Likewise, hemorrhoid cream has often been cited as a method of removing bags under eyes. Although this solution may constrict the veins around the eyes, it fails to account for the fluid buildup that contributes to the condition.
Live and Learn
MacGuyvering solutions to your problems isn’t guaranteed to work the first time. Perhaps your epic Kool-Aid hair dye failed, and you’re left looking like the twisted offspring of Edward Cullen and Carrot Top. Although this most certainly sucks, you’re only human. While MacGuyver may be able to build an aircraft entirely out of chewing gum, lighter fluid and back issues of “Hustler,” it’s going to take some time before you get it right. Resourcefulness is decidedly a great trait to have; it may win you jobs and close friends. Chalk your mistakes up to inexperience, don’t give up too quickly, and perhaps you may earn a few bizarre stories along the way.
Separating Fact from Fiction
When researching quick DIY solutions, there’s a low signal-to-noise ratio — although a simple Google search nets a laundry list of bizarre solutions on a wide array of topics, many of them simply won’t work. With some careful criticism, however, it’s easy to narrow down your options.
Know Your Alternatives
There’s a reason most home remedies aren’t what they’re marketed for: Many of the official alternatives are superior. Although toothpaste can help eliminate acne, many products meant specifically for the task may perform better. And while wood glue can clean vinyl records, it’s a tedious process that can permanently damage them.
Question Your Sources
Even though research may immediately look credible, approach it with a critical eye; researchers may have a vested interest in a particular product. In 2005 and 2009, two studies were published, touting the benefits of sugar-free gum, including stress relief and improvements in alertness. In this case, these studies were supported by the Wrigley Science
Institute (WSI), an organization associated with the W.M. Wrigley, Jr. Corporation, the world’s largest chewing gum manufacturer.
Consider the Risk
Perhaps the most important step: be wary about what you choose to try. Although a recently rediscovered 1962 study touts LSD as a miracle cure for alcoholism, giving acid to a party-hard friend may not be the wisest idea. On the other hand, if you’re experimenting with using Coca-Cola to curl your hair, you may only have to live with the results for a few days.