Mar 14, 2015

Victorian Vanities - Cold Cream

If your following my blog day to day, you might find it odd to see a post on cold cream right after a post on choosing a design for a new bed, but it takes time to decide, plus I have a cold and until it's gone, I don't foresee "getting my build on".  So to honor said cold in hopes it passes quickly here's a bit about cold creams.  

Cold creams can be traced back to ancient Rome where they are believed to have their roots with Greek Physician, Galen of Pergamon around 150 A.D. The first cold creams were created by melting olive oil and beeswax together, then adding water when nearly cool and whipping the bejeezus out of it.  

This concoction  had a short shelf life, it was prone to separation, and the oil went rancid with time.  By the early Victorian times, this formula had changed only slightly replacing the olive oil with almond oil, and the water with rosewater.  The cold cream smelled nicer, but still had a short shelf life. 

Cold creams were used as moisturizer, face pack, cleanser, balm, and even as a shaving cream (by men).  In the 1940's they served as a primer/adhesive for facial powders, and are still popular with many women today. 

Why Call it "Cold" Cream?
When applied to the skin, the water evaporates giving a cooling sensation.  This cooling sensation is one possible explanation for why we call this concoction cold cream.  Another possibility is that the name comes from the cream being kept in cold or cool storage to prolong it's shelf life.   

In 1876, Vaseline(introduced in 1870) made it's way into some cold creams replacing the almond oil and creating cold creams that were cheaper and would not go rancid.

In 1883 Adoph Vomack introduces a formula with borax.  The borax worked with the beeswax to form an emulsion that would not separate, even if oil was used instead of Vaseline.  These borax beeswax creams were slightly pearlescent which many Victorians took as a sign of quality.  

In 1890 we see the first commercial cold cream that contains both Vaseline and borax.

This is a traditional almond oil, beeswax, and rose water cold cream created from a recipe found on p. 233 of The Druggist's General Receipt Book by Henry Beasley printed in 1878.

This reciept/recipe calls for:
4 parts almond oil
1 part white wax (beeswax with scent and color removed) 
3 parts rose water.  

The resulting cold cream smells and feels amazing.  I find that the beeswax help protect my hands in the winter when they are prone to chapping from frequent washing.  In the picture below, you might be able to see the downside of this formula.  less than one month after creation, even stored in ideal conditions, droplets of water are starting to separate out.  In a previous recipe, I added a small amount of borax to this recipe and the cream remained intact for nearly 2 years, even though the oil had begun to smell less than fresh.

The Vaseline cold cream below was made from a recipe on p. 170 of The Era Formulary written by D.O. Haynes and printed in 1893.

The recipe(#1842) calls for:
  75 parts white wax
  75 parts spermaceti* 
450 parts almond oil
200 parts Vaseline
200 parts water
  10 parts borax
       perfume q.s. (as needed)
*( I use Jojoba oil as it is the closest readily available substitute)

This recipe is very stable including both borax and Vaseline.  It is easy to make and feels great, but I do think I prefer the previous recipe freshly made or with borax added.

Want to DIY Some Cold Cream?
  • Check out the books I've mentioned above.  They both have recipes for other cold cream variations listed on the same pages as the recipes I've given.
  • Melt your wax and fats/oils together slowly in a double boiler set up.  Remove from the heat and slowly add the water while mixing with a hand held electric mixer.  Originally, this beating was done by hand and took a very long time.  Using a hand mixer gets the job done quicker and you end up with a very uniform product.
  • As with all cosmetics, try and use at your own risk.  Please remember common perfuming oils like orange, bergamot, and lemon are photo sensitizing (they will increase you risk of sunburn where applied)
If you DIY your own cold cream, please leave me a comment and/or picture and let me know how it turns out.

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