Sep 5, 2016

A mythic cream: Galen's Cold cream





The first cosmetic cream in history was created by Galen, a Greek physician who was born in Pergamum (Asia Minor), studied in Greece and became the most famous doctor in the Roman Empire. His theories dominated European medicine for more than 1,500 years.
Since Galen was chief physician to the gladiator school in Pergamum, gaining much experience of treating wounds, he invented many therapeutic preparations and among them the famous Galen's cold cream (=ceratum refrigerans) which took this name due to its cooling effect in the skin once the water was evaporated.

Today, ceratum refrigerans  may seem as a primitive water-in-oil emulsion, still at that time it was a pioneer preparation that remained unchangeable for 15 centuries. 


The original recipe was consisting of rose water, of 1 part of molten beeswax and of 3 to 4 parts of olive oil. It was a preparation difficult and time consuming to produce, unstable and easy to get oxidized. Beeswax was playing the role of a (not potent) emulsifier: the presence of hydroxyl groups in beeswax  allows water incorporation to a certain extent. 


In 1890 the classical formula changed: 
  • Olive oil or almond oil was replaced by mineral oil (paraffin oil) that does not get oxidized). 
  • Borax (sodium borate) was added;   when borax is dissolved in water it produces boric acid and sodium hydroxide (NaOH). NaoH interacts with one of the main beeswax constituents, a  a free fatty acid called cerotic acid,  forming this way an anionic emulsifier. Borax addition results to a cream less likely to separate.
The substitution of mineral oil for olive or almond oil resulted to the production of cream that was cheaper, with much longer shelf life,  ideal for industrial manufacture and distribution. 



Still, If you are not happy using paraffin oil and you wish to stick (like myself) to all natural solutions, here you are: 

Yo make an all natural cold cream you will need:  
- ½ cup olive or almond oil 
- 2 tablespoons grated beeswax
- 2 teaspoons stearic acid
½ teaspoon liquid lecithin
- ¼ cup rose water (rose hydrosol)
- 15 drops rose geranium essential oil

Ingredients are measured in measuring cups (1 cup=250 ml), measuring tablespoons (1tbsp=15ml) or   teaspoons (1tsp=5ml).


  • To make the cold cream follow the step by step tutorial in this link: how to make an all natural cream 
  • You can add 10 drops of vitamin E for its antioxidant properties and in order to protect your cream from oxidation. Vitamin E will be added to the emulsion (to the cream) when the temperature is under 30C (86F).
  • You can substitute jojoba oil or grape seed oil for olive/almond oils id you wish a crea with a more light texture. 
  • Cold cream can play the role of a cleansing cream, a hand cream, a night cream or of a body butter! It's a treasure cream!
  • Cold Cream Reloaded!

    To see the Updated Cold Cream version, click here!

    The original post was published in November 2006.

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