One of the oldest beauty remedies in the world hails from the city of Pergamus, where the Greek physician Galen first concocted cold cream nearly 2,000 years ago. This quaint emulsion of water and grease hardly seems up to the task of
anti-aging, compared to the current crop of creams that contain NASA-calibre nano-molecules and promise DNA repair, yet cold cream has quietly reappeared at the most up-to-date beauty counters. Target carries Boots Cold Cream, which has been cozily restyled with Victorian packaging. C.O. Bigelow’s Rose Wonder Cold Cream and a new edition of Galen’s cold cream called Crème Galen Superbly Rich Cold Cream, from a folksy website called Petite Marie Organics, share the same old-fashioned apothecary vibe.
As reissues of a skin-care classic, these cold creams are suffused with the vintage charm of their ingredients. What, after all, is more poetic than the stuff cold creams are made of? Rose petals, sweet almond oil, thermal spring water, beeswax and oil of marigold — not sugar and spice but certainly everything nice.
Then there’s the appealing economics of cold creams: A jar of Pond’s costs a fraction of the price of a jar of
Crème de la Mer, and a pot of the original Nivea Creme — whose venerable history dates back to 1911 — goes for around $7. “Cold creams are great for dry skin and for those with busy schedules because they’re two-in-one products,” says Shelley Rozenwald, president of the Shoppers Drug Mart beauty boutique Murale, which carries Avène Cold Cream. “They can remove makeup and provide moisture to your skin overnight. Women are often looking to simplify their skincare routines, and cold cream can help them do that.”
We, of course, associate cold creams with the kabuki masks and hair curlers our grannies wore to bed every night, and many of us dislike the oil slick left on the skin that has to be wiped off. But there’s something honest about cold creams: They make no pretense of deepdiving into our skin to reconfigure our skin fibres or stimulate collagen production; cold creams just sit there on top of the skin, relieving our sunburns in summer and protecting our faces from cold winds and forced-air heating in winter.
“Cold creams don’t make lots of claims on their packaging,” says Dr. Cuross Bakhtiar, founder of Harley Street Cosmetic in London, England. “But women want claims: They want to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, aging and pigmentation. And the absorption of cold creams is very difficult — more so than with lighter creams. Cold creams are better suited to colder climates because they contain lanolin and urea — active ingredients that help restructure the skin’s barrier.” They may be humble compared to the age-defying creams of 21st-century science, but cold creams could just be the answer to skin’s winter woes.
As “Dr. Russell” puts it in an 1814 poem: “When a pot of cold cream to Eliza you send / You with words to this purpose your present commend / Whoe’er with this cream shall her countenance smear / All redness and roughness will strait disappear / And the skin to a wonder be charmingly clear….” Not even Pond’s could have put it better.
Recipe for a classic
You’ll need olive oil, beeswax and pure rainwater or rosewater. Gently heat four tablespoons of olive oil and one tablespoon of grated beeswax in a double boiler until the beeswax melts. Slowly stir in five tablespoons of water until the entire mixture melts. Remove from heat, stirring until the cream thickens. Pour the mixture into an airtight container and refrigerate.
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