All about cold creams

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Cold cream

Jar for cold cream from the first half of the 20th century. From the Museo del Objeto del Objeto collection.

Cold cream is an emulsion of water and certain fats, usually including beeswax and various scent agents, designed to smooth skin and remove makeup. The emulsion is of a "water in oil" type unlike the "oil in water" type emulsion of vanishing cream, so-called because it seems to disappear when applied on skin. The name "cold cream" derives from the cooling feeling that the cream leaves on the skin. Variations of the product have been used for nearly 2000 years.

Cold cream is mainly used for skin treatment, due to its moisturizing properties, such as a facial mask, lip balm, etc. It can also be used to remove makeup and as shaving cream.


The invention of cold cream is credited to Galen, a physician in second century Greece. This 1857 account relates:

The modern formula for cold cream is, however, quite a different thing to that given in the works of Galen, in point of odour and quality, although substantially the same--grease and water. In perfumery there are several kinds of cold cream, distinguished by their odour, such as that of camphor, almond, violet, roses, &c.

In France, this substance is still known as cérat de Galien ('Galen's Wax'). A copy of the London Dispensatory, edited by Nicholas Culpeper and published in the year 1650 included the following formula for this substance:

Take of white wax four ounces, oyl of roses omphacine a pound; melt in a double vessel, then powr it out into another, by degrees putting in cold water, and often powring it out of one vessel into another, stirring it till it be white; last of all wash it in rose water, adding a little rose water and rose vineger.

—Nicholas Culpeper (1650), London Dispensatory

An 1814 poem credited to "Dr. Russell" gives the following account of the benefits attributed to cold cream in that day:

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;
If pimples arise, this will take them away;
If the small-pox should mark you, those marks will decay;
If wrinkled through age, or bad dawbing the face is,
'Twill be smooth in a trice, as the best Venice glass is;
All this, and much more (could I spare time to write it,
Or my pen go as fast, as your lips would indite it)
You affirm of your cream: and I would not abuse it,

But pray tell me one thing—Do you yourself use it?

—Dr. Russell, To A Lady: in imitation of the thirtieth Epigram of the fifth Book of Martial


Cold cream now replaces the olive oil with mineral oil or other oils, which are slower to spoil, as well as alcohol, glycerine, and lanolin. Beginning in the 1970s, jojoba oil became a common ingredient, used as a substitute of sperm oil from whales. Another common ingredient in modern cold cream is borax, which is also responsible for the whiteness of cold cream. Widely sold brands of cold cream in the United States include Pond's and Noxzema.

Over the centuries, new uses have been found for the product: "As a toilet requisite cold cream is used for softening and cooling the skin after sunburn, as a cleansing cream, to relieve harshness of the skin, etc".

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