Cold or Galen cream

August 02, 2018

Cold, Galen's cream

Who was Galen?

Claudius Galenus, also known as Galen of Pergamon, was the son of a wealthy architect, Nikon. He lived around 200 AD. Having been born in a wealthy family, he obtained a high education, travelled a lot, met with various theories and discoveries in medicine, and later settled in Rome. As a well-known physician of prominent members of the Roman society, he became a personal physician of several emperors.

He was a surgeon and he performed operations on people. Already at that time, he operated cataract in a similar way as today's surgeons. He explained anatomy of trachea and first proved that the throat is the one that creates voices. Despite being considered a skilled surgeon, he was also a defender of blood leaking.

He also worked on anatomy, physiology, neuroscience, and philosophy. In his work "The Best Physician is Also a Philosopher”, he tried to integrate medical and philosophical aspects and theories.

Do you know the term "Galenic Laboratory"? It is all due to Mr. Galen.

What is a cold cream?

At that time, medicine, pharmacy and cosmetics were not strictly separate branches. Therefore, Galen did not only deal with treatment and surgery, but was also active in development of medicines and cosmetics. His invention is also an unusual and a unique unguent, a mixture of fat, wax and water, which was later named “cold cream". The original recipe contained a huge amount of water. When the cream was applied to the skin, water evaporated and caused a cooling down feeling. The same process occurs in sweating. Sweat evaporates from the skin and cools it down. The name Galen cold cream derives from this era. The commercial use of the cold cream began around 157 AD. Gladiators had rough, course, and hot skin. Therefore, Galen suggested using cold cream before their deadly fights.

The modern formula of the cold cream is, of course, slightly different today than it was in the time of Galen. It differs in composition, quality, and smell. A very well known cold cream was made by English perfumerists and was known all over Europe under the name "Cold Crême Anglaise" until 1911, when the German pharmacist Biersdorf began promoting his formula that moisturizes and nourishes the skin. He named it Nivera.

Basic ingredients and the recipe for the cold cream

The basic ingredients of the original Galen cream are olive oil, wax, and rose hydrolyte. Ratios between these ingredients determine density of the cream itself. The more we wax we add to the mixture, the harder the cream will become. If we add more oil, the cream becomes thinner.

Bee wax is produced by honey bees. We already wrote about it in a separate article entitled "Beeswax". You can read more about it by clicking on the article title.

Olive oil is very well known for nutritional purposes. However, it is also very useful in cosmetics. Anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory phenols of olive oil prevent inflammation and skin infections and prevent  growth of harmful bacteria. Olive oil soothes and alleviates the effects of inflamed, dehydrated and damaged skin. It keeps the skin youthful and shiny, so it is no wonder that it has been so popular since ancient times.

Hydrolyte or rose water, too, is an extremely old and long-used ingredient in cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and dietary products. It can be made of various types of roses, usually made of plain rosin (Rosa canina), Damask roses (Rosa damascena) and Provence roses (Rosa centifolia). It is produced by water distillation, but rarely also by steam distillation. It is used for all types of skin, because it nourishes, revitalizes, strengthens its blood circulation, regulates sebum secretion, regulates skin’s pH, narrows pores, soothes dermatitis, it has antiseptic effect on acne, and is especially suitable for aging skin.

The first recipes of cold creams and their versions look like this:

Rose cold cream

  • 454 g of vegetable or basic almond oil
  • 454 g of rose hydrolyte
  • 454 g of white wax
  • 454 g of spermaceti oil
  • 0.9 g of essential rose oil

You probably pondered on the fourth ingredient, and now you are asking yourself, if your thoughts are correct.

Spermaceti oil belongs more to waxes. It is in a liquid state at the body temperature, and it was extracted from the sperm whale’s head. It was used primarily in ointments, cosmetics, high-quality candles, pomades, and as a coating for textile products. Later, the substance was used primarily as an industrial lubricant. The substance was named in the wrong belief that it is a coagulated whale’s semen.

Did you sigh with relief?

Almond cold cream

The recipe is the same as the one above, but rose essential oil has been replaced with essential oils of almonds.

Cucumber cold cream

  • 454 g of vegetable or basic almond oil
  • 454 g of olive oil
  • 454 g of cucumber juice
  • 28 g of spermaceti oil
  • 28 g of bees wax
  • 56 g of cucumber essence

If the skin is exposed to the sun for too long, it becomes red and hot. Among all the cosmetic products of that time, cucumber cold cream had the highest reputation.

You, again, probably find an ingredient that cannot be obtained today and which we do not know much about. Cucumber essence is a simple product that is made from one part of cucumber and one part of alcohol. Both ingredients were mixed and easily distilled. If the smell was not strong enough, the procedure was repeated.

We also started to make the Galen cold cream and adjusted it slightly according to our time and needs.

You can see a specific recipe and preparation in the video below:


The principle is that vegetable oil and wax are melt over a hot-water bath. Then, we remove the container from the hot-water bath, start mixing and slowly add warm water or hydrolyte. Water should be distilled. We chose virgin olive oil, hydrolyte, and essential oil of peppermint.

Mix the mixture during solidifying and try to break water droplets as much as possible. You want your cream to get as uniform as possible. When the cream is sufficiently cool, add essential oils to it and pour it into an appropriate container.

None of the above recipes contain preservatives, which means that cold creams in most cases become mouldy within two to three weeks. We suggest that you store them in a refrigerator and in high-quality glass containers made of violet glass. We also suggest that you make them in small quantities, which you can use in a week or two.

Have you tried one of the recipes? Please leave a comment below and tell us how you like them, or share your own recipe with us.

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