Wednesday, February 5, 2014

What I might end up being known for -- "le cérat"

Again with the Pond's cold cream saga.  Best to begin assembling your ingredients: apart from beeswax you will need olive oil, distilled water, and borax.

Ah hah. What is the point of cold cream, anyway, and where does it come from? I imagined it as somehow a product of nineteenth century Victorian leisure and chemistry, or as another brilliant invention of one of those hardscrabble ladies of the early twentieth century, who simply created whole cosmetics and fashion industries from scratch and sheer brainpower -- Estée Lauder was one, Chanel another. Not so, it seems. Cold cream, so named "because it leaves the skin feeling cool and refreshed" (a bit pat, no?) is credited to the classical Greek physician Galen. He stirred together the simple ingredients olive oil, beeswax, water, and rose petals, and arrived at what the French still call le cérat de Galien, Galen's wax. Modern formulas eschew olive oil, because it spoils too quickly. Its replacement is mineral oil.

Do we trust Wikipedia on this important little issue? My French dictionary includes no such word as "cérat"; the word for wax is la cire. That same dictionary also translates cold cream forthrightly as le cold-cream (masculine, oddly). However, my French dictionary is not the only source of information on skin care on the planet. A French website called Huiles & Sens Aromathérapie agrees that, with this invention Claude Galien, "un médecin grec de l'Antiquité," did indeed give us one of the oldest of all cosmetic recipes. And they call it cérat de Galien.

I was so charmed by Miss Chase's retro advice (in Letters of the Century) to cream your face each night, and so pleased by the rediscovery of Pond's at about the same time I was given that book, that I have been cleansing with "the cool classic" religiously every night since. Letters of the Century came out in 1999, so that makes a good ten years of the ritual. And now they've changed the formula, the fragrance is gone or almost gone, and I continue to use it though half the pleasure of it is also gone.

Above, Galen and his first customer? No, "a Druid sacrifice," from a 1940s-era textbook copy of Caesar in Gaul. Once upon a time schoolboys really did learn a bit of Latin. 

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