Victorian Era Cold Cream; a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

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, circa 1814, To A Lady: in imitation of the thirtieth Epigram of the fifth Book of Martial

Cold Cream
Cold cream is most likely the first manufactured cosmetic, and was invented by the Roman physician Galen around 150AD. He mixed rosewater into molten beeswax and olive oil to make a creamy, buttery emulsion. The ‘cold’ refers to the cooling sensation that occurs when it was rubbed on the skin. It has remained a popular until this day; I use a form of cold cream night and morning as I suffer from dry skin. (You might say I’m a fan of Galen.) Cold cream is a water in oil concoction rather than the oil in water of vanishing cream, named because it seems to disappear when applied on skin.


The Victorian women used cold cream, even though the use of make-up was considered ‘common’. Compared to some of the beautifying substances used, like arsenic and lead, cold cream actually did soften the skin and help prevent wrinkles, without killing you. The delicacy on a lady’s complexion was important.

otto-of-rose Cold Cream

Do you think that is meant to be attar of rose? Though the distillation of rose oil from rose petals by steam creates rose otto.

Cold Cream (Cosmetic Cerate, Pommade en Creme): Take an ounce each of white wax and spermaceti (whale oil), and 1 quarter pint of oil of almonds; melt, pour the mixture into a marble or Wedgewood-ware mortar (or porcelain basin), which has been heated by being immersed, for some time, in boiling water; add, very gradually, 4 fluid ounces of Eau de Rose; and assiduously stir the mixture until an emulsion is formed, and afterwards until the whole is very nearly cold. Lastly, put it into porcelain or earthenware pots for use or sale

Recipe from the Kate Tattersall Adventures website.

As a feminist, I see nothing wrong with a woman using beautifying products. It is a personal choice. In Western Culture of the Victorian era, women were valued more for their looks than their intellects. Cold cream was more important than cool nerves and rationality. So, what about the clever woman who also uses cold cream … should that symbolise cold intellect? But why should logic always be seen as cold, and as emotions as warm? Better yet, a combination of both sounds like the perfect balance, with the heart supporting the brain and vice versa. 


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Filed under Fashion, History, Metaphors, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Genre, Uncategorized, Victorian-era Fashion

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