How to Make Galen’s Cold Cream

Two things have changed since my first three attempts at making lotion: I attended a workshop on making lotions and I bought a hand-blender. I am not sure which made the most difference but I have a feeling they were both important. After using an eggbeater to try to make lotion and ending up with a kind of waxy froth cream (I pretended it was lotion and it kind of was, until it separated), and using a plain ol’ whisk to make cream and ending up with a thick, white paste (which was actually, very amazing. Just not creamy…) I finally signed up for a workshop and went to the library and got a bunch of books. There was one recipe in all of these texts, including the workshop handout: Galen’s Cold Cream. In French, it’s called Cerat Galien.

I have written a bit about my adventures in making lotion already, so rather than go over all of those recipes, I would like to go back to basics and tell you about Galen’s Cold Cream. Galen was a Greek physicist who invented a recipe for a cream using rosewater, olive oil and beeswax. After application, the rosewater in the cream evaporates leaving the skin feeling cool. Hence the name Cold Cream! I remember as a teen reading American novels in which all these ladies were covering their faces in cold cream at night and I didn’t have a clue what it was. I thought it was some kind of grease mask. Which it kind of is, I guess. Mostly, it is used as a cleanser at night, or simply, as a night cream, as it is pretty heavy. Or, as I recently discovered, as Body Butter. Honestly, it is just as luscious and creamy as any body butter you might buy for $20. Just look at it!

Galen's Cold Cream

Galen’s Cold Cream

Ok, so you can probably tell, it’s back to basics for me because this time I actually managed to make a cream. What I learnt is that the most important thing is to get a hand blender, a good simple recipe to start, and finally, to not be afraid. The cream can take a lot of beating. Literally. If you are using beeswax or a GMS/stearic acid type of wax, then you have to blend it good and long or else it will separate. Also, don’t be afraid of Borax, or sodium borate: it is a completely natural and non-toxic substance. When using beeswax it is a co-emulsifier and helps the wax bind water and oil, and also to keep them bound. The original recipe does not call for borax, but then you may have to re-blend it at some point.

Ok, without too much ado, here is the original recipe for Galen’s Cold Cream (they are all the same, but these measurements came from Janice Cox’s book “Natural Beauty from the Garden”) with notes on alternatives.

Ingredients and Measurements:

  • 1/2 cup Olive Oil          – or almond oil. I used half lavender-infused almond-oil, and the other half grapeseed oil.
  • 1/4 cup Rosewater      – you can also use distilled water, if you want something less floral.
  • 2 tbsp Beeswax            – if you don’t have it in pellets, it helps to grate it. Do not substitute for other waxes
  • Optional: 1/8 teaspoon borax. I recommend this if you have it.

Instructions:

  • In a double-boiler, melt the beeswax in the oil. Heat slowly until the wax is fully melted in with the oil. Here my beeswax is almost melted:SAM_0662
  • In another double-boiler, mix the floral water with the borax and heat until the borax is fully melted and at the same temperature as the oil.

When working with beeswax it is important that both the water solution and the oil solution be really hot, since beeswax has a high melting point and a fusion point of 63C. Apparently, you can do this without a thermometer by judging that both be very hot but not boiling, and most importantly, the same temperature. If you do have a thermometer, you can make sure that they are both around 60 C (140F). According to the workshop I took, the water should be at 55 Celsius (131F) and the oil at 65 Celsius (149F). But I think that the most important part is that both solutions should be hot, and at the same temperature. Personally, I have had some trouble getting my temperatures above 60 C, so I stopped there.

  • Once the solutions are at the same temperature, or 55-65, then slowly pour the water into the oil, or the other way around. It doesn’t matter which one you pour, as long as you pour slowly, and whisk/blend while you pour. Alternatively, you can also pour the water into a blender and then turn the blender on low and slowly drizzle the oil into the vortex. I started by pouring the water into the oil while blending with a milk frother (a little battery operated whisk). When all the water had been incorporated, I switched to my handblender and buzzed for 20-30 seconds until it looked like this:
Freshly blended cold cream

Freshly blended cold cream

Then I stirred in my GSE and poured it into an old body butter jar, and tried tapping out the air bubbles. Voila! SAM_0668It set really nicely, and was luscious right from the start. It settled and got a bit harder over night, but it spreads just like a Bodyshop body butter.

The cream the day after,  being stirred with my stirring stick, and with a sunflower petal on it :)

The cream the day after, being stirred with my stirring stick, and with a sunflower petal on it 🙂

Because I used an infused oil, rather than an essential oil, it smells like fresh lavender and faintly of rosewater. It is the best cream ever! I use it as a night cream, and as a body butter. My daytime face cream is another cream I made with less oil, and an addition of e-wax. But that recipe is for another post 😀

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16 thoughts on “How to Make Galen’s Cold Cream

    • marsbalms says:

      Hi Marie! Shelf life of homemade products will vary depending on a number of factors that would not (necessarily) be variables in industrial cosmetics: ingredients, production, storage, and usage. Ingredients is an obvious one, but is especially important when making emulsions (lotions with a water phase and oil phase) because water is a breeding ground for bacteria and mold. This is why you want to use distilled water or a hydrosol instead of tap water. In essence, the cleaner the water, the longer the shelf life. To avoid bacteria growing in your creams, it’s important to sterilize your working area, tools and containers: this too, will extend the shelf life of your products. Or rather, ensure it. Lastly, the way you use your cream will also effect its shelf life: cleaning your hands before scooping out cream with your fingers, or using a tool of sorts, will prevent bacteria from getting into your cream. Alternatively, you can store your cream in a pump bottle. Also, storing your cream in a cool, dark place will extend its shelf-life. In summertime I sometimes store mine in the fridge. The reason I use GSE is because for a natural product, it’s a pretty good anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. In the end however, unless you choose to add some kind of synthetic preservative, bacteria will spoil your water-based cream. And in my opinion, this is how it should be. Water based creams are really fresh products, and so, to finally answer your questions, are best used within two weeks. This seems to be the general consensus. But like I said, you can extend its shelf life by treating it more like a food item (or by using a synthetic preservative. There are more “natural” options like potassium sorbate). And this cream has a pretty low water content and so will last longer than say a 70% water based lotion without preservative. I’ve had jars of cold cream last more than a month, and I’ve yet to see it spoil. But eventually of course, it will spoil. Every water based cream would without preservatives. The best thing it to let your senses guide you: does it smell good, does it look good? If you are the scientist type, why not put a few little samples away in different places, date them and see what happens! Good luck and thanks for reading!

      • David says:

        Dating them and placing in various locations is a great idea! I recommend erasable ” The spoilage question seems to be the make-it or skip-it determiner for this recipe, at least, in my gleeming-research. I agree with Mars Balms’, above opinion, that “spoilage” is quite an important part for this product;

        Fresh products produce refreshing results.

        In the earlier days of this current modern era, this recipe, in my research findings, was made by a local chemist, weekly, if my memory serves. In those days, the cold cream was applied at night to skin that had breath (not newly clean- skin that was cleaned in the morning or using cold cream as an excellent cleaner), applying in a mask-style when you would usually keep another at arms’-length, otherwise, if you are to be seen after application, the use of a felted (wool) cloth to polish away dust after application is a great idea.

        Hydrosol (distilled botanical water) goes rancid when you see splotches in the bottle, as does the scent begin to change way-before the black fuzziness begins. Being that distilled water is, in part, what your skin is utilizing, even with the best preparation, even the freshest-made cold-cream will have air particles which contain microbes and are essential to healthy living. When the H2O (or H2O3, in my case,) begins to evaporate / mostly evaporates, or in the absence of borax in which the water separates from the wax/oil, the lack of water causes the already blooming microbial growth to colonize in areas that once had water, they are now working together to find water- That’s mold or fungi.

        In my experiments, within the recent 8 months of making Galen’s Cold Cream using this webpage, I’ve noticed my skin has experienced cellular refinement when using batches that were 2 weeks fresh, regardless if I’ve successfully stabilized its shelf-life for an extended duration. That makes me rethink any otc product! I’ve even tried soaking H2O2/H2O3 in hyaluronic acid for 48 hours then combining- that extends the water cleanliness though after two weeks, I can feel a difference in how my skin bounces and in the dewy factor. If you’re into it, I find that making this batch for me and for my hairless Chinese Crested children, splitting them in smaller containers and storing half in the fridge crisper allows for only once a month (or every 3-4 weeks) of cold-cream brewing so it’s worthy and timely!

        Again, thanks for this webpage Mars Balms ! david

  1. David says:

    Hello,
    I’ve been relying on this page and your version of Galen’s cold cream recipe since December 2015, using cosmetic borax and without then, I began blending in my own ideas once I became comfortable with making this weekly, then bi-weekly and now extended until my 17oz jar & 100/200ml black glass jar containers require(s) refilling. I’m writing to provide suggestions to use enlieu of borax. Not that borax is bad, because finding cosmetic borax may be challenging for the masses and the detergent variety of borax, which is readily available, is indeed, comedogenic, to my skin.

    I use mountain herbs borax powder and it is less comedogenic however not completely non-comedogenic.

    I use distilled water with Bulgarian Rose Otto which barely has a scent, the rose is indeed a necessity for plump and clear skin, I suspect Galen used hydrosol rosewater as the need for clean water, distilled or the like, was the only method for using products that purify the skin without rancidity. Nonetheless, playing with the recipe, I found a few binders that are holding as well if not better than borax while assisting in skin’s lift, tightening, plump and remodeling; MicroSilica Spheres, Cyclomethicone (and) Dimethicone (for morning use), Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate (non-exfoliate), Gladback, REGU-SCENCE, Hyaluronic Acid 1.0 – 1.5 Million Daltons (ULMW-LMW-1.0-M to 1500M dalton), Pepha-Tight, Lift, Sepilift DPHP, Syntax, dl-Panthanol (perhaps Panthenol), finally, among many others, Cyclopentasiloxane (and) C30-45 Alkyl Cetearyl Dimethicone Crosspolymer is excellent for daytime use (leaves soft supple/silky matte/dew finish. I’ve used a few at a time plus others for body recipes, to say the least, my skin is perfected/perfecting using Galen’s cold cream recipe with these edits.

    Thank you for the base recipe in easy to make instructions!

    David
    Voila.us

    • marsbalms says:

      Hi David! Thanks for your comment and suggestions! I’m honored that you have found this post helpful and inspiring and glad to hear that your skin is benefiting from your creations 😀 I agree that this recipe allows you to get comfortable with making emulsions while also leaving space for improvisation. I demonstrated this recipe during a workshop last year for that very reason. I love your take on the rosewater – I have never read of anyone using rose otto in place of rose water, and it sounds really lovely 🙂 Where do you get your EOs? I believe that in Galen’s time he would have used a rose petal infusion rather than a hydrosol (which if I’m not mistaken, was “invented” in Persia expressly for making rose otto! The leftovers from the distillation is of course, the hydrosol).
      Thanks for the info on borax. I never knew that borax is comedogenic! I wonder how they go about making the borax less comedogenic, it would be fun to find out! It seems some people avoid borax because they believe it to be harsh, even toxic. I myself have never had any adverse reactions to it, even though I try to remind myself that natural doesn’t necessarily mean safe, just as lab-made doesn’t necessarily mean unsafe. In this case I trust the people who taught me to use it. Speaking of lab-made, the ingredients you mentioned adding to your cold cream are mostly unfamiliar to me. Actually, I haven’t heard of most of them! I tend to keep to vegetable-based and -derived ingredients, not only because it is easier to find, but one of the reasons I started making my own body products was to “go natural”. I did however order some Incroquat (BTMS-50) the other day and I’m very excited to use it!! Apparently, in lotions it adds a silky, powdery feel and also acts as an emulsifier and it is derived from rape seed oil. I’ve also ordered some DL-panthenol. I have heard of dimethicone polymer – incidentally, my mother gave me a sample of Kielh’s “Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate” which contains Dimethicone AND dimethicone cross-polymer and it does exactly what you describe: leaves a silky matte, dew finish. Still, the crunchy hippie in me can’t help but feel wary of polymers. But to each their own! I’m just happy to hear you found this post useful and that you’re making and loving your own products! That’s what it’s all about. Thanks for reading and sharing 😀

      • David says:

        Hi Again!

        I searched Google again to find this base-recipe, even though this page is bookmarked; I’m raising 2 hairless Chinese Crested males, Isaac Newton is 7 years of age and neutral, however, the younger one, “Jewels Climb Higher Caishen Noodle” is 7 months of age and entering his pubescent phase (months 6-12 includes pimple-battling).

        Caishen’s skin began erupting and I had not made Cold Cream in about 6 weeks or more, perhaps 8 weeks!!! After bringing my basket of waxes & oils to the kitchen for setting up a funny makeshift lab, I realized, I couldn’t remember the ratio; was it ½ cup oil and ½ cup water? I googled quickly while already in the process of shredding ½ ounce of beeswax, I know that the beeswax is always 1 oz to begin, for a thicker and well-made formula. I was on the kitchen computer which I use primarily for cooking recipes & kitchen necessities – instead of my main “research” computer. Well, what I found from google searches were numerous websites explaining Galen’s recipe though they were recommending fossil fuel & mineral oil (which causes skin/hair to be addicted to those while those by-products turn the skin into thin cardboard seen in later-years’ Cold Creams – mass produced elasticity breakdown creams), I couldn’t believe it, knowing that wasn’t the correct recipe and not finding “MARS” (now realizing it’s “MarsBalms”), I found that the web pages all had something in common, they were all recommending 1 cup of distilled water (or hydrosol, in my world) (thanks for clarifying the distillation period being Persian, I now remember the whole Otto story being described, AMAZING to me, I’ll research!, Thank you for reminding me of Galen using rose petal infusion, too!!! I still think Galen was using botanicals for, in-part, an anti-bacterial (anti-mold) purpose as researching an era in second century Europe I found that powdered botanicals were used to heal wounds, I’ll research Galen’s era as soon as I can ! ).

        Indeed I’m on a journey, I see.

        Anywho-, since I was already heating up the double broiler, I stopped searching for this “MARS BALMS” page and followed another recipe, which turned out to be a good liquid… Goodness gracious. I made 3 batches, half of the third batch turned out perfectly (yay for Caishen Noodle) so I stored the remainder to figure out how to combine and decided to wait until today to find your website! Again, I use your website as the bases for every product that I create (and I create lots of items for skin, hair and my Crested kids).

        The Sandalwood Rose hydrosol turned out magnificently ! 72 hours ago, Caishen Noodle’s neck and back was full of clogged pores, we had been working on them with Egypt Neroli (edenbotanicals.com), Helichrysum Italicum (blending 2 varieties, H.Italicum from EdensGarden.com, H. Italicum from EdenBotanicals.com [contains ketones] into a 10ml) though I hadn’t had time to make cold cream, even though this recipe literally calls for, at most, half an hour- at most! I was able to keep his skin under control however he would have bursts of eruptions- His diet/water/hygiene continues to be superb. I added Egypt Neroli from EdenBotanicals (my favorite for me to enjoy) and that cleared him up quickly but new clogged pores popped up so I made Cold Cream. Actually before typing this, I learned that the root cause was that my partner was using “Clearasil” while I was not looking, completely defeating the entire 6 months of research/application findings! I was relieved to learn of this and quick to throw his products in the garbage where they belong! The products being sold as wipes no longer have the same goal as they did in the beginning, that applies to almost all products we see being used on the body, today (and since the industrial revolution).

        My hairless Chinese Crested is now completely clear ! I swear it is the beeswax (the hand-poured variety). The beeswax must be sealing in its microbial antibodies because my little Noodle is not scratching anymore and his skin is silky smooth and CLEAR ! You began using BTMS-50 and I was wondering about that formula for softening and detangling my hair! I’ve tried to recreate my favorite hair product, moroccanoil, which is cyclomethecone/dymethecone with argan, that experiement continues to require a soften/detangler, perhaps BTMS-50?

        I have to figure out how often Caishen will require maintenance while I added anti-sagging, Actigym body reshaping and molecular-barrier for reconstructing my legs, arms and cheeks! I should add, I also used Sodium Bentonite and Calcium Bentonite on Caishen Noodle to jump-start his clear skin and that did much of the work on the “already surfaced” clogged pore, though, the clay did not work on the unsurfaced clogged pores, only the cold cream with Egypt Neroli made his skin completely clear, overnight.

        Like you stated above, I, too, am more of a hippy and began making my own products to get away from the cookie-cutter-synthetic/fossil-fuel ick that’s usually pushed on our society. By adding the anti-gravity, anti-UV & anti-pollution elements to the Cold Cream, by the way, which are found in nature (through lotioncrafter.com) and by adding a few elements to add some subtle matte shimmer for dewy beauty skin, you know I’m satisfied! Thank you again ! Love & hugs ! David (Rose Otto is best from edenbotanicals in my experience).

  2. Kimmy says:

    Thank you for taking the time to educate us. I am apprehensive in purchasing borax as I know so little about it other than for killing insects. Is there a special kind used in this cream or is it the same detergent ?

    • marsbalms says:

      Hi Kimmy! thanks for your comment. You can buy cosmetic grade borax, which is essentially pure borax. In the US you can get it at Mountain Rose Herbs https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/products/borax-powder/profile If you find borax that doesn’t say cosmetic grade, it should at least list if there are other ingredients in it besides borax, like detergents etc. The assumption would be that cosmetic grade is purer and cleaner and perhaps this is true, but keep in mind that borax is mined. It would be interesting to know if there’s a purifying process that goes into the cosmetic grade. I think you just gave me some homework to do 😉 You can always use other co-emulsifiers if you prefer, like cetyl alcohol.

      • Kimmy says:

        Thank you very much for clarifying the borax concern.

        I am very new to this science and am strictly interested in making the Galen’s cold cream so your help has been valuable.

        Sorry to give you more to do (tongue in cheek). Have a lovely day and thanks again for perpetuating your knowledge.

        Kimmy

  3. Kimmy says:

    I was successful at my first attempt (didn’t separate) but it seems a bit sticky. Any suggestions ? Maybe I used too much wax or should have blended longer ?

    I would appreciate your input.

    I used:
    olive oil
    Borax
    Rose water
    Rose essential oil

    Thanks Kimmy

    • marsbalms says:

      Beeswax can have that effect for sure. I think most home cosmetics makers end up using ewax or polawax in their creams (or that’s what I did anyway) because beeswax will always yield a thick unctuous cream. But try using a little less. One author, Susan Miller Cavitch says she’s fine tuned her creams this way, by using less and less beeswax until she got something she liked. Another possibility is the olive oil. A lot of people find olive oil too thick and slow absorbing to use in creams and use grapeseed oil instead. Olive oil is so great for your skin though, so it depends what your goal is, but you could try half and half to start. I usually substitute a bit with almond oil. I hope this helps, let me know how it goes 🙂

      • Kimmy says:

        Thank you once again for your suggestion. Instead of using 10 grams of beeswax I used 7-8 and it worked like a dream.

        I also referred to my chocolate making skills and prepared two stainless containers, fitted with handles, with the appropriate ingredients and put them in the oven instead of a double boiler. This worked wonderfully as well.

      • marsbalms says:

        That’s awesome! I’m so glad it worked 🙂 Customizing recipes to your liking is definitely a great feeling because you get to make it your own. And I love the idea of putting the containers in the oven, a sure fire way of getting them at the same temperature and avoiding steam burns haha I get so many of those … How was the consistency of the cream in the end?

      • Kimmy says:

        I was pleasantly surprised with the consistency which was creamy. As time went by it got a little brittle, not sure the correct terminology, and I may reduce the beeswax further. I will take your suggestion and use an oil other than olive.

        Thanks again

      • marsbalms says:

        I love creamy consistencies too, i have really dry skin. Do you mean it separated? I love sweet almond oil and grapeseed oil for creams, they are really light even though the almond oil is a tad richer. It’s so cool to hear about your process, let me know how it goes 🙂

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