Creams, we saturate our bodies every day, as an absolute must to stave off wrinkly dry pruned skin and slow down or reverse the signs of aging; spending a small fortune in the process. But have you ever thought; what are they made of? Why do they work? Where would we be without them? Why are they so cheap or expensive? And, who do we thank for inventing them? For insightful answers to these questions, read on…
Who Do We Thank?
Well, direct any accolades to a guy named Galen (129 – 200 AD) because before this time period, this luxurious white creamy substance did not exist. He was a prominent Greek physician practicing in Pergamum (Asia Minor) and one of the most revered alchemists, surgeons and philosophers in the Roman Empire. Arguably the most accomplished of all medical researchers of antiquity, Galen influenced the development of many scientific disciplines, including anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology and neurology. His theories dominated Western medical science for more than 1,300 years. But who cares about that, the important thing is… he invented cold cream!
What Are They Made Of?
Any cream, lotion regardless of price, performance or prestige is a mixture of fats, oils waxes and water with a few secret botanicals thrown in. The ingredients can range from plant based, natural and organic which are expensive all the way over to petroleum source which are very cheap. However, regardless of ingredient source or quality, water does not mix with fats and oils. It didn’t back then and still does not today. Before Galen’s breakthrough, there were only two basic options for skincare; water or fats and oils.
Where Would We Be Without Them?
On the water option, well, the skin is lipid soluble which means it prefers fats and oils, so water is mostly repelled by the skin and then evaporates on the surface. This is actually a good thing because if our skin absorbed water, we would look like a giant sponge and weigh 3-4 times our normal body weight. Swimming, bathing or frolicking naked in the rain would be completely out of the question.
The oils and fats option had its own drawbacks. While the skin likes these better, with some nourishment and protection provided, the molecules are generally too big to be absorbed effectively, so you are left with a greasy film on the skin which turns rancid leaving an undesirable smell. Clothing would be stained and bed sheets begin to resemble the Shroud of Turin. Thieves and naughty children easily slipped through the grasp of their pursuers. Something had to be done!
Enter Galen’s invention of cold cream or “ceratum refrigerans”. What he documented was a process of mixing olive oil, beeswax and water together. By heating both water and oils separately to select temperature, then heating and introducing an “emulsifier” – beeswax, Galen turned the cosmetic industry of that time upside down and changed it forever. The term “cold cream” which only became outdated in the late seventies came from the need to cool down the mixture so it could thicken.
I did make a small batch of the original recipe and thought it might have better use as a type of wood preservative for my back deck but hey, it was revolutionary for the time and shows how far cream development has come.
Why Is This So Good?
Well now we have the best of both worlds. A cream or lotion contains water and oils which the skin needs. Now the emulsifier breaks down both so the water and oil molecules can mingle and are fine enough to be absorbed by the skin at the same time.
We could now moisturize and nourish the skin with one product. From this simple discovery, a plethora of products such as lotions, facial cleansers, hair conditioners could now be produced as they are created from the same basic process. No more spongy, wrinkled, greasy, slippery, stinky skin and your hair could now look fabulous!
What’s With the Price?
The cost of ingredients and process involved to make expensive or cheap cream products is relatively small and certainly not enough to justify the wide gap in price. The performance however can be remarkable different. A petroleum based cream is less expensive to produce vs a plant based set of ingredients but not by much. However, if a product provides better results, it can usually command more money. Another factor usually lies in in the claims of companies marketing the products. While herbal remedies were founded in folk medicine and passed down through generations for free, cosmetics usually involved alchemists who took secret formulas to their graves. People would pay large sums of money to obtain some of these “miracle” elixirs. An industry which catered to the vanities of the wealthy, famous and beautiful was now born.
The cosmetic business of today with all of its advanced technology and research by people in lab coats with initials after their names still bears a striking resemblance to the industry of ancient times. Chemists still protect their formulas as trade secrets yet boast about using rare anti-aging substances.Ridiculous stories are concocted to dupe the vulnerable consumer in their quest to look younger, remove age spots or smooth out wrinkles. Outlandish tales such as a “dew found on the inside of a flower found in the Amazon which had been urinated on by a rare beetle during mating season which lifts sagging skin” or the “extract created from sea kelp near New Zealand which has been licked by the Kabuki turtle that healed 3rd degree burns”. Oh, I could go on… Sounds silly? You bet, but many will shell out obscene amounts of money to try it and the industry banks on this.
Selling techniques have changed very little – image, mystique and secrecy are still vital to peddling even mundane products for exorbitant prices. Topped off by expensive packaging and the endorsement of a celebrity which adds significant cost to each container you purchase, and contributes nothing to quality. In fact, having to pay these other expenses means cutting corners somewhere, and that usually means the product itself. Now that’s ridiculous.
Ultimately, the contents of the jar or bottle are what counts. There are many small manufacturers that take the care to produce quality, affordable creams and lotions with common ingredients which provide excellent results for the skin without globe-trotting discoveries. The other option is to make your own. And no, you don’t need to be someone with many initials in a white coat or an icon of antiquity to achieve this. Ask me how.
Nascent Naturals Inc.
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