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Vintage Beauty Nostalgia: The Power of Beauty Memories…and DIY Cold Cream

I was making a cream the other day, and as I was enjoying the potent aroma of Turkish rose that I use in almost all of my products, a thought entered my mind. Is this the scent my kids will associate with me years in the future? Will this scent bring them back to fun times in their childhood, or special memories of our relationship? Will their children also associate Turkish roses with me, a generation into the future? I then began to think about my own “beauty memories” from my own childhood.

I thought of loved ones who have passed, who I always associate scent with when I’m feeling nostalgic about them. For example, when I think of my dear Uncle Ray who passed in 2015, I can always recall the scent of smoke and Old Spice. When I think of my lovely Aunt Joan, who is nearly 90, the scent of Aqua Net, Opium by Yves St. Laurent (which I got in trouble for getting into and accidentally spilling when I was a kid), and the Avon lipsticks she still wears and sold for years.

My strongest beauty memory though, is of my mom’s cold cream.

She used to use both Nivea and Noxema cold creams regularly (and sometimes Jergens, which I remember smelling sweet and almondy). I remember watching her apply them thickly to remove her makeup, and enjoying Nivea’s delicate feminine scent and Noxema’s more camphorous, medicinal aroma. My mom really only used them during her power suit businesswoman days in the 1980s and early 1990s. She then switched to things like olive oil and cocoa butter (and then I started making her creams years later). However, those were my formative years, so those beauty memories are forever cemented in my psyche.

cold cream application

I remember sneaking into her bathroom, and sticking my little fingers into the blue jar to scoop out a big dollop of those creams. I’d apply it like a thick mask (think Mrs. Doubtfire sticking her face into the lemon meringue pie), and pretend to be one of the glamorous ladies in the magazine ads or TV commercials. When my skin started breaking out when I was 10 (not gonna lie–I’m sure those occlusive creams did not help with that!), I’d look more for the Noxema since it was “medicinal.” Needless to say, I stopped messing with those creams once my skin began to get worse and the magazines told me I needed drying toners and benzoyl peroxide wipes instead of cold creams.

Did you know that cold cream was the first mass produced cosmetic?

1948 Ponds cold cream advertisement

Pond’s and Vaseline cold creams were some of the first ever, which became popular towards the end of the Industrial Revolution in the mid to late 1800s. Nivea, Noxema, and Jergens are just a few of the many other cold cream brands that have been around for decades, if not over a century.

While cold creams themselves started to use popularity at the end of the 20th century, due to changes in cosmetic ingredient trends (chemical exfoliation started to become more prevalent, and water based lotions and serums), they have never gone away completely. Today even upscale products like Creme de la Mer are just re-imagined iterations of mass produced cold cream.

Mass produced cold cream is made with a base of cheap, manufactured ingredients such as white petrolatum and mineral oil. While these might help to cleanse makeup and seal in hydration due to the fact that they form an occlusive barrier on the skin, they do not actually provide nourishment into the skin. Since they do not absorb like plant-based carrier oils and butters, they can’t function as a carrier for other performance ingredients, extracts, or “actives” either.

But cold cream didn’t start with the Industrial Revolution.

In fact, its earliest versions can be traced back nearly 2000 years to places such as ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece. Since many non-“Western Civ” cultures have their versions of thick creams too, I would posit that cold cream dates back even further and on other continents.

Jars of vintage Egyptian Queen Cold Cream

Instead of petroleum-derived lipids, natural oils pressed from olives or almonds were used. Instead of plain water, flower-infused waters were used. Beeswax was also used. Over the centuries, other natural ingredients were added at various times, and others were replaced with alternatives (sometimes natural, sometimes not). But cold cream itself has been with humans since its earliest days of recorded history.

Why has cold cream stood the test of time?

First of all, it was–and is–easy to make. In its purest form, only a few ingredients were needed. It’s also highly customizable, which is why we’ve seen–and continue to see–so many versions of it on the market today, as well as throughout history. It can be made with natural ingredients or synthetics–or a combination of both.

Cold cream in its pre-Industrial days was also highly nutrient-dense. The oils were rich with antioxidants and essential fatty acids, and later additions of flower waters and hydrosols added to its nutrient profile. It was touted to soften fine lines, soothe redness, clear blemishes, and even brighten the skin.

DIY cold cream ingredients added to bowl

Mass produced cold cream has lost most of its nutritional benefit; and pre-Industrial cold cream formulations did have some problems–the creams often separated because beeswax was not strong enough to hold the oil and water together, and they went bad because there were no preservatives. Functional ingredients were added over time to help with this, but unfortunately many of them were either not ethically sourced, were perishable themselves (like eggs), or were toxic/skin irritant. Those ingredients can stay in the past!

Now you can enjoy both the nostalgia and nourishment from good old fashioned cold cream!

I have always been fascinated with learning about ancient and vintage beauty remedies that have stood the test of time. Though many of them have been recreated with cheaper ingredients and mass produced, these commercial products do not hold the same benefits or appeal for me. Mass production in the cosmetic industry has caused more harm than good. The reason for that is that the goal is always going to be producing the highest quantity for the lowest cost. When that is the goal, then quality suffers and the industry is more about profit margins than it is about what’s actually good for the skin.

What if we could recreate an authentic cold cream with traditional, pre-industrial ingredients that nourish, hydrate, and protect the skin? What if we could do it in a way that’s shelf stable, non-toxic, and properly preserved?

That’s exactly what we do in the Vintage Beauty Club.

I’m proud to present my “Everything’s Coming Up Roses Cold Cream” class in my new brand, The Vintage Beauty Club, which offers affordable and fun stand-alone vintage beauty “recipe redo” classes.

In The Vintage Beauty Club, we’ll dive into some of the most popular vintage beauty and herbal skincare products–like cold cream–that have stood the test of time. We’ll keep all the good stuff, and swap out the old toxic ingredients with the safe, modern, improved alternatives that are available today.

We’ll keep the nostalgic, vintage fun AND have products that are safe, beneficial for all skin types and tones, and shelf stable.

Learn to make a gorgeously updated cold cream in my “Everything’s Coming Up Roses Cold Cream” class in the Vintage Beauty Club.

Everything's Coming Up Roses Cold Cream

Here’s what you get:

  • Video lessons which explain the history of the recipe, and a demonstration of how we’ll recreate it so it’s safe and shelf stable
  • A video tutorial on how to measure out ingredients properly
  • The original recipe and the updated one
  • A shopping list of ingredients, packaging, and supplies, as well as suggestions on where to find them easily online

All this is available for just a single payment of $37!

Click HERE to learn more about The Vintage Beauty Club, and join today with our Everything’s Coming Up Roses Cold Cream. New VBC classes are in development, and will be released periodically!

Do you have a favorite beauty memory, or ancient recipe that you’d like to see recreated in the Vintage Beauty Club?

I am so excited to hear your thoughts. Drop your suggestions/requests in the comments below!

*Image credits: “Cold Cream” by Miss Morice is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. “1948 advertisement for Pond’s Cold Cream” by Matthew Paul Argall – Old Ads is marked with CC PDM 1.0. “Vintage Egyptian Queen Cold Cream, National Toliet Co., Paris, Tenn., ‘Its Use Makes Satisfied Friends'” by France1978 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. “Cold cream of peach soup” by kthypryn is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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5 thoughts on “Vintage Beauty Nostalgia: The Power of Beauty Memories…and DIY Cold Cream”

    1. Rachael Pontillo

      It is fun! And yes, adding a preservative to prevent the growth of pathogens is one of the updates in the “Everything’s Coming Up Roses Cold Cream” recipe. We use an antimicrobial botanical blend.

  1. Interesting article and offering! I am older and have used oils for quite a while now. Some months ago, I did try Besame Cosmetics cold cream. She is reimagining the vintage ways also. All pure, gluten free and all of that. Lab tested. And yet my skin got significantly burned. Took weeks to recover. So I am wondering if I just can’t use cream? I don’t mind because I can get lovely oils but I do wonder. (I appreciate that company and they did take all the product back for which I was very grateful.)

    1. Rachael Pontillo

      Hi Leslie, Besame has a lovely brand and I love a lot of what they do! However their cold cream recipe is more of a modern/mass produced one that does not really resemble the ancient or even early mass produced simple recipes. The beauty of being able to make your own is that you can customize it–if there are ingredients in the recipe that don’t work for you, you can make substitutions! And if you decide to join the Vintage Beauty Club, that’s something I can help you with 🙂 –Rachael

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