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Retro Beauty

By: Steve Herman
Posted: July 13, 2011, from the July 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

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But it’s the complex chemistry of beeswax that made Galen’s cream effective. Beeswax contains approximately 300 compounds, and is not remotely like petroleum-based wax such as paraffin. The exact composition varies greatly from different sources, but all beeswax has a few things in common. And notably, for its use in a primitive formula such as Galen’s cream, it contains enough hydroxy groups to allow it to absorb some watery material.

Olive oil contains a rich brew of valuable components. The oil has vitamins A, E and K; phytosterols; the flavonoids luteolin, quercetin and squalene); and is rich in polyphenols—which are anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anticoagulant. Then there is oleocanthal, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, and squalene—which helps regulate sebum. Also present is chlorophyll, an anti-aging substance that promotes the healing of skin conditions and wounds.

Rose water is the by-product of the production of rose essential oil through steam distillation. The residual material has an array of desirable components, the specifics of which depends on the origin and manufacturing method. It is rich in flavonoids and vitamins—including A, C, D, E and B3. Benefits include antibacterial, soothing, healing and antiseptic properties.

However, there are two critical problems with Galen’s ceratum refrigerans: emulsion instability and rancidity. The rancidity problem was addressed in the late 19th century by substituting mineral oil for olive oil. The stability was radically improved with the addition of borax (sodium borate).

Borax has a long and fascinating history of its own. Marco Polo introduced it to the West upon his return from Asia, and it remained a rare commodity in the West until it was discovered in Death Valley,1 where production began in 1882.