What oils did our ancestors used on their skin and hair? The Toilette Of Health, Beauty, And Fashion mentions the most common:
1. Oil of cacao
The oil of cacao is the best and most natural of all pomades. It is well adapted to dry skins, which it renders soft and smooth, without the appearance of being greasy. It is much used by the Spanish ladies of Mexico. In France and England it cannot be used pure, because it grows too hard. It becomes necessary to blend it with some other oil—as oil of ben, or oil of sweet almonds cold drawn.
2. Oil of ben
Oil of ben is extracted by expression from nuts of the same name. Oil of ben possesses the property of never becoming rancid; it has neither taste nor smell; and in consequence of this latter quality, the perfumers use it with advantage to take the scent off flowers, and to make very agreeable essences. The ladies use this oil to soften the skin. When mixed with vinegar and nitre, it is also employed for curing pimples and itching. The oil of ben, moreover, is used with success as a lenitive for bums, acrid eruptions, chapped lips, and sore breasts.
3. Oil of Wheat
This oil is extracted by an iron press, in the same manner as oil of almonds. It is excellent for chaps, either of lips or hands, tettery eruptions, and rigidity of the skin.
4. Oil of Tuberoses and Jasmine
The essence of these and other fragrant flowers communicated to olive oil, oil of sweet almonds, or oil of ben. The oils of tuberoses, or jasmine flowers are of use for the toilette on account of their fragrancy. There are cases in which they may be successfully used by way of friction, to comfort and strengthen the nerves, and brace up the skin when too much relaxed — though we apprehend beyond their fragrance, they possess little advantage over the oils above named.
5. Oil, or Water of Talc
High encomiums were bestowed by the ancients on a water or oil of talc, which they averred possessed the property of blanching the complexion, and ensuring to women the freshness of youth till the most advanced age. The manner in which they composed this precious cosmetic has not reached us. A French author, however, has given the way of composing a liquid that may serve as a substitute for it; and a German chemist some years ago published a method of supplying this secret possessed by the cosmetics of antiquity. ‘All,” says he, ‘who have directed their attention to cosmetics, have regretted the loss of the secret of making water of talc, and have looked upon it as a discovery of the utmost importance to the Graces.’ ‘The following composition, perhaps, approaches nearest to that highly vaunted cosmetic,’ says the author of Abdeker, which is laid down by him as follows :—
“Take any quantity of talc, divide it into lanunae and calcine it with yellow sulphur. Then pound it, and wash it in a great quantity of hot water. When you are sure that you have extracted all the salts by this washing, gently pour off the water, and leave the pulp at the bottom of the vessel to dry. When dry, calcine it in a furnace for two hours with a strong heat. Take a pound of this calcined talc and reduce it to powder, with two ounces of sal ammoniac. Put the whole into a glass bottle, and set it in a damp place. All the talc will spontaneously dissolve, and then you have nothing more to do than to pour off the liquor gently, taking care not to disturb it.” This liquor is as clear and as bright as a pearl, and it is impossible to present the sex with a cosmetic whose effects are more astonishing.
M. Justi, a German chemist, who also endeavored to recover a secret of such importance to the fair sex, lays down the following process: Take two parts of Venetian talc, and two parts of calcined borax.
After M. Justi had perfectly pulverized and reduced these substances, he put them into a crucible, which he covered with a lid, and placed in a furnace. He exposed it for an hour to a very violent heat, and at the end of that time he found the mixture transformed into glass, of a greenish yellow color. This glass he reduced to powder, then mixed it with two parts of salt of tartar, and again melted the whole in a crucible. By this second fusion he obtained a mass, which he placed in a cellar, upon an inclined piece of glass, with a vessel underneath it. In a short time the whole was converted into a liquid in which the talc perfectly dissolved.
The authors of the Encyclopoedie Fransaise, say, “it is obvious that by this process you obtain a liquid of the same nature as that called oil of tartar, per deliquium, which is nothing but fixed alkali dissolved by humidity. It is very doubtful whether the talc contributes at all to the properties of this liquid: but it is certain that fixed alkali possesses the property of making the skin perfectly white and clear, and of taking away any spots which it may have contracted. For the rest, it seems that this liquid may be applied without any danger to the skin.”
Which one would you have used?