Yes, I know, I let a moment go by without picking up my pen... Oh, I haven't forgotten you, no! If I left my pen for a moment, it was only to come back to my first loves : beauty and its history. I have indeed devoted myself, in the greatest secrecy, to the development of a second range of treatments which I hope will delight your delicate nostrils as much as your skin. Eager as always to respect the beauty secrets of yesteryear as best as possible, I had the privilege of working hand in hand with the Potager du Roi to reintroduce a variety of cucumber that had disappeared centuries ago! Because it is of course this cucurbit, which is believed to have many virtues in cosmetics, that I have set my sights on. The perfect opportunity to look back on its history in cosmetics... And reveal 4 versions of the famous cucumber ointment in 4 recipes:
Cucumber in cosmetics, from Hippocrates to the Enlightenment.
If today, the use of cucumber in cosmetics seems obvious to us, it is a custom that dates back to the dawn of time! The Hippocratic medicine of opposites already lent it virtues to temper, calm and refresh the dryness and ardor of moods, just like squash, melon and pumpkin. It is these virtues that have earned them the name of the "four cold seeds".
For a time, it then seemed to fall into disuse: it was not until the 16th century that it was brought back into fashion in cosmetics! Thus, the doctor Jean Liébault recommends to counter the tan left by the sun making and then applying a cucumber-based ointment.
Botanical plate of a variety of cucumber from the 18th century: the white cucumber of Bonneuil
From the following century, the cucumber once again became a leading active ingredient in cosmetic preparations intended to refresh and soften the skin, if not to whiten it. Thus distilled, it integrates many formulas of cosmetic waters. And, above all, it imposes itself as main ingredient in the manufacture of skin emulsions and ointments suitable for removing redness, maintaining and refreshing the complexion.
And then ? In the 18th century, the time for distilled waters was over: if the cucumber leaves a feeling of freshness, perfumers know from experience that distillation promotes the loss of these "active principles". This cucurbitaceae is therefore no longer used except for the preparation of eponymous ointments. The one now called "cucumber ointment" then reached its peak, elevated to the rank of true standard of Enlightenment cosmetics, and recognized as such by the scientific community of the time.
Cucumber ointment in 4 recipes
Like many cosmetic preparations of the time, while cucumber ointment was a standard product in the 18th century, there were many recipes for it! I have therefore selected an anthology that should allow you to get a first idea. Sensitive souls abstain: all without exception contain animal fat (used here as an excipient)...
1. The ointment to remove redness and refresh the complexion of Simon Barbe
It is to the perfumer Simon Barbe that we owe this version of the cucumber ointment, which he recommends to remove redness and refresh the complexion. He combines it for this with sweet almond oil and virgin wax:
"You shall blanch a pound of male pork belly in water by soaking it for several days, as I have explained before, and being drained you shall put it in a new earthen pot with an ounce and a half of the four pounded cold seeds, two or
three tree frog apples cut into pieces, a piece of veal roll four fingers tall; you will boil the whole thing in a bain-marie for four hours, then you will pass your ointment through a tight cloth, and you will drop the coulature (sic) into a terrine which you will put afterwards on the hot ashes, adding an ounce of sweet almond oil and an ounce of white virgin wax, all melted and mixed together you remove it from the heat, beating this ointment with the spatula until it is cold and it will be done. »
2. Cucumber ointment by Pierre-Joseph Buc'Hoz
Botanist Pierre-Joseph Buc'Hoz combines cucumber with melon and pippin apples to make his ointment!
Recipe from Buc'Hoz, "Laboratory of Flora", 1771
3. cucumber ointment by Pierre-Antoine Baumé
13 years later, pharmacist Antoine Baumé gives us a rather similar recipe for cucumber ointment:
Take pork fat two pounds, ripe cucumber and melon together six pounds, verjuice one pound, No. 4 pippin potatoes, cow's milk two pounds. Coarsely chop the flesh of melons, cucumbers and pippin apples. Only the barks are separated; we crush the verjuice. We put all these things in the bain-marie of a still, with milk and pork fat. You heat this mixture in a bain-marie for eight or ten hours: then you pass with expression while the mixture is hot. We expose the ointment in a cool place to make it set: we separate it from the humidity which is below: we wash it in several waters until the last comes out clear. This ointment is melted several times in a bain-marie, to separate it from all its faeces and all its moisture, otherwise it would go rancid in a very short time: it is stored in jars. Another simple cucumber ointment is made by heating together pork fat and peeled and cut cucumbers: the rest of the preparation of this ointment is carried out as for the previous one and it is stored in jars. Both of these ointments are cosmetic; they serve to soften the skin and keep it in a state of suppleness and freshness.
Recipe from Antoine Baumé, "Elements of Theoretical and Practical Pharmacy", 1784.
4. Cucumber ointment by Marie-Amande Gacon-Dufour and Jeanne d'Humières
Another century, other methods: if Marie-Armande Gacon-Dufour and Jeanne d'Humières, authors of the "Perfumer's Manual", always use animal ingredients, they nevertheless abandon the pork belly used by Simon Barbe, considered too " corruptible,” in favor of calf fat. Apart from this ingredient, their ointment contains only cucumber and only cucumber, with the other essences supposedly reversing its cooling effect:
Recipe by Marie-Armande Gacon-Dufour & Jeanne d'Humières, "Perfumer's Handbook", 1825
As you have seen through these 4 recipes, cucumber ointment has given rise to many variations, revisited and perfected over time. Today, I in turn would like to invite you to benefit from the treasures of virtue contained in this cucurbitaceae... And I can't wait to introduce you to these cosmetics that I've taken so much care to concoct for you over the past few months!