Article by: Perry Romanowski

I just opened up a box I had in storage and rediscovered a formulation series of books called Benett’s The Chemical Formulary.  I actually have the entire series.  The first volume was published in 1933.  It’s fascinating to look at these old 20140129-135347.jpgformulation books for a number of reasons.

  • It’s cool to have an old book from 1933
  • It’s interesting to see the names for the chemicals they used.  This was prior to the INCI nomenclature system
  • The types of formulas they list are interesting
  • Just the way they list the formulas is cool.  It’s like having an old cooking recipe book

Old time cosmetic formulas

Let’s take a look at a formula.  Here is one for a Freckles Treatment

  1. Alcohol  – 4 oz.
  2. Stronger Rose Water – 2 oz.
  3. Tincture of Benzoin – 15 dr.

Directions:  Apply every night after scrubbing.

I would be interested to make some of these formulas but it will be a challenge.  First, I’d have to figure out what all the ingredients are.  For example, I have no idea what is “stronger rose water” or “tincture of benzoin”.  Luckily, there is Google.  Stronger Rose Water is a monographed ingredient in the US Pharmacopeia and is a “saturated solution of the odiferous principles of the flowers of Rosa Centifolia.  And the Tincture of Benzoin is Benzoin resin in alcohol.   That is the power of Google.  15 years ago it would have taken much longer to figure out what those ingredients are.

The next step would be to get samples of those raw materials.  It turns out there are a number of suppliers of Benzoin.  You can also find suppliers for stronger rose water.

Does it work?

I have no idea how effective the formula would be.  I’m guessing not very.  If an old formula was effective, it would still be in use today right?  Or maybe there is some old forgotten technology that wasn’t optimized and this might be worth trying out.  Maybe I’ll spend some time tracking down ingredients and attempt to make some of these old time cosmetic formulas.  It could be fun.




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    That’s so fascinating! I have a great curiosity to see these formulations because they are the history of cosmetic even though some of materials are forbidden to use now.

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      Perry Romanowski

      Yeah, I have about 40 of these books from 1933 – 1960’s. I really want to try and make some of these things.

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    I have a number of old pharmaceutical books dating from 1800s onwards (even a copy of Clater’s farrier from the late 1700s. It is interesting reading for the reasons you gave (despite being different fields) and looking at those old formulations with modern eyes makes you wonder how anyone survived.
    However, I have started delving into those old books and re-inventing some of those old formulae for my customers – especially dosage forms. The pharmaceutical emulsions are not worth looking at – just copious amounts of fat as a base.

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      Perry Romanowski

      I wonder if some of those old formulation techniques might have disappeared too quickly and they could hold some key to making unique formulations now.

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    I love this Perry. Thanks for sharing! …Reading page 388 on the “Tobacco Cure”

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski


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    Paula Anderson

    It really is interesting, lol I occasionally go to the library to read ancient cosmetic formulation books and you are right it really is like an old cook book!

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      Perry Romanowski

      I haven’t thought of finding ancient cosmetic formulations in the library. Great idea. I wonder if they have any in the Chicago Library system.

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    15 years ago the old wizened technical manager in the lab hadn’t retired yet, so maybe you could ask him. 😉

    I used to have a book “Manufacturing Recipes” that dated from the 20s which had formulations for just about everything cosmetics, food, fireworks, paints etc . Finding out the appropriate conversions for the units of measure was harder than working out what the ingredients are.

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      Perry Romanowski

      That sounds like a pretty interesting book. The Bennett’s Chemical Formulary has formulations for all kinds of things too. I once made invisible ink based on the formula in the series. It worked!

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      Please can you give me the author of this “Manufacturing Recipes” book?

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