Cabarrus Health and Beauty Aids in the Nineteenth Century

6 Jun 2014

A sample of spermaceti wax, a spermaceti candle and bottle of sperm whale oil. Courtesy of Genevieve Anderson

The beauty and fitness craze is not new. Even in 1855, men and women concocted and purchased cosmetic preparations designed to make them look and feel more attractive. Charles J. T. Ridenhower of Stanly County, kept a notebook of his “most valuable recipes in use,” including directions for cologne, cold cream and hair restorator. Certainly some of our Cabarrus County forebears  made use of some of these beauty aids. These preparations are not recommended for modern consumers. Some ingredients, such as the spermaceti, a waxy substance which comes from sperm whale oil, are rare today.

To make Cologne Water: Alcohol, one gallon; Oil of Lavender, 12 drachms (1 drachm or dram equals 0.0625 oz.); Oil of Rosemary, 4 drachms; Oil of Bergamot (a pear shaped orange), 12 drachms; Oil of Lemon, 12 drachms; Cinnamon, 12 drops.

Cold Cream: Take 1/2 oz. of white wax, 1/2 oz. of spermaceti and 3 oz. of almond oil; put the whole into a basin and place it in hot water till fused; then gradually add 3 oz. of rose water, elder water or orange flower water, stirring all the time with a fork or small whisk. Any perfume may be added; but medicinally, it is better without.

Hair Restorator: 1 oz. oil of Bergamot, 1 oz. oil of Sassafras and 1 pint of Olive oil. Shake well together. Price $3.00 ($79.00 in 2014 dollars).

The cosmetic recipes are taken from Mr. Ridenhower’s book, a small volume in the Dr. L. R. Rose Collection donated by Edith Moose McAllister, is available at the Eastern Cabarrus Historical Museum in Mount Pleasant. Photocopies of this and other documents from Dr. Rose’s papers are also available in the Lore Local History Room at the Concord Library.

If you know of any locally used old recipes for beauty aids or health remedies, please e-mail them to for possible use in a future blog post.