Stearates have been used to make skin preparations from at least 1873 (deNavarre, 1975, p. 283). The first commercial stearate cream was introduced in 1892 when Burroughs Wellcome began manufacturing Hazeline Snow.
See also: Vanishing Creams
Established in London in 1880 from a partnership between two Americans, Silas Burroughs and Henry Wellcome, Burroughs Wellcome & Co. Ltd supplied the pharmaceutical and medical professions. After Burroughs died from influenza in 1894, the business went to Wellcome. Henry was interested in primary research and established a Physiological Laboratory in 1894 to develop vaccines and sera, a Chemical Research Laboratory in 1896 to produce new drugs, and a Tropical Research Laboratory in 1902. The products developed and manufactured by the firm were distributed throughout the British Empire and beyond.
The main object of ‘Wellcome’ Brand Products is to establish uniformity of content in drugs, and to eliminate variations and their first causes; in a word, STANDARDISATION. So we get back to sources, be they mineral, vegetable, animal, or their synthetic congeners; and to tests, whether chemical, optical or physiological. Moreover, the tests imposed by Burroughs Wellcome & Co. are subject to continual revision as new and improved standards of stringency are devised. ‘Wellcome’ Brand Products are, therefore, unsurpassed, and pre-eminently trustworthy.
Among the pharmaceutical products the company produced was a range of toiletries including a cold cream, soaps and pomades made from lanolin. The company also developed a number of formulations containing witch hazel distilled from the green leaves and twigs from the plant Hamamelis virginiana. Witch hazel is a colourless liquid, with a characteristic odour, containing about 17% of alcohol added as a preservative (Poucher, 1930, p. 173). Known in America as Winterbloom, witch hazel was used as a patent medicine and was believed to be an astringent (constricts tissue), a haemostatic agent or styptic (helps stop bleeding), and an anodyne (pain reliever). However, later writers expressed doubts about many of these perceived properties.
Distilled extract of witch hazel (from Hamamelis virginiana), Hamamelis water, has been a popular pseudo drug with many properties attributed to it by various beauty editors and beauty experts. It is claimed to be a toning lotion in undiluted form; an astringent, coolant, anti-inflammatory, healing agent, antipruritic and endermic.
Few if any of these properties have been substantiated.
Burroughs Wellcome marketed its witch hazel extract as Hazeline and suggested it could be used in a range of medical treatments.
Prescribed in cases of haemorrhage from the nose, lungs, womb, rectum, &c. Is a valuable agent in the treatment of bruises, sprains, inflammation, peritonitis, piles, fistula, anal fissure, ulcers, varicose veins, eczematous surfaces, tonsillitis pharyngitis, nasal and post-nasal catarrh, stomatitis, leucorrhoea, nasal polypi, &c.
Burroughs Wellcome added Hazeline to other products including skin creams, soap, a dentifrice and suppositories. The skin creams were made in two forms, Hazeline Cream, a cold cream formulation containing lanoline, and Hazeline Snow, a non-greasy stearate or ‘vanishing’ cream. The creams were medicinal and were included in first-aid cabinets that the company produced for sale at home and abroad.
Snows are soft stearate creams containing 50% of Hazeline. The original formulation was probably made using sodium and/or ammonium bicarbonate. The alkali releases carbon dioxide during the manufacture resulting in a foamy/snowy consistency. The alcohol content of the witch hazel and the carbon dioxide bubbles produced by the carbonates were both liable to evaporate, resulting in a loss of volume, so a good screw-top jar was essential.
[When making a witch hazel cream] a soft vanishing cream formula is used but replacing half or more of the water with witch hazel. This is added at room temperature after saponification has taken place; no further perfume is necessary, but often a compatible simple floral fragrance such as rose is also used. If any significant amount of witch hazel is used, it must be remembered that the alcohol content will slowly evaporate resulting in a contraction in volume. As a result witch hazen [sic] creams are usually put up in collapsible tubes. Although these creams are not popular in North America, they do enjoy considerable favor elsewhere.
The product was more popular in warmer climates where it was described as being “deliciously cooling and refreshing to hot and inflamed skins as a gentle shower or rain is to sun scorched flowers”. It was recommended for ‘prickly heat’, sunburn and inflammation caused by wind, dust and perspiration.
How Hazeline Snow and Hazeline Cream made the transition from medicines to cosmetics I do not know. However, by the 1920s, the company was marketing both products as such, and the phrase ‘Vanishing Cream’ was included on the label for Hazeline Snow – a term they probably appropriated from the Pond’s Extract Company.
The company had been making Pond’s Extract, also containing witch hazel, since 1846. In the twentieth Century, Pond’s geared itself towards cosmetics and toiletries, introducing a stearate cream and a cold cream in 1904. Other toiletries such as toothpaste, soap and talcum powder were also included in the range. Unlike Burroughs Wellcome, they marketed their stearate cream as a cosmetic from day one, calling it a Vanishing Cream that “keeps your skin soft and moist, pliable and elastic”.
See also: Pond’s Extract Company
Burroughs Wellcome also produced a modified form of Hazeline Snow, called Ozozo. It appears to have been another stearate cream but with added pigments to make it more like a rouge.
Gives a rosy glow to pale cheeks.
A delightful toilet preparation of distinction and refinement. Possesses the virtues of “Hazeline Snow,” and at the same time gives an exquisite natural colour to the cheeks. A single trial will convince you of its worth.
The two products were sometimes advertised together with the suggestion that if Ozozo was combined with Hazeline Snow “any colour could be obtained”.
Hazeline Snow is still on the market today and can be ordered over the Internet. It comes in two forms and appears to be made under license. Examination of the ingredients indicates that they are Hazeline in name only, containing not a trace of witch hazel. Both are stearate/vanishing creams containing stearic acid and an hydroxide alkali. To call the first a moisturising cream is a bit of a stretch as the ‘hydromoisturizer’ it is said to contain is just water. The second formula contains Mulberry root extract as a lightening agent and two sunscreens.
Hazeline Snow Moisturizing Cream
Water, Stearic Acid, Sodium Hydroxide, Methyl Stearate, Benzoic Acid, Fragrance, Methylparaben, Propylparaben.
Hazeline Snow White & Natural Lightening Cream
Water, Stearic Acid, Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, Niacinamide, Glycerin, Dimethicone, Cetyl Alcohol, Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane, Fragrance, Potassium Hydroxide, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Mulberry (Morus Alba) Root Extract, Disodium EDTA.
Updated: 3rd January 2013
deNavarre, M. G. (1975). The chemistry and manufacture of cosmetics. (2nd. ed., Vol. III). Orlando: Continental Press.
Poucher, W. A. (1932). Perfumes, cosmetics and soaps, Vols. 1-2 (4th ed.). London: Chapman and Hall.