Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Oil of Whelps

There's an interesting guest post by Katherine Aske at "Early Modern Medicine" on the use of puppies in early modern cosmetics. (ht) She even gives a standard recipe for oil of whelps, from Nicholas Culpeper:

Takes Sallet Oil four pound, two Puppy-dogs newly whelped, Earthworms washed in white Wine one pound; boil the Whelps til they fall in pieces then put in the worms a while after strain it, then with three ounces of Cypress Turpentine, and one ounce of Spirits of Wine, perfect the Oil according to Art.

The oil could be used for treating bruises. Boiling puppies for oleum catellorum was not the only cosmetic use of puppy; they also made puppy water, which consisted of putting dead puppy, cut as if for a roast, into a still, then adding wine, unsalted butter, snail-shells, lemon, the distillation of which was to be mixed with sugar and gold leaf. Moisturizes the skin!

The history of cosmetics is a history of doing weird things. We are not, in fact, any different. It may seem odd to put snail-shells in a moisturizer; but in fact it is not an uncommon practice even today to use snails in cosmetics -- snail slime, for instance, is a natural source of elastin, and you can buy snail slime at high-end cosmetic stores. You can also get high-end hair conditioners using bull semen. If a cosmetic says it uses guanine, the standard source for that is fish scales. You can buy hair products that use placenta and skin products that use embryonic stem cells -- although the latter, being controversial,tend to be quite expensive. Some anti-wrinkle creams use human foreskin. All of it has had some study that says it works; and some of it actually works. You can have no doubt that, if a scientific study of any kind somewhere tied puppy oil to a cosmetic benefit, within a year you could find make-up with oil of whelps.

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