Last year I positively devoured Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher Mystery series. Set in Melbourne in the late 1920s, the novels star the glamourous and clever Miss Phryne Fisher, who solves all kinds of mysteries in style. I first discovered Phyrne in the TV show based on the books (I streamed it on Amazon Prime a few years ago), and after a 1920’s Gatsby-themed event I was set to attend last spring was cancelled, I rekindled my relationship with the Honourable Miss Fisher in book form. That rekindling is what inspired this formulation for Phryne’s Milk of Roses 🌹
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Kerry Greenwood takes great care to detail Miss Fisher’s cocktails, meals, clothes, and toiletries (Phyrne loves her fragrant bath salts and oils!), and I was quite taken by the idea of a product she uses called “Milk of Roses”. Some research turned up this website on Regency-era beauty treatments, which pre-date Phryne by a solid century, but gave me a decent starting point for my own Phyrne-inspired formulation. The Regency-era potion was a blend of rose water, sweet almond oil, and “oil of tartar”, which looks to be a concentrated solution of potassium carbonate. Potassium carbonate is quite basic (pH ~11.5), and was used historically in soap production, so I assume it is functioning as the emulsifier in this product, creating a soap-style emulsion with the sweet almond oil. Interesting! Out of the three mentioned ingredients, I decided to drop the oil of tartar and keep the rose water and sweet almond oil for this more modern version.
Lightweight sweet almond oil and richly fragrant rose hydrosol make up 60% of this formulation. Taking further inspiration from Phyrne and her luxurious tastes, I also included some hydrolyzed silk for added moisturizing. Before you add your hydrolyzed silk, please smell it. Mine has a soft, slightly sweet scent that doesn’t come through in the finished emulsion, but I’ve heard from readers that some hydrolyzed silks can smell utterly awful. If your hydrolyzed silk smells foul, I recommend using far less than the 2% I’ve used or exchanging it for a different hydrolyzed protein (see the substitutions list below for suggestions).
From the name—”milk of roses”—I wanted the product to be relatively thin and light, with great slip and a non-greasy skin feel. To that end, I selected Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-100 Stearate as our emulsifier. You can learn far more about this awesome emulsifier in the Humblebee & Me DIY Encyclopedia, but the general gist is that it’s rather naked, as far as emulsifiers go. It doesn’t thicken or add weight to emulsions like more common emulsifying waxes (Polawax, Emulsifying Wax NF, Olivem1000, etc.) do, allowing this formulation to sport a somewhat hefty 25% oil phase while remaining quite fluid and feeling very light on the skin. I tried a version with an even larger oil phase, but no cetyl alcohol, and while it was even more milk-like, it split in less than a day. Boo. So, this version is a bit more viscous and a lot more stable.
I’m releasing this formulation now because it’s very nearly Phyrne’s 121st birthday! In book 17, Murder on a Midsummer Night, we learn that Phyrne was born on January 13, 1900. In the books, she is in her late 20s, but in the TV show, I figure she has to be at least a decade older, which would bump her birth year back into the late 1880s or early 1890s. Essie Davis, who plays Phryne in the TV show, was 42 when the first season aired. She’s fantastic, and very clearly not 28, which works beautifully. As a character, Phyrne has such a wealth of experiences and confidence under her belt that I find her much more believable in her late 30’s/early 40’s than late 20’s. Also: goals 😄
The finished formulation is surprisingly rich for how thin it is. I packaged mine in a clear 100mL (3.3fl oz) airless pump bottle from YellowBee that has a treatment-pump style top, and it works beautifully. I love how the clear sides show off the soft pink mica I included (I feel like Phryne would be very pro-glow in her body products). I’ve been using this all over my body post-bath, and I’m loving it. I hope you do as well!
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Phryne’s Milk of Roses
Prepare a water bath by bringing about 3cm/1″ of water to a bare simmer over low to medium-low heat in a wide, flat-bottomed sauté pan.
Weigh the heated water phase into a small heat-resistant glass measuring cup or glass beaker. Weigh the entire lot (measuring cup + ingredients) and note that weight for use later. Weigh the heated oil phase into a second heat-resistant glass measuring cup. Place both measuring cups in your prepared water bath to melt everything through.
After about 20–30 minutes the oil part should be completely melted and the water part should be thoroughly dissolved. Remove the water bath from the heat and weigh the water phase. Add enough hot distilled water to the heated water phase to bring the weight back up to what it was before heating, and then pour the water part into the oil part. Stir with a flexible silicone spatula to incorporate.
Grab your immersion blender and begin blending the lotion, starting with short bursts so the still-very-liquid lotion doesn’t whirl up and spray everywhere. Blend for about a minute, leave to cool for ten, blend for another minute or two, and repeat this blend-cool-blend cycle until the outside of the glass measuring cup is barely warm to the touch and the lotion is thick and creamy.
When the lotion is cool it’s time to incorporate our cool down ingredients. Because cool down ingredients are typically present at very low amounts you’ll need to use an accurate scale—preferably one accurate to 0.01g. As these more accurate scales tend to have fairly low (100–200g) maximum weights you won’t be able to put the entire batch of lotion on that scale without blowing it out. So—grab a smaller dish. Add a scoop or two of lotion, and then weigh the cool down ingredients into that, using the more accurate scale. Stir to thoroughly incorporate, and then stir all of that back into the master batch of lotion. Doing it this way minimizes the amount of cool down ingredients lost to the secondary container.
Once the cool-down phase has been incorporated, all that’s left to do is package it up! I used a clear 100mL (3.3fl oz) airless pump bottle from YellowBee. I recommend using something with a treatment-pump style top—a full-sized lotion pump will be a bit much for the relatively thin consistency of this product. A bottle with a turret or disc top would also work well.
To use, smooth over any skin that could use some extra rose-y love. Enjoy!
Shelf Life & Storage
Because this cream contains water, you must include a broad-spectrum preservative to ward off microbial growth. This is non-optional. Even with a preservative, this project may eventually spoil as our kitchens are not sterile laboratories, so in the event you notice any change in colour, scent, or texture, chuck it out and make a fresh batch.
As always, be aware that making substitutions will change the final product. While these swaps won’t break the recipe, you will get a different final product than I did.
- As I’ve provided this recipe in percentages as well as grams you can easily calculate it to any size using a simple spreadsheet as I’ve explained in this post. As written in grams this recipe will make 100g.
- To learn more about the ingredients used in this formulation, including why they’re included and what you can substitute them with, please visit the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia. It doesn’t have everything in it yet, but there’s lots of good information there! If I have not given a specific substitution suggestion in this list please look up the ingredient in the encyclopedia before asking.
- You could use a different hydrosol for a different theme to the formulation, or use more water if you want an unscented product.
- Propanediol 1,3 will work instead of glycerin.
- You can replace hydrolyzed silk with a different hydrolyzed protein (oat, rice, baobab, quinoa)—this is an especially good option if you hate the smell of your hydrolyzed silk.
- If you don’t mind dramatically altering the viscosity, skin feel, and overall product, you could use 6% Polawax (or similar emulsifying wax) instead of Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-100 Stearate, reducing the distilled water to make room for the extra 3%. This will make for a substantially thicker, heavier product—more of a rich cream than the light lotion this formulation is supposed to be.
- You can substitute another lightweight oil like apricot kernel, grapeseed, or sunflower seed instead of the sweet almond oil.
- You could try cetearyl alcohol instead of cetyl alcohol. I do not recommend removing the fatty thickener altogether as that will compromise stability.
- You could use a different gelling agent/gum instead of hydroxyethylcellulose; xanthan gum or Polyacrylate crosspolymer-6 (USA / Canada / UK / Australia) would both work.
- The mica is optional; replace it with more water if you don’t want to use it.
- If you’re like to use a different preservative, please review this FAQ and this chart.
- You can replace the cyclomethicone with a natural cyclomethicone alternative, like LuxGlide N5, or simply replace it with more distilled water. This will make for a less slippy end product.
- If you’d like to incorporate an essential oil, please read this.
The soft pink mica and airless pump bottle were gifted by YellowBee. The rose hydrosol was gifted by Plant’s Power. The hydroxyethylcellulose was gifted by Essential Wholesale. The Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-100 Stearate was gifted by Mystic Moments.