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Our Story

This research and experimentation grew out of Erin's studies of cosmetic recipes recorded between 1500-1700 across Europe. These recipes are found in a range of sources: medical and surgical texts, herbals, popular ‘books of secrets’, cosmetic recipe collections and domestic manuscripts of family recipes. In the process of compiling a database of early modern skincare and cosmetic recipes, it became clear that there were recurring cosmetic recipe types and common ingredients. In July 2019, Erin approached Cather and Ruth to try to understand the chemical processes at work in the recipes, and in the hopes of recreating some in the lab. Amongst the early recipes recreated were a hair curling treatment, a black beard dye and a sunscreen. Little did we know how effective the recipes were and how many of the ingredients are still used today. We decided we had to know more.


Michel joined the team the same year as we developed a more systematic approach and dedicated more lab time and more complex chemical analysis. Since December 2019, we have hosted four Summer Scholars at the University of Auckland who have worked on a range of intriguing recipes. These scholars used their chemical expertise to do pioneering analysis on a range of popular Renaissance skincare recipes using modern analytical techniques. The results have been so encouraging that the project has attracted attention. We are excited to share these hidden secrets from the past with the world.

Meet The Team

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Erin Griffey

Associate Professor, Art History, University of Auckland


Michel Nieuwoudt

Senior Research Fellow, Chemical Sciences, University of Auckland


Krunal Patel

Krunal Patel, Research Fellow, Chemical Sciences, University of Auckland


Cather Simpson

Professor of Physics & Chemical Sciences, University of Auckland


Ruth Cink

Professional Teaching Fellow,  University of Auckland


Victoria Munn

PhD candidate in Art, University of Auckland

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