Spermaceti in Victorian cosmetics recipes

Spermaceti appears in a number of 19th-century recipes for skin and hair. It is a whale product. Ordinary "whale oil" came from the blubber of many types of whale, but spermaceti (or sperm oil) was taken from the heads of sperm whales. Obviously we can't get this product anymore, at least not legally.

Whaling was an important industry in the West, especially the US and especially in New England, for a couple hundred years. Multiple factors contributed to its decline, but it faded from mass use in the States around the Civil War period and was replaced in most usage by petroleum. It saw continued use as a machine lubricant for its protection against rust and reliability under extreme temperatures.

In modernized Victorian recipes, we can substitute an equal amount of unrefined "golden" jojoba oil. They are near-identical in color and composition. Like sperm oil, jojoba oil is actually a liquid wax.


Lucier, Paul. Scientists and Swindlers: Consulting on Coal and Oil in America, 1820–1890. JHU Press, 2010.

Perrin, William F. et al. Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals. 2nd edition, Academic Press, 2009.

"Yankee Whaling." New Bedford Whaling Museum, 3 Aug. 2016, https://www.whalingmuseum.org/learn/research-topics/overview-of-north-american-whaling/american-whaling.