Welcome to Potions 401!
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Lesson 2) A Face Without Freckles Is Like A Sky Without The Stars (Skin Blemishes)
On each desk sits a small slip of paper. On the paper is a moving illustration who blinks, tosses her hair, and occasionally smiles when she notices eyes upon her.
Welcome to the second class of Year Four! After a conversation with Madam Primpernelle, who we mentioned last week is the owner and proprietor of Madam Primpernelle’s Beautifying Potions, she was good enough to provide the school with gift certificates for all Fourth Year students. Now this is not, of course, suggesting that anyone needs to use additional beauty products, but I thought it would be a good opportunity for us all to take a field trip to Diagon Alley to see the products provided in her shop and to explore the wide variety of beautifying serums, elixirs, tonics, and potions that now exist.
Last year in Charms you studied the Concealer Charm, which is an effective spell for temporarily covering pimples, freckles, and other unsightly markings on the skin. However, this spell does not permanently eliminate blemishes from the skin: instead, it hides the desired area only for the duration of the spell. For more long-term elimination of physical blemishes, potions and herbal remedies are typically used. Last year we also discussed the Scar Diminishing Serum, a potion that fills in and fades scars as necessary. However, there are numerous other blemishes, beauty marks, and skin discolorations that people may wish to remove. Thus, they use blemish-removing potions. There are a number of blemish-removing elixirs and creams, some of which have drastic immediate effects, and some which are more gradual in nature. Of course, as with any potion that has an extreme effect also tends to come with more extreme side effects and propensity for disaster if something goes awry in brewing or administering the potion.
Today we will be brewing a potion very similar to Madam Primpernelle’s most popular blemish-removing cream. This cream can be used to fade birthmarks, freckles and other simple discolorations of the skin in approximately twenty-four to forty-eight hours with only mild to moderate side effects.
Estimated Brewing Time:
Pewter Cauldron: 1 hour, 15 minutes and 45 seconds
Brass Cauldron: 1 hour, 8 minutes and 57 seconds
Copper Cauldron: 1 hour, 2 minutes and 49.8 seconds
1 L of water
2 tablespoons of shredded boomslang skin1
30 mL of lemon juice2
3 eel eyes2
2 butterfly wings2
90 mL of Flobberworm mucus3
- Add 500 mL of water to your cauldron, and bring the heat to 363 Kelvin (90°C/194°F).
- While the cauldron is heating, carefully slice 4 caterpillars into 1 millimeter (mm) wide segments.
- Add segments of all 4 caterpillars to the cauldron.
- Stir twice counter-clockwise.
- Add 2 tablespoons of shredded boomslang skin to your cauldron.
- Put on a good song and let it play, because you’re turning the heat up to 383 Kelvin (110°C/230°F) for 4 minutes. Then reduce heat again to 363 Kelvin (90°C/194°F).
- Add 15 mL of lemon juice to the cauldron.
- Allow the potion to brew in your pewter cauldron for 25 minutes. (This would be 22 minutes and 30 seconds in a brass cauldron and 20 minutes and 15 seconds in a copper cauldron.)
- Add 500 mL of water to your cauldron.
- Add 3 dried eel eyes and 3 almonds to your mortar and crush them to an even consistency with your pestle.
- Add 1.5 tablespoons of the crushed substance to your cauldron.
- Stir once counter-clockwise with your wand.
- Stir twice clockwise with your wand.
- Remove the cauldron from the heat source entirely. Leave it to cool for 30 seconds before proceeding.
- Add 2 butterfly wings to the cauldron. Note: Neglecting to remove the cauldron from the flames before adding the butterfly wings has been known to cause the cauldron to melt and the brewer to hallucinate that he or she is trapped in a small closet for a few days following.
- Wait 15 more seconds before adding the cauldron back to the heat source.
- Add 15 mL of lemon juice to the cauldron.
- Stir thrice clockwise.
- Allow the potion to brew in your pewter cauldron for 43 minutes. (This would be 38 minutes and 42 seconds in a brass cauldron and 34 minutes and 49.8 seconds in a copper cauldron.)
- Remove the potion from the heat entirely and allow it to cool for 3 minutes. Add 90 mL of Flobberworm mucus to the potion and stir it once clockwise with your wand and then switch to a wooden spoon or non-magical utensil until it’s of even consistency.
The final product will be a pale orange in color, and will smell a bit “spicy”. More or less Flobberworm may be added depending on the desired consistency. With the suggested amount in this recipe, it will be a rather spreadable cream.
The potion should be stored in a clear vial in direct sunlight if at all possible. It should be stored at room temperature, though it can be stored in a slightly warmer room. The potion keeps for up to five years before it must be discarded and replaced.
For most blemishes a small round globule of the cream approximately 10 - 15 mL in diameter should be enough. Rub the cream into the blemished area, making sure to cover the entire blemish. The cream should be massaged into the skin until it is thoroughly absorbed. For larger areas, such as a large freckled expanse of skin, more of the potion may be used.
At first when applied, the cream may tingle just a little bit, but that will subside a few seconds after it’s been thoroughly massaged into the area. Over the span of a week, the user should notice skin discolorations and irregularities on the skin fade and then disappear until the skin is of a single tone. The potion will not simply bleach or lighten skin, but will instead even the skin tone so that it matches the original tone of the user.
The Blemish-Removing Cream is a mostly harmless cream that can be used by almost anyone. When applied to a small child, the area to which the cream was applied should be covered to avoid any being consumed orally. If eaten, the cream is not fatal, but will cause extreme stomach cramping and could lead to future digestive issues. Allergies to the cream are rare, but reactions may include formation of white spots and lesions where the cream has been applied. If you experience either of these symptoms, stop use of the cream immediately and seek the help of a Healer.
Please note that the Blemish Removing Cream should not be used to try to eliminate growths that may be cancerous. Please consult with a Healer instead should you develop any suspicious freckles or markings on your skin.
Little Imperfections Make You Beautiful
The appearance of birthmarks and freckles on the skin are typically related to cells called melanocytes that are located in the epidermis (the outer layer of skin). These cells are responsible for the creation of melanin, or chemical substances that are primarily responsible for skin, eye, and hair color in humans. In skin, greater melanin production by melanocytes will yield a darker tone. Birthmarks are typically the result of having more melanocytes producing normally in a given area, and can appear anywhere on the body, while freckles appear as a result of a typical number of melanocytes that begin to over-produce melanin as a result of sun exposure. Thus, freckles usually appear in places with increased likelihood of sun exposure, such as the face, shoulders, and arms.
Birthmarks and freckles are typically harmless, but instead yield more of an aesthetic concern. In fact, “beauty marks” - as moles on the face are often called - instead of being deemed a concern are often a desirable physical attribute: the famous Muggle actor Marilyn Monroe popularized the appearance of a single beauty mark placed off-center on the upper lip. Women who admired Monroe often used eye and eyebrow pencils in order to draw beauty marks in similar places in order to emulate her appearance and style. Before the time of the silver screen, as far back as the 18th century, Muggle women would purchase mouches, or pieces of black velvet, taffeta, or even leather either in small circles or in fanciful shapes, such as stars in order to adorn their faces, shoulders, chests and necks. The strategic placement of these pieces of fabric would yield messages about the woman’s personality and availability. For instance, one source indicates that a mouche on the lower lip indicates discretion, while one in the corner of the eye connotes a passionate person.
It is interesting to note that while European Muggle women would buy these black pieces of cloth in order to decorate themselves and send messages to potential mates and lovers, magical women would often go to great lengths to hide moles with blemish removing potions or conceal them with a charm. This is owing to the Muggle belief in the witches’ mark as evidence of one being a witch through the time of the witch hunts in Europe (although this belief greatly diminished by the 18th century, of course, when these mouches were at the height of their popularity). A mole, particularly one in a hidden location such as under the armpit, was thought to be a means by which the Devil “marked” his minions during their initiation. Finding such a birthmark was thought to be indisputable proof that one was a witch and consorted with the Devil. This era was when many of these potions were developed and perfected over time.
In ancient Greece, there was actually a relatively rare form of Divination known as Moleosophy. This was a reading of the body based on these elaia, the Greek term for olives and also moles (and other birthmarks). There is a record of interpretations given by Melampus to King Ptolemy that gave general interpretations of how placement of moles and other birthmarks were to impact a man or woman’s life. For example, a mole or marking on the tongue of a man would indicate he would find a beautiful and rich wife. A mole on a woman’s thigh means that she will be well-respected. A mark on the throat of either gender connotes that they will find great physical wealth. Nonetheless, while this was occasionally mentioned in the course of physiognomy, it was not considered a very popular form of divining.
Blemish-Removing Cream and other potions to remove blemishes and correct skin tone work through regulating melanocytes and the production and maintenance of melanin in skin. It should be noted that they work in order to slow down overproduction of melanin. They cannot be used in cases of genetic abnormality that leads to the underproduction of melanin. That is to say, this cream cannot be used to treat albinism, which is a genetic disorder that will appear from birth in which melanin production is severely limited or absent owing to the absence of a specific enzyme that helps create the pigment color. This is not a disorder only present in humans, however: albinism appears in species of mammals as well as reptiles, fish, amphibians, birds, and even insects. Plants are referred to as “albiflora” if there is an absence of chlorophyll.
While this disorder often leads to visual and hearing impairment as well as discrimination and persecution in some cases in human populations, albinism in animals is also dangerous in the animal kingdom, as animals that are equipped with camouflage when born without the disorder are exposed and vulnerable in the wild without the protection of this camouflage. This disorder also leads to increased sensitivity to sunlight in humans as well as animals: melanin, while it determines skin tone, also helps protect the skin from the harmful rays emitted by the Sun. This is why increased melanin production can occur after exposure, leading to freckles, as we have already discussed. Without this melanin, the harmful ultraviolet radiation is allowed to permeate the body and increases the risks of melanoma (and other types of skin cancer) and other harmful reactions.
Ugliness I Could See
As cautioned in the recipe for the potion, the Blemish-Removing Cream should not be used if you suspect that the marking or blemish on the skin is a form of skin cancer, which is an abnormal replication and growth of skin cells. This abnormality is typically caused by over-exposure and prolonged, steady exposure over time to the sun and the harmful ultraviolet rays. While melanin does provide some natural defense against these rays, this is why the use of sunscreen potions and Sun-Blocking Potions is heavily recommended, as they assist in blocking these harmful rays. Even Muggle sun-blocking products can assist greatly in protecting the skin from harmful sun exposure, which is why, should you be unable to get your hands on magical potions, which provide even fuller protection, you should always make sure to wear sunscreen when out in sunlight. There is a great video entitled “How the sun sees you” that shows how applying sunscreen can shield the skin.
Even with sunscreen and sunblock, however, it is wise to balance the amount of direct sunlight that you receive. Humans should receive some sunlight, as it allows us to create vitamin D, which helps promote healthy bone growth and maintenance, boost the immune system, and promote heart health. However, too much sun can lead to cancers of the skin and other health problems.
So what exactly is skin cancer, and why is the Blemish-Removing Cream unable to treat it? Well, in essence, while the Blemish-Removing Cream can regulate the specific production of melanin, it is ineffective at regulating the healthy growth and reproduction of the melanocytes and other types of skin cells. Cancer of the skin occurs, in the most simplified definition, when the very DNA of skin cells is corrupted - this is damage beyond the extent of what the Blemish-Removing Cream can accomplish. The corrupted cells often continue to reproduce unchecked and lead to harmful tumorous growths. Eventually, if untreated, these tumors become invasive, spreading to the surrounding tissue and then even to other parts of the body through the bloodstream and lymph vessels.
As we learned last year, there are magical means of treating cancerous growths. However, the cancer must be identified in a timely fashion and the entirety of the harmful cell growth eliminated. Magical people as well as non-magical individuals can succumb to skin cancer, especially once the cancer metastasizes, or spreads from one organ to another, as it can be much more difficult to track and eliminate all harmful cells. Thus, if you have any growths or blemishes on your skin that you cannot identify - particularly if they are a strange color (or varied in color within one blemish), raised, asymmetric, growing or particularly large - it is safest to consult with a Healer before assuming that it’s just a harmful freckle. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
And that will take us through Lesson Two. I also have some Sun-Blocking Potion samples from Madam Primpernelle’s by the door: please feel free to take some on your way out, particularly if you plan to study outdoors today.