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Secrets of the Santa Maria

The ancient beauty tonics of Italy’s Officina Profumo.

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Boasting the status of world’s oldest pharmacy, the story of the Officina Profumo–Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella goes back over 400 years. The Italian skin care company traces its legacy to a Florence monastery built by newly arrived Dominican friars in 1221.

To keep its members healthy and stock the monastery’s small infirmary, the friars studied the medicinal herbs grown in the surrounding gardens, discovering their healing properties and experimenting with the balms and ointments that could be produced from them.

By 1612, under the guidance of monk Fra Angiolo Marchissi, the practice had grown into a well-known apothecary that opened up to the public, earning the honourable title of “His Royal Highness’s firm” from the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

The friars’ unique products and formulas gained a widespread following, reaching as far as Russia, India, and China by the 18th century; with one of their most notable customers, Queen of France Caterina de’ Medici, inspiring a special essence named Acqua della Regina—Water of the Queen, known today as Water of Santa Maria Novella.

Today’s “Officina” headquarters in Via Reginaldo Giuliani carry on the traditional mastery: crafting the brand’s cosmetics from carefully selected botanicals and raw materials and following the original formulations and artisanal techniques of its founders, aided by modern technology.

Our product picks for immersing into the apothecary experience? A must is the classic Rose Water, a centuries-old formula made with the fragrant Rosa centifolia, which can be used for anything from toning to removing makeup or scenting bath water.

For extra pampering, try the invigorating foot cream made with mint and camphor to cool and relieve tired legs; and the Face Relaxing Water, a soothing tonic for skin wrought by environmental stresses, distilled with witch hazel, chamomile, cornflower, and peppermint.

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