Beauty Tips

Good morning! It’s the middle of the week, I’m on deadline and I’m trying not to panic. I want this book finished, yesterday. Too bad for me that I’m more tortoise than hare. If I can think of one word that defines our current culture, it’s impatience. Most of us want everything now, immediately. We hate waiting in lines, waiting for our computers to boot-up, waiting for the commercial to end so we can get back to our regularly scheduled program.

I miss simpler times, when there were only four television channels, radios were large, and we kids were banished from the house with the order to play outdoors “until the streetlights come on,” or as my mama called it: Dark Thirty. That’s not to mean I don’t love modernity. I adore being able to click a key on my computer and find a Google map that will allow me to walk the streets of Paris without ever leaving my office. I love electricity, hot showers and ice-cold diet coke. I also enjoy fixing my hair and applying makeup. I’m a girly-girl and proud of it. I consider makeup application an art.

Is it any wonder I recently purchased several reference books that shared beauty tips from the Victorian era? This is the same era I set my westerns, by the way. As you can imagine, this book is gold. Pure gold.

So, what beauty tricks did women have at their disposal during the 1880s? Well, here are a few that stuck out to me (from Victorian Household Hints by Elizabeth Drury, 1981).

• To blacken eyelashes and eyebrows rub the areas often with elderberries. You may also use a burnt cork, or clove burnt at a candle.
• To make the most of your complexion and impart a brilliancy of the eyes apply fine carmine that has been properly pulverized.
• To make lip-honey: Take two ounces of fine honey, one ounce of purified wax, half an ounce of silver litharge, and half an ounce of myrrh. Mix ingredients over a slow fire, and add milk of roses, Eau de Cologne, or any other perfume you prefer.
• To make cold cream: Melt together 1 dram of white wax, 1 dram of spermaceti with 2 ounces of olive oil. Add 2 ounces of rose water and a half ounce of orange-flower-water. Rub together till they are thoroughly incorporated and the mixture is the consistence of cream.
• A make a wash for the teeth and gums: Take the juice of half a lemon, a spoonful of very rough claret or port wine, ten grains of sulphate of quinine, a few drops of Eau de Cologne, or oil of bergamot. Mix, and keep in a well-stopped phial.
• To make a draught for bad breath: Take one dram of sulphate of magnesia, two drams of tincture of calumba, an ounce and a half of infusion of roses. Combine these ingredients into a draught, to be taken every morning or every other morning, an hour before breakfast, for at least a month.

There are a lot more tips, but I find I now have to stop and go look up most of these ingredients.
Okay, so here are the definitions I had to look up at

Carmine: A crimson pigment obtained from cochineal, which is a red dye prepared from the dried the bodies of the females of the cochineal insect.

Litharge: A yellowish or reddish, odorless, heavy, earthy, water-insoluble, poisonous solid, PbO, used chiefly in the manufacture of storage batteries, pottery, lead glass, paints, enamels, and inks.

Myrrh: An aromatic resinous exudation from certain plants of the genus Myrrhis.
Dram: An eighth of an ounce.

Spermaceti: A pearly white, waxy, translucent solid, obtained from the oil in the head of the sperm whale: used chiefly in cosmetics and candles, and as an emollient.

Quinine: A white, bitter, slightly water-soluble alkaloid, C 2 0 H 2 4 N 2 O 2 , having needlelike crystals, obtained from cinchona bark: used in medicine chiefly in the treatment of resistant forms of malaria.

Bergamot: A small citrus tree, Citrus aurantium bergamia, having fruit with a rind that yields a fragrant essential oil.

Calumba: The root of a plant indigenous in Mozambique. It has an unpleasantly bitter taste, and is used as a tonic and


So, um, who’s happy for modern conveniences now? I’m raising my hand!

+ posts

18 thoughts on “Beauty Tips”

  1. Okay I am SOOOO with you. I sometimes long for simpler times but then I remember helping my grandmother with the laundry and decide I love the times that I live in!! Heating the water on a wood stove after hauling it to the wash-house from the rain barrels, shaving the bar of soap, stiring the clothes in the rinse tubs, okay…I’m tired. Mo wonder we went to bed with the sun!

  2. Renee – such a cool blog today!! Women in any era, want to look their best and I love hearing methods…I’ve also heard they used fireplace ashes to darken their eyes, like a liner or shadow.

  3. Great post, Renee. The only thing that I think might taste good to both the women and the men was the lip-honey! I could never do my five minute face using any of the mixtures you mentioned. I’m thankful to today’s cosmetics. I think I’ll go kiss my Mary Kay blush! Have a great day. Hugs, Phyliss

  4. Everytime I buy a book on Kindle and it just SNAPS in I know how much I love instant gratification.
    Soooooo impatient!!!!

    Love all the make-up/lotion details.

    Litharge? A POISONOUS SOLID???? Really? In the lip honey?

  5. Good morning!!! Connie, oh yeah, what they went through to simply heat water??? Yikes, simpler times were sure DIFFICULT. I type this while I sit here listening to Michael Buble on my i-phone. Will our grandchildren shudder over that ancient technology? Hard to imagine!

  6. Hi Tracy!!! Yes, all we have to do is look back a few decades and find something to new to be thankful for…

    Karen, love that you included the refrigerator, giggling as I pop open my ice-cold diet coke!!!

  7. Charlene…fireplace ashes on my eyes? Um, not happening. Especially since I start my fireplace with the flick of a switch. I know, I know, sad.

    Phyllis, the five-minute face is definitely a modern convenience. Loves it!!!

  8. Renee, what an interesting blog. I love it! Beauty sure took a lot of time and patience back then. I’m so grateful for the beauty products we have now. I can only imagine what had to take place. I read a while back that women in the 1800’s had a curling iron. It was a rod they stuck in a lamp globe and heated. Pretty ingenious. Guess they had to be.

    Good luck on meeting your deadline! I know your story will be great.

  9. hi Renee, great post and good luck meeting the deadline. I just might give these old-timers a try since my modern-day “age rewind” makeup….doesn’t LOL.

    I love what you said about today’s impatience. I’m finding myself having a hard time sticking to reading overlong paragraphs, especially in the classics. Sheesh.

  10. I love modern conveniences so I will raise my hand with you. I don’t think I would ever want to go back.

  11. Hi Renee, I enjoyed your post. Reminds me of the saying: I prayed for patience and God gave me children.

    I love modern conveniences but sometimes I just want to tell everyone to slow down. Good luck on your deadline!

  12. Hi Renee, As late as the early 1950’s, I was doing laundry outside with an open fire to heat water for the tubs. And yes, even in the winter. As you shook out the clothes, they froze before you could hang them in the sun. But, I digress…
    I will always LOVE my indoor automatic laundry machines.
    As I looked at the photo at the top of your blog, today, OMG! how does she keep it on her head? It looks like it doesn’t weigh too much, but I bet it did.
    As for cleaning my teeth and freshening the breath: I still prefer the soda/salt solution we used during WWII. Cleaned, whitened and freshened the breath.
    Great blog for today. I’ve been sick since Christmas, and it was good for a few laughs. (FLU! It’s not stomach flu–it’s a cold type virus with a horrendous cough. My doctor says mine is on it’s way out. This is the third week! Im ready).

  13. My mother had an older model Singer that was black cast iron with red and gold roses painted all over it, but it was from between the wars and electrified. I learned to sew on it.

    I had a friend in high school who made all of her clothes on her grandmother’s Singer treadle.

  14. When you look at some of the things used to “cure” us or make us beautiful, it is a wonder we survive.

Comments are closed.