Makeup in the Old West…

DCF 1.0Good morning, all.  I’m fast approaching another deadline, this one for the next installment in my Charity House series.  Book Eight, HIS MOST SUITABLE BRIDE, will be a September 2014 release, but is due on my editor’s desk in three weeks so I’m working fast and furiously to get the story complete.  Today, I’m working on a scene where my heroine is getting dressed for an evening at the theater. 

What would that process entail?

Here are a few tips for a Victorian Lady’s Maid she might consider employing on her own (or perhaps not).


  • How to blacken eyelashes and eyebrows: Rub them often with elderberries.  A burnt cork would work equally as well.
  • How to rouge cheeks: Fine carmine, properly pulverized of course, can be rubbed on the cheeks for added color with safety and effect.  This process gives the most natural tone to the complexion and imparts a brilliancy to the eyes without detracting from the softness of the skin.
  • How to make your own cold cream: Melt together white wax, spermaceti, two ounces of olive oil.  Add, also, two ounces of rosewater and a half ounce of orange-flower-water.  Rub together until all ingredients form the consistency of a cream.
  • How to make a wash for the teeth and gums: Mix together 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.  Store in a well-stopped vial.
  • How to make a lye for strengthening the hair: Take two handfuls of the root of hemp, same quantity of the roots of a maiden vine, same quantity the cores of soft cabbages.  Dry and burn these ingredients and make a lye from the ashes.  Rub your hair well with honey before distributing this lye.


Don’t know about you, but I’d rather run to the grocery store or nearest mall and buy mascara, eye liner, powder blush, face cleanser, toothpaste and strengthening shampoo, respectively.

 Cosmetics counter

Any thoughts?

Leave a comment and you’ll be entered in a drawing for my latest release, FINALLY A BRIDE (Book Seven in the Charity House series).  The heroine of this historical is a natural beauty and has no need to employ any of the above methods.  PHEW…

  FINALLY A BRIDE cover art

+ posts

30 thoughts on “Makeup in the Old West…”

  1. I’m afraid I would have been a Plain Jane back when. Wow, the trouble they went through! I’m with you, make a list, jump in the car and head to the local store. Spoiled we are!

  2. It really sounds messy and time consuming. The possibility of staying clean also sounded like an all consuming process. Doing the wash!

    I wonder if they used the rose water, wine, lemon etc for deodorant too? Honey for contraception? Maybe they wanted all the children they could possibly have due to the high birth/death ratio?

  3. I think I like our ways better, just run to the store for makeup. If I lived back then, I probably wouldn’t mess with doing makeup in the ways they did.

  4. goodness gracious! Thank heavens for nice little stores that contain all those easy to use make ups today. 🙂 I can’t imagine those who got something wrong and what they looked like.

  5. What interesting concoctions they used back then. I bet it was hard to find the ingredients to make them.

  6. I think I would have let my natural beauty (yuck,yuck) shine through. I would be willing to bet a lot of women used no makeups, especially in the early West.
    Yes, I go to the mall for my products.

  7. Didn’t we have a blog post on here once about something women used for make up that ended up causing cancer?
    I can’t remember what it was, but it was pretty awful!

    Makes rubbing a burnt cork on your eye lashes look tame by comparison.

  8. Renee, this is so interesting. I’m sure some of the women on frontier knew about these methods but I’m guessing if they did they were too darn exhausted from all the work and taking care of those dozen or so kids to worry much with how they looked. They probably considered themselves lucky to have combed their hair. This is a whole other subject but I found it fascinating that women in the 1800’s and maybe even earlier had curling irons. To heat them, they stuck them inside a lamp globe. I’ll be that was a tedious process because I’ll bet that metal cooled off pretty fast. I’m so grateful for modern makeup and beauty essentials! Like Mary said, putting ashes and honey in my hair would create a sticky awful mess.

    Congratulations on the upcoming new release!! Sounds great.

  9. Mary, frightening isn’t it? I wonder if in a hundred years from now people will be cringing over what we currently use to enhance beauty. Kind of makes you think…

  10. Linda, I’m too darn exhausted just reading these procedures. So, yes, I agree. I’m thinking most women, especially women on the frontier, didn’t bother overmuch with cosmetics.

  11. Makes me wonder….is all of this high priced beauty products worth it? I’ll be mostly way back when that most of the women just used what was natural and they still attracted the male species and married! I had an Aunt who never touched her face with a washcloth or soap, just used plain water and never any makeup. She had beautiful skin!

  12. Hi Renee,
    My first thought when I saw the list of ingredients was…ugh. But then I realized they were all natural compared to the chemicals put in our make up today. Don’t you wonder how they came to figuring out what odd combinations work? I always wonder about discovery and invention. Good luck on your deadline!

  13. Good point, Connie. I know a lot of research goes into modern skincare. Does that mean an $80.00 moisturizer at the department store is better than the $15.00 drugstore brand? You decide. 🙂

  14. My Mother was born in 1905. She was raised by her Grandmother, who was born in the mid-1800’s. OK, you get the picture. They used the ‘old ways’ A LOT! So when I was born, we used soda and salt to brush our teeth, salt water gargle, when your throat was sore. Then honey and lemon to ease your throat– later on. Hair products were a vinegar rinse during the winter (which makes your hair really soft), but you smell like a salad. Then in the summer you use lemon and water rinse and sit in the sun to lighten your hair! Same results: makes your hair very soft. But, again you smell like a salad.
    After I married into the Native American community, we gathered a particular sage brush leaf and boiled it down to use the water to rinse our hair. It was GREAT, however, again, you smell like you’ve been rolling around in the sagebrush. I liked the smell, but some didn’t. It did make your hair really soft.

  15. Hi Renee, best wishes for a smooth deadline…you’ll rock it! I love these details…especially the cold cream with olive oil. The tooth cleaner sounded pretty interesting, too. But I am ever glad for modern hair dye LOL.

  16. I think I would reather just fight the croud at Walmart and buy the stuff I need. Sounds like making it would be a lot of trouble and messy.

  17. Hi Renee, I can’t imagine having to do all that and I tried to imagine rubbing my hair with honey, especially since it is so sticky. I’ve read somewhere women used eggs in their hair. Anybody else here of this?

Comments are closed.