Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Victorian cosmetics, homemade cosmetics & skincare

Punch, 27 January 1894

The caption reads:
“O, Mummy dear, why did Papa say he was thinking of having you painted by Sir John Millais? I'm sure he couldn't do better than you do it Yourself. ”
“Ethel, dear, I think you had better go play in the Nursery with your little Brother!”
As far as cosmetics go there really wasn't much to choose from back then.  You had face powder that was either talc or a starch and for rouge there was carmine [insect derived red pigment] or plant pigments such as beets or that from petals, that was added to salves or balms made from lard or tallow to use on lips and cheeks.

The eyeshadow [lead powder] or white pigmented face creams where still toxic & most considered they were only to be worn by actress's or prostitutes.  As Queen Victoria was not fond of cosmetics that dutifully trickled down through her loyal subjects and plebes.

I've read some used burnt match sticks for eyeliner which is essentially charcoal.

links for research:

Speaking of skills devalued by mechanization, how about homemade cosmetics and skin care

I've been looking into making soap & skincare.

Here I have made some "handwax" for my dried up overworked hands.  After I wash dishes and my hands are still warm I pick up the bar and rub it about a little then rub the rest into my hands. There's no drying alcohols like in liquid lotions and it stays on my skin keeping it soft longer.

ingredients: beeswax, shea butter, clarified butter, olive oil, and coconut oil {96 degree melt}

This is a very forgiving recipe so exact amounts are not necessarily important, the ingredients are listed according to how much was used, first listed was the largest amount, last listed was the smallest amount used, etc.

[Yes I used clarified butter, people use milk in soap so I figured why not use clarified butter in a lotion bar. Besides it does not go rancid like all natural oils/waxes.]

Searched for two weeks before I purchased my ingredients, found this seller on to have the freshest ingredients and the lowest prices.

 Here is the lotion bar "handwax" coming out of it's mold
I keep my handwax bar in an old Altoids tin.

My 'NotVaseline' recipe

1 3/4 cup cold pressed olive oil
1/4 c. unrefined peanut oil [natural source of Vit E for skin health]
1/2 c. beeswax
amber oil

I heated the beeswax and oils [not the amber oil] for about 10 minutes stirring. Warmed the amber after pouring my 'NotVaseline' into the jar I then added the amber oil and stirred for a minute to make sure it was well incorporated.

Using this just after a shower or bath keeps my skin velvety soft longer than lotion and I use less of this than lotion for a fraction of the price of the super moisturizing lotions I have bought.

It smells like a peanut and beeswax but after it absorbs into the skin you are left with the amber fragrance.

If you don't want peanut oil this recipe should work with just olive oil.

This recipe also serves well as a pomade or brilliantine for hair. I have very long hair and I do not like to use conditioner. I apply this lightly to the ends of my hair for softness and shine.


  1. Martha Stewart once explained that Victorian women would grow a small, fragrant melon (now an heirloom fruit) in their gardens. When ripe, they'd pierce the tiny melon's rind and put it in a dress or petticoat pocket on hot days to smell sweet.
    Another story I heard years ago, but can't confirm, is that Victorian ladies would dab vanilla onto pulse points to smell sweet and yummy. French frangrances were an extravagant expense most couldn't afford. Mint was widely available and lavishly used as fragrance.

  2. Ahwww, a wet sticky lump of melon in my petticoat pocket to keep me smelling sweet. How victorian! :)


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