Beauty Secrets of the Victorians

Can you imagine putting lemon juice in your eyes to make them brighter, or spreading ground charcoal on your breakfast toast to ensure fresh breath?  These are a couple of 19th century beauty secrets I uncovered during research for my next novel, THE BRACELET.

Victorian ladies relied on natural beauty products such as oatmeal and beet juice.

Queen Elizabeth the First famously used white lead powder to whiten her skin, and nightshade plant to make the pupils of her eyes look larger, both of which were poisonous and in large quantities could be fatal. But by the time of Queen Victoria, white lead was out and the natural look was in. Only actresses or prostitutes wore rouge and lip paint. Those who considered themselves ladies relied on concoctions made from natural products to enhance their beauty.

Ladies of the era cleaned their skin with rosewater or vinegar and mixed beauty masks made of oatmeal, honey, and egg whites to brighten the skin. They mixed the juice of the chickweed plant with water and applied it to the face twice a day to fade freckles. A drop of lemon juice in each eye was said to make eyes bright and clear. Maybe it worked, but it sounds painful to me.

Since the use of makeup was frowned upon, ladies sometimes rubbed beet juice into their cheeks to produce a rosy glow, and dusted a bit of rice powder on their noses to reduce shine. They didn’t use lipstick, but they applied a clear pomade to lips ( the first lip gloss!) for smoothness and shine.

As I was reading up on this topic, I was reminded of the scene in Gone With the Wind in which Rhett Butler is announced. Scarlett, who has been nipping at the whiskey, gargles with her scented rosewater perfume to disguise the smell of the alcohol, and pinches some color into her pale cheeks.

Throughout human history both women and men have sought to make themselves look more attractive. It’s fun to look back on my teen years and remember when girls ironed their hair to make it straight or made curlers from frozen orange juice cans. The sixties were all about lots of black eyeliner and pale lips. Remember Twiggy and her thick fake eyelashes?

As I’ve grown older, I’ve found that I spend less money on makeup but more on products that are supposed to retard wrinkles and restore moisture to…ahem…. “mature skin.”  Tinted moisturizer  and Burts Bees lip balm have become my best beauty friends.

What is the one beauty product you can’t do without?

2 thoughts on “Beauty Secrets of the Victorians

  1. Cathy Richmond

    It’s not a product, it’s a website:
    Her reviews show what’s worth buying, what’s worthless, and what might harm your skin. There’s no miracle cure for wrinkles, but there’s ways to take good care of your skin without going broke.

    Aren’t you thankful we have more options – safer options – than the Victorians!

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