Victorian Cosmetics

During the 1800's it was strongly believed by the Victorians that pure soft water was an essential “cosmetic” for those who were fortunate enough to possess a naturally fine skin; a few drops of some refreshing essence might be added to the water, such as an infusion of roses, orange flower, rosemary, or cucumber. When the skin happened to be of a rough, dry texture, the subjoined recipes were often employed with success. In addition aristocratic ladies of the Victorian era would make their own beautiful skin creams, lotions and bath oils using what Nature provided.

Women would cut a lemon in half, take out the pulp, and turn the lemon in such a way that the peel was inside, it was then put into a cool place for a few hours, then into each half was poured the white of an egg well whisked; the essential oil of the lemon-peel combining with the egg forms an excellent cosmetic for softening the skin.

The French ladies even today have a favourite Victorian cosmetic, prepared as follows: Boil half a pound of the Guimaune root, with a slice of stale bread (which must be previously soaked in boiling water and pressed nearly dry), in a quart of rain-water; when it has boiled long enough to be reduced one-third, strain it, and add the whites of two eggs well beaten and half a pint of fresh cream; stir all well together, and add a few drops of tincture of benzoin.

The following is a fine pomade for removing a rough, scaly appearance to which some skins are subject: Melt half an ounce of white wax with a fluid ounce of cacao, and the same quantity of oil of almonds; when melted, stir it till cool, with barley-flour sufficient to bring it to the consistency of a thin paste; this should be thickly spread upon the skin at night, and washed off the next morning with tepid water.

A refreshing lotion, possessing cleansing and clearing qualities, may be made thus: Take a pint of orange-flour water and a pint of rain-water, with a sprig of rosemary; add to this four ounces of Castile soap, scraped finely; boil all together, and bottle it for use. This is called pearl water; it is easily prepared, and is at the same time innocent and efficacious. Talc water is a lotion of the same kind; it is considered to be a great beautifier of the complexion, and is an old cosmetic of high repute. It is requisite to procure the talc reduced to an impalpable powder, which can be obtained only at the best chemists. Place about half a pound of the powder in a glass bottle or jar, with an ounce of muriate of ammonia, and set it in a cool place; the powder will speedily dissolve, then pour the liquor oft and bottle it for use. It heightens the brilliancy of the skin very perceptibly.

Rose Cold Cream. — Almond oil, one pound; rose-water, one pound; white wax and spermaceti, each one ounce; otto of roses, one-half drachm.

Violet Cold Cream. — Huille violette, one pound; rose-water, one pound; wax and spermaceti, each one ounce; otto of almonds, five drops.

Violet Cold Cream, Imitataton. — Almond oil, three-quarters of a pound; huille cassie, one-quarter pound; rose-water, one pound; sperm and wax, one ounce; otto of almonds, one-quarter drachm. This is an elegant and economical preparation, generally admired.

Tubereuse, Jasmine, and Fleur d'Orange Cold Creams are prepared in a similar manner to violet (first form); they are all very exquisite preparations, but as they coat more than rose cold cream, perfumers are not much inclined to introduce them in lieu of the latter.

Camphor Cold Cream (otherwise Camphor Ice). — Almond oil, one pound; rose-water, one pound; wax and spermaceti, one ounce; camphor, two ounces; otto of rosemary, one drachm. Melt the camphor, wax, and sperm in the oil, then manipulate as for cold cream of roses.

Cucumber Cold Cream. — Almond oil, one pound; green oil, one ounce; juice of cucumbers, one pound; wax and sperm, each one ounce; otto of neroly, one-quarter drachm. The cucumber juice is readily obtained by subjecting the fruit to pressure in the ordinary tincture press. It must be raised to a temperature high enough to coagulate the small portion of albumen which it contains, and then strained through fine linen, as the heat is detrimental to the odor on account of the great volatility of the otto of cucumber. The following method may be adopted with advantage: Slice the fruit very fine with a cucumber-cutter, and place them in the oil; after remaining together for twenty-tour hours, repeat the operation, using fresh fruit in the strained oil; no warmth is necessary, or, at most, not more than a summer heat; then proceed to make the cold cream in the usual manner, using the almond oil thus odorized, the rose-water and other ingredients in the regular way, perfuming, if necessary, with a little neroly.

Another and commoner preparation of cucumber is found among the Parisians, which is lard simply scented with the juice of the fruit thus: The lard is liquefied by heat in a vessel subject to a water bath; the cucumber juice is then stirred well into it; the vessel containing the ingredients is now placed in a quiet situation to cool. The lard will rise to the surface, and when cold must be removed from the fluid juice; the same manipulation being repeated as often as required, according to the strength of odor of the fruit desired in the grease.

Pomade of Cucumber. — Benzoinated lard, six pounds; spermaceti, two pounds; essence of cucumbers, one pound. Melt the stearine with the lard, then keep it constantly in motion while it cools, now beat the grease in a mortar, gradually adding the essence of cucumbers; continue to beat the whole until the spirit is evaporated, and the pomade is beautifully white.

Lavendar Water --Take spirits of wine, 1 pint; oil of lavendar, 2 ounces orris root, 1/2 ounce. Keep the mixture two or three weeke and then strain it through the thickness of blotting paper. It will then be ready for use.

Pomades, etc., for the Hair. -- Cocoa-nut oil melted with a little olive oil, and scented as preferred. Sage tea is good for a wash; or warm water. A very good pomade is also made of: white wax, half an ounce; spermaceti, half an ounce; olive oil, six ounces. Different sorts of hair require different treatment; for what agrees with one, makes the other harsh and dry. Cold cream is often used; it is made with a quarter of an ounce of spermaceti, and a quarter of an ounce of white wax; dissolve by putting the basin in which you are going to mix it in hot water; then add one ounce of oil of almonds and rose-water. From Peterson's Magazine; April 1863.


Godey's Lady's Book; March, 1856; Vol LII page 269; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Godey's Lady's Book; September, 1860; Vol LXI Page 266; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Beauty: Its Attainment and Preservation, published 1890.

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