Sunday, July 18, 2010

More From The Regency Lady's Cosmetic Shelf

As I mentioned in my last blog, when I was researching The Bricklayer’s Helper (Aug, 2010, The Wild Rose Press), I needed to find what a Regency lady would do to repair her skin after years of abuse by sun and hard work. While ladies during the early years of the 19th century eschewed the use of makeup, they were just as interested in the care of their skin as we are.

It is interesting to me that lemons have always been used to lighten brown spots and achieve highlights in the hair. When I was a girl, we used lemons a lot for both purposes and they worked pretty well to lighten our blonde hair.

As for Sarah, my heroine, she is desperate to find that elixir that will dissolve years of sun damage from her face. And while Sarah is entirely fictional, she was based upon a real Regency woman who, after being orphaned at an early age, decided it was better to live as a man and find honest work, then become a prostitute--one of the few jobs open to women without money or families to care for them. Both women lived hard lives that left the inevitable marks upon their hands and face. So after working for thirteen years as a bricklayer, Sarah finds herself in the awkward position of wishing to make herself more attractive to a man she’s falling in love with.

So, what would she do?

Well, then as now, the sun’s rays can wreck havoc with the complexion. There were many recipes, or receipts as they were called, to help ladies deal with brown spots and other skin issues. And frankly, ladies were better off making their own solutions than buying bottled mixtures from the local pharmacies, which frequently included a number of near-lethal ingredients. The ladies’ magazine, La Belle Assemblée, had recipes in it for skin lotions and tinctures. Herbals were also full of natural remedies. Some, like rose water, are still in use today by those who enjoy making their own beauty supplies.

The following are a few recipes Sarah might have used to make herself more beautiful to her handsome hero, William.

Crême de l’Enclos

Use this every morning and night to remove a tan.

Take half a pint of milk and mix with the juice of a lemon and a spoonful of white brandy. Boil and skim of all scum. When cool, it is ready to use.

Wash for the Hair

Beat the whites of six eggs into a froth and work through the hair. Leave it to dry. Then wash the hair with a mixture of rum and rose-water.

This will clean and brighten the hair, and is best used in the morning.

Paste to “Lift” the Face

Boil the whites of four eggs in rose water. Add sufficient alum and beat to make a paste. When applied, this will firm the skin.


Rose Water

Take two pounds of rose leaves, tie them in cheese cloth, and submerge in a basin of hot water. Place a dish of cold water on them to keep them down. Keep the hot water hot and change the cold water as it warms. This will produce a quantity of oil of roses that can be easily skimmed from the surface.

Virgin’s Milk

There are actually several different recipes for this. The name comes from its appearance, which is milky-white. Regency ladies frequently resorted to this to reduce uneven skin tone, brown spots, and blemishes, and brighten the skin. For purposes of this blog, I’m going to “update” the recipes slightly for our modern audience.

House-Leek--based Virgin’s Milk

Pound some house-leek (Sempervivum or the plant known as “Hen and Chicks”) in a marble mortar and force through a sieve to obtain the juice. When ready to use, add a few drops of spirit of wine. The mixture will curdle and the result is reported to be useful for rendering the skin smooth and removing blemishes.

Benjoin Virgin’s Milk

Take Benjoin gum (resin of the plant Styrax, now called Benzoin, the plant is grown in Sumatra, Java and Thailand) add spirits of wine, and boil until it becomes a rich tincture. Pour a few drops into a glass of water and wash face with this mixture. It will import a beautiful rosy glow to the cheeks.

Interesting note on Benzoin: it is often used now as a disinfectant and local anesthetic to promote healing. It can also be added to boiling water to produce a steam which can have a soothing effect on the lungs and bronchia to help recover from the common cold, bronchitis, and asthma.

In future blogs, I’m hoping to add even more natural recipes that have been used for centuries and offer more natural alternatives to pre-packaged lotions and potions.

Enjoy and have a lovely summer!

1 comment:

L M Gonzalez said...

I like this, Amy.

Long ago, I read a book by Barbara Hazard, "Kathleen". The heroine was an Irish lass and liked to help her father and brothers with their horse farm. Therefore, when she went to her maternal grandmother who'd disowned her, she was a sight to behold. I remember the grandmother used potions like these you've mentioned to lighten her skin and soften her hands.

Will look forward to more on this.