January 8

20 comments

Cosmetics in the Regency Era

Hello my dears!

Did you miss me? ( I know you did!)

So, us women have all used cosmetic products at least once.

Okay….At least ten times.

Oh, alright! Most of us use them frequently! But have you ever wondered what Regency women used as makeup?

Cosmetics go a long way back in human history. Archeologists have found the first evidence of cosmetics in Ancient Egypt and Greece! So it comes as no surprise that the women of the Regency Era also wanted to look their prettiest, even if heavy use of cosmetics was frowned upon.

The people in the Regency actually preferred (and praised) natural beauty, as a reaction to the previous era of extremely white faces, red lips and heavily rouged cheeks. But don’t let that trick you into thinking they didn’t use cosmetics at all!

But, as it seems, they didn’t have many choices! For the face, they could choose between white and red paint, either as a powder or mixed with a pomad.

Walking Dress, fashion plate from La Belle Assemblée, April 1817 Public Domain

But here’s the catch: harmless materials, such as white talk, did not offer good coverage for the skin. The result? Most of the white paints were made using metal oxides. 

That means that women used to wear poisonous substances on their face, to look prettier. Actual poisonous metals. Yikes!

There was no legislation for the safety of cosmetics at the time, so pretty much anyone could use any ingredient they wanted, and claim anything he or she pleased about its effectiveness.

Red paint, on the other hand, was used as rouge, of course. And it was safe to use, at least. Red cheeks indicate beauty and health, even now. They were mostly in the form of powders, mixed in with a bit of white to give out a more “natural” result. They were applied with a brush, first using a paler shade, and then a darker one on top so they could blend.

Portrait of a Lady by Henri François Mulard , 1810 Public Domain

As for the lips, most women used some type of lip color. One of the most popular ones was “Rose Lip Salve”, made of white wax, almond oil and alkanet.

And of course, we could not forget skincare. Women of the upper class often used expensive face lotions to make their skin look better. We do not know much about their effectiveness, but we do know they had fancy names, such as Milk of Roses, Bloom of Ninon and others. Sounds luxurious!

In the Regency Era we also notice something that was unthinkable before then: women “taking the air” became really common amongst the ton. 

They used to take walks in open carriages, stroll and ride their horses under the sunlight to improve their complexion. Tanning was still frowned upon, and considered a sign of coming from a lower class, but at least then women allowed the sun to kiss their faces, even if it was just for a little bit.

All those cosmetics could either be homemade, or manufactured. A lady’s maid was responsible for making the lady’s cosmetics, finding recipes in magazines and books about etiquette and housekeeping. Manufactured products could be bought from vendors or from the chemist himself!

Oh, the price one pays for beauty! So, what we can take from this is that even though natural beauty was greatly complimented and praised, we can easily assume that most women used cosmetics to compliment what nature had given them. Much like today!

I hope you enjoyed the article! Let me know what you think in the comments!

And remember, the most beautiful thing you can wear is confidence!

Written by Emma Linfield


Tags

Articles, Regency Romance


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  • Thank you for that bit of information. It’s amazing to what extent ladies will go to make themselves beautiful. I enjoyed the article.

  • Always interesting to know these things, and then when reading the stories, am able to understand better what they were doing.

  • I did use make=up in my younger years but found that I didn’t have the time it took to make it look effective/natural so abandoned using it. I did however use it for the photographs taken at my daughters’ weddings as my girls said I should as I looked quite pale & would disappear in the photographs!! I did do as they suggested but had it all applied my a beautician so that my “look” was more professional. I did look quite good in all the photos so it paid off. Now I am back to my natural look albiet with some soft toned coloured sunscreen applied to my face & neck. I noticed on Bridgerton that the young actress who portrayed the heroine of the story looked real, like a Regency lass may have looked at that time: beautifully pale with just a hint of rose on her cheeks & lips. But, she was young & I am not. So I’d rather go natural than dressed up as lamb!!

  • I always wondered what Vaux looked like thanks. The white looked sounds awful but putting poison on your face is terrible

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