18th Century Cosmetic Recipes | Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century: 18th Century Cosmetic Recipes

May 21, 2012

18th Century Cosmetic Recipes


I am very excited to have a guest post by Talia from The Gibson Girl Blog on 18th century cosmetic and beauty recipes! Enjoy!






18th Century Cosmetic Recipes

The Petit Albert is a well known text in certain circles. Part magic, part household hints, this French texts calls itself a "Universal Treasury" and claims it can provide useful knowledge to all humanity.

Among its secrets, which include love spells, recipes for pigeon feed, tips for farmers, and methods for creating artificial gold, a few beauty recipes are to be found. Some editions come bearing a date from as early as 1668, but because several elements from its content were controversial, there is suspicion about the authenticity of its printing dates (it was apparently quite common to put false printer's info on such books in an effort to throw off the censors -- placing an earlier date on the edition might falsely lead the authorities to figure the text had already been circulating under approval.) 1702 is the first definite date that can be confirmed for the Albert's existence.

François Boucher,Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour. 1758, Oil on canvas. Fogg Museum.
The Petit Albert was an influential text, and other renowned 18th century beauty books like The Toilet of Flora carry exact translations of its recipes, without giving credit.

Here are a few notable tricks from Petit Albert:

Toothpaste: made from powdered myrrh and sage, mixed with honey.

Carriera, Rosalba (1675-1757), Woman at her Dressing Table. 1730, watercolor, gouache on ivory.
Wash-balls: 1 pound of Florentine orris root, 4 ounces of storax, 2 ounces of yellow sandalwood, half an ounce of cloves, as much of fine cinnamon, one nutmeg. Powder and mix all ingredients. Then take two pounds of "good white soap" (castile or lye) shaved and put into about 4 pints of water for 4 - 5 days. Take 12 grains of ambergris mixed with gum tragancath and whatever kind of floral water you like and mix this in. "And from this paste you form wash-balls which you place in the sun to dry, and store them in jars with some cotton."

Wash-balls are an old term for complexion soaps (as opposed to laundry soaps, which was the primary use of soap for a long time.) 

Remedy for pimples: Wrap saltpeter in a cloth and moisten it with clean water. Pat the pimples over with this cloth.

Hungary Water: 1.5 pounds rosemary flowers, 1/2 lb pennyroyal flowers, 1/2 lb marjoram flowers, 2 lbs lavender flowers, covered with 3 pints of aqua vita (a strong alcohol - vodka is acceptable.) Put it into digestion for 24 hours in a warm place, in a well sealed container. Then distill it.

Hungary Water is also called Queen of Hungary's Water, and is a "water" in the sense of a Toilet Water or Cologne, and was used originally as a medicine that could be rubbed on the body or imbibed to enhance health and beauty. 

Hair dye: "Gold foam" (a kind of litharge*) powdered and boiled in water. Soak hair in the hot water, the longer the darker the color will be.

Some of these recipes might not be recommended any longer (honey will rot your teeth, *litharge is poisonous) but it is a fascinating look at the home remedies folks of old time used for correcting their beauty troubles!


16 comments

  1. Very fascinating indeed! I love finding beauty remedies from the past

    ReplyDelete
  2. @Giselle La Pompe-Moore Same here! I think it is something a lot of people don't think about.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm reading Samuel Pepys' diary online [1] and his wife Elizabeth was recently gathering May dew for use in washing her face. http://www.pepysdiary.com/archive/1669/05/10/index.php

    [1] The fellow running the web site has been posting a page of the diary every day for years on the anniversary of the day Sam wrote the original page. Fascinating stuff to a history buff like me. Alas, it's soon to be over...

    ReplyDelete
  4. What a fascinating post! It's so interesting to discover what people used to beautify themselves in the past.

    ReplyDelete
  5. @Buck ohh that is awesome, thanks for sharing the link!

    ReplyDelete
  6. @Gio It really is! There must have been so many 'beauty secrets' going around. Such an interesting thing to study

    ReplyDelete
  7. I love finding out how people lived their everyday lives. Especially things to do with fashion/beauty so we can see how methods have developed.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I love the toothpaste one. Honey! I wonder if they ever thought that their toothpaste may be the cause of their cavities?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Katie -- as I understand it, they believed at the time that hot and cold foots were the cause of cavities (a certain logic there, since if you have sensitive teeth those things tend to hurt them; and by common logic one could then be led to conclude that the pain felt is that of is the teeth being injured, rather than its resulting from existing damage.)

    Honey is kind of antibacterial though, so it's got some helpfulness against gingivitis and such troubles. I suppose if you rinsed your mouth out really well afterward it might be alright...

    ReplyDelete
  10. Oh, good heavens -- "Foots" indeed! I don't know if it's autocorrect or if I actually typed that.... hot and cold FOODS.

    ReplyDelete
  11. This book is new to me- interesting! I sit translated to English or just available in French?

    I think it's interesting how much in these old recipes you actually still use in beauty products.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Isis -- I translated the book myself from the French. There is no complete English translation that I know of (though I did just send that complete translation I made out to some publishers...)

    ReplyDelete
  13. @Gibson Girl Edwardian Fashion If it is published we should host an awesome book giveaway here. I think everyone is interested! :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. @Lauren -- cool, we'll see! One publisher wrote back saying he was interested to publish it, but recommended that having him act as my agent and submitting it to a larger publisher would be even better (though the publisher he suggested was someone I'd already sent it to anyway.) So we'll see what happens. It sounds like it will get printed by someone eventually at this rate.

    ReplyDelete
  15. The book is in print now if anyone is interested (under the title of The Spellbook of Marie Laveau, playing up the New Orleans connection) You can get it at Amazon: http://amzn.com/1907881247

    ReplyDelete