Our 19th century girls couldn’t run down to the mall to pick up the latest beauty products…instead, they went down to the larder and out to the garden when they wanted something to remove freckles, or fade the tan they accidentally got at that picnic on Monday, or soothe chapped lips. Here are a few recipes for beauty products I found in The Lady’s Stratagem, compiled by Frances Grimble from a variety of early 19th century sources, as well as from The Mirror of Graces, anonymously published in 1811 by a Lady of Distinction.
Do any of them actually work to remove freckles or tan or pimples? I have no idea; some of the receipts call for unpleasant ingredients (a face wash of poultry blood to remove tan, for example!), and others call for ingredients no longer generally available, like spermaceti (a whale product) and musk. On the other hand, sweet almond oil and cucumber are used today in skin and body products…so who knows? Happy reading!
This pomatum, which I have so often recommended for all faults in the skin, is prepared thus: take a quantity of fine olive-oil proportionable to how much pomatum you want. Grate white cucumbers in a quantity equal to the oil. Put the whole in a dish or a silver tumbler and place this vessel in a water-bath [like a double boiler]. Stir its contents continually with a silver soup-spoon, which replaces the pharmacist’s spatula. Continue to stir the mixture for some time, but do not let it boil; then strain it through a cheese cloth. Repeat the process with the same oil up to six times, always keeping the heat of the water-bath below the boiling point. This fine pomatum, white as snow, should be covered and used at once, because it turns rancid with time.
A quarter of a pound of hard marrow, from the marrow-bone. Melt it over a slow fire, as it dissolves gradually, pour the liquid marrow into an earthen pipkin [that's one, at left], then add to it an ounce of spermaceti, twenty raisins of the sun, stoned [seeds removed], and a small portion of alcanna root, sufficient to color it a bright vermilion. Simmer these ingredients over a slow fire, then strain the whole through muslin; and while hot, stir into it one tea-spoonful of the balsam of Peru. Pour it into the boxes in which it is to remain; it will there stiffen, and become fit for use.
Pomade de Seville
(This simple application is much in request with the Spanish ladies, for taking off the effects of the sun, and to render the complexion brilliant.)
Take equal parts of lemon juice and white of eggs. Beat the whole together in a varnished earthen pipkin, and set on a slow fire. Stir the fluid with a wooden spoon till it has acquired the consistence of soft pomatum. Perfume it with some sweet essence, and, before you apply it, carefully wash the face with rice water.
Oil of Bitter Almonds, to cure Sun-burn and Freckles
Remove the yellow skins from some bitter almonds. Crush the almonds well, and press out the oil. Only a small amount should be prepared at a time, because it evaporates and easily turns rancid.
Preparation of Dr. Withering, to dispel Eruptions of the Skin
Squeeze out the juice of a leek, mix it with an equal quantity of sweet milk or cream, and use it to wash the pimples, which will dry up and promptly go down without leaving spots.