Saturday 28 September 2013


(by guest blogger Marcela De Vivo)
Pink cheeks and “fresh faces,” as the result of mild physical exertion outside like walks and horseback riding, or simply riding in an open carriage, were considered more desirable than the painted appearances of the preceding period. Skin care to improve the complexion, rather than covering it up, grew in estimation and in business. Fancy facial lotions hawked by door-to-door salesmen promising glowing skin were very popular with the well-to-do set, but probably were no more effective than the simple lemon, brandy, and milk concoction that many women employed as a cleanser at home. (It’s unsurprising that this cleanser was effective given that lemon and milk are both excellent exfoliants and are still popular ingredients in DIY facials.)

The characters in Jane Austen’s books seem to live in a glamorous world, full of dress changes for every daily event, gossip, intrigue, and a lot of leisure time. While Jane Austen’s writing did accurately reflect (and poke fun at) the social values and behaviors of the day, it never went into any great detail about the beauty habits that women employed to achieve the desired look of the Regency era.             

Following the Rococo era of dramatic makeup with extremely white faces—the result of lead-based white face paint!—red lips and heavily rouged cheeks, the Regency period featured a more “natural” look, with an emphasis on appearing “healthy.”     
Instead of the heavy lead-based paint used to create a stark white visage, more modern foundations came to the forefront during the Regency period. Rice, pearl, or talc powder was used sparingly on the face over tinted foundations. Rouge was still en vogue, though applied with a lighter hand than before. Pear's Liquid Blooms of Roses was a popular blush product in came in various shades of pink and red. Women of Jane Austen’s era would sometimes mute the color of the rouge with a touch of talc powder. Unlike in the early 1700s, where mouse fur was used to create faux eyebrows that adhered to the face, the ladies of the Regency era were enamored with Egyptian and Turkish beauty practices, and utilized kohl brought about by the Egyptian trade
 If kohl was unavailable, enterprising women mixed together black soot (or sometimes burnt cork) with a little oil to create a paste to apply to their eyebrows and eyelashes. But a light hand and judicious application was still key, as the “fresh” and “natural” look was still considered most desirable. Because of the sudden emphasis on health and Turkish practices, spas and baths gained a surge in popularity. It became the thing to do to have a season at Bath, Brighton, or Cheltenham to dip in the sea or healing springs. Some people even drank the water, believing it would improve their health. Copper bowls filled with scented oils floated in many of the baths to purify the air, which was important because not much was known about how disease spread at that point in time. These spas were supposed to help a person get healthier—but it was just as likely that they could end up contracting a communicable disease instead. However, a lot of the activity at these resorts and spas centered around social gatherings and events and less around health. Ostensibly, people were going to Bath for their health, but really were indulging in the latest fashions, gossip and parties. 
The women of Jane Austen’s era wore less makeup than the era before, but they did not eschew it entirely. And the spa “treatments” that they sought out were less about health and more about socializing. While the Regency era focused on natural looks and health, there was still a hefty dose of artifice in their beauty and spa regimen. 
Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer in Southern California. She loves researching different periods in history, and this topic is no different. She specializes in beauty and health topics and often contributes to the Bellezza Spa blog. Follow her on Twitter today!


dstoutholcomb said...


junewilliams7 said...

I'm going to have to try this facial recipe. Do you think that using lead-based face paint led to birth defects? I'm glad that ladies went to a more natural lok in the Regency.

Thanks for sharing this!