From time to time I like to look at my mom’s copy of the 1890 Welcome Baking Powder “Encyclopedia of Cookery” and I’ve shared recipes and advice from it in the past. I was reading through it this week, trying to get an idea of the preparation involved in an 1890 holiday feast, but my attention was drawn instead to the section on cosmetics or “cosmetiques” as it was spelled during that time. We sometimes forget that women of the past didn’t just walk into a store and buy prepared products off the shelf. They often killed and butchered their own meat and grew and harvested vegetables and fruits. They made many of their own recipe ingredients- from flour, butter, and cream to herbs and oils. And they concocted their own cleaning supplies, medications, and cosmetics as well. No wonder “homemaker” was a dawn to dusk job!
Here are a few of their wonderful recipes for looking good while performing the endless tasks required of them:
(Needless to say- “Don’t try these at home.” LOL)
Put in a vial one drachm (1/8 oz.) of benzoin gum in powder, one drachm nutmeg oil, six drops of orange-blossom tea, or apple-blossoms put in half pint of rain water and boiled down to one teaspoonful and strained, one pint of sherry wine. Bathe the face morning and night; will remove all flesh worms and freckles, and give a beautiful complexion. Or, put one ounce of powdered gum of benzoin in pint of whiskey; to use, put in water in wash bowl till it is milky, allowing it to dry without wiping. This is perfectly harmless.
To Clear a Tanned Skin
Wash with a solution of carbonate of soda and a little lemon juice; then with Fuller’s earth-water, or the juice of unripe grapes.
Oil to Make the Hair Curl
Olive oil, one pound; oil of organum, one drachm; oil of rosemary, one and one-half drachms.
Wrinkles in the Skin
White wax, one ounce; strained honey, two ounces; juice of lily bulbs, two ounces. The foregoing melted and stirred together will remove wrinkles.
Pearl Water for the Face
Put half a pound best Windsor soap scraped fine into half a gallon of boiling water; stir it well until it cools, add a pint of spirits of wine and half an ounce of oil of rosemary; stir well. This is a good cosmetique and will remove freckles.
Prepare chalk, on-half pound; powdered myrrh, two ounces; camphor, two drachms; orris-root powdered, two ounces. Moisten the camphor with alcohol and mix all well together.
Wash for a Blotched Face
Rose water, three ounces; sulphate of zinc, one drachm; mix. Wet the face with it, gently dry it and then touch it over with cold cream which also gently dry off.
Take of wheat starch, one pound; powdered orris-root, three ounces; oil of lemon, thirty drops; oil of bergamot, oil of cloves, each fifteen drops. Rub thoroughly together.
To one quart of rose water add an ounce and a half of gum tragacanth (a gum used in pharmacy, adhesives, and textile printing); let it stand forty-eight hours, frequently straining it, then strain through a coarse linen cloth; let it stand two days, and again strain; add to it a drachm of oil of roses; used by ladies dressing their hair, to make it lie in any position.
A Good Wash for the Hair
One pennyworth of borax, half a pint of olive oil, one pint boiling water.
Mode: Pour the boiling water over the borax and oil; let it cool; then put the mixture into a bottle. Shake it before using, and apply it with a flannel. Camphor and borax, dissolved in boiling water and left to cool made a very good wash for the hair; as also does rosemary water mixed with a little borax. After using any of these washes, when the hair becomes thoroughly dry, a little pomatum or oil should be rubbed in to make it smooth and glossy.
Note: the above ad is just a reminder that many women did all this work while encased in clothing that was just a bit constrictive.