Cosmetic Recipes for Regency Woman

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Homemade recipes for skin and hair care were very popular during the Regency period. Here are some homemade lotions for dealing with all sorts of things, from brightening the complexion to softening hands. Rouge, white powder and lip salve were the three makeup items most commonly seen during this time, and each one had various recipes for making at home.

Face Wash

Virgin Milk was a famous face wash used during the Regency and was made from tincture of benzoin resin. This was a gum obtained from the bark of several species of trees in the genus Styrax:

The tincture of benjoin is obtained by taking a certain quantity of the gum, pouring spirits of wine upon it, and boiling it until it becomes a rich tincture.” [1]

A Regency recipe for face wash from The Mirror of the Graces (1811)

A few drops of the tincture in a glass of water produced a milky mixture with a slight perfume, which was then used to wash the face. It was also claimed to rid the skin of pimples, freckles and eruptions.

Other facial washes or facial toners included waters made from flowers like lavender, orange or rose.

Also called a face wash, but used more like a face mask, was this Regency recipe. To start with, pound equal amounts of melon, pompion (pumpkin), gourd and cucumber seeds into a flour/meal. Then beat in enough fresh cream to create a paste, add milk as required to make an ointment and apply to the face. Leave for 30 minutes, then wash off with warm water.

Freckle Remover

Unction de Maintenon was an ointment used to remove freckles. It was named after the wife of Louis XIV, Madame do Maintenon. Made from 1 oz of Venice soap, 1/2 oz of lemon juice, 1/4 oz oil of bitter almonds, 3 drops of oil of rhodium and 1/4 oz de-liquidated oil of tartar, it was applied at night after the face had been washed, and removed in the morning with rose-water.

Hair Wash

To cleanse and brighten the hair, egg whites were beaten until they formed a froth and applied to the hair in the morning and left to dry. The hair and head was then washed with a mixture of rum and rose water.

Hand Softener

Paste of Palermo was a paste for the hands to use instead of soap to smooth and soften the skin:

Take a pound of soft soap, half a pint of salad oil, the same quantity of spirits of wine, the juice of three lemons, a little silver sand, and a sufficient quantity of that perfume please the sense. The oils and soap must first be boiled together in an earthen pipkin. The other ingredients to be added after boiling; and, when cool, amalgamate into a paste with the hands.” [2]

Lip Balms and Pomades

Uncoloured lip balm or salve was made to soothe dry and chapped lips. Honey was a popular ingredient in a soothing balm, and would be mixed with rose or lavender water (or similar) and a soft wax.

1830 recipe lips
A lip balm recipe to sooth chapped and dry lips [3]
Coloured lip pomade had red powders added to the melted fat, wax and/or oil base, which was then left to set in suitable pots.


Rouge was made in similar way to lip salve – that is, powdered red pigments were added to a fatty base and set in pots.

Powders of vermilion, carmine, alkanna root, red sandalwood and saffron – used in Regency recipes to colour rouges and lip pomades.

White Powder

Talc White could be made at home using a piece of Briançon chalk, preferably of a pearl-grey colour. It was prepared over a few weeks, resulting in a fine white face powder. First the chalk piece needed breaking down into powder:

…rasp it gently with a piece of dog’s skin; after this, sift it through a sieve of very fine silk, and put this powder into a pint of good distilled vinegar. ” [4]

After this, the powder was bottled and shaken daily for a fortnight. The chalk powder was then left to settle for a day, after which the vinegar was poured off. The powder was then placed in a pan and washed with filtered water, simply by stirring it with the water. It could be washed several times.

Once the powder was thoroughly washed, it was left to dry in a place where it was not exposed to dust. Sifting it again through a silken sieve would help make the powder finer, and ready to use:

It may be either left in powder, or wetted and formed into cakes, like those sold by the perfumers. ” [5]

The finished powder was applied with either a finger, a piece of paper or a hare’s foot. Alternatively, a small amount of the powder could be added to ointment.

Find Out More

[1] [2] [3] The Mirror of the Graces: Or, The English Lady’s Costume by A Lady of Distinction. First published in 1811.
[4] [5] The Art of Beauty: or, The best methods of improving and preserving the shape, carriage, and complexion.

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