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Cosmetic Recipes for Regency Woman

In this post, we take a look at homemade cosmetic recipes that were used during the Regency period. Homemade recipes dealt with all sorts of cosmetic requirements, from brightening the complexion to softening hands. The three makeup items commonly seen during this era were rouge, white powder and lip salve, and they all had recipes for making at home.

Virgin Milk was a famous face wash used during the Regency and was made from a 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 few drops of the tincture in a glass of water produced a milky mixture with a slight perfume. This was then used to wash the face. It was also claimed to rid the skin of pimples, freckles and eruptions.

cosmetic recipes regency
A Regency cosmetic recipe for face wash from The Mirror of the Graces (1811).

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

cosmetic recipes regency
A cosmetic recipe for lavender water from The Mirror of the Graces (1811).

Some Regency cosmetic recipes for facial care were used more like a face mask. For example, this face wash recipe uses vegetable ingredients to create an ointment.

Firstly, equal amounts of melon, pompion (pumpkin), gourd, and cucumber seeds would be pound into a flour or meal. Secondly, fresh cream would be beaten in to create a paste. Finally, milk was added as required to make an ointment.

The ointment was applied to the face and left for 30 minutes, before being washed 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 de Maintenon.

The ointment was 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 with elderflower water. It would be removed in the morning with rose water.

Hair Wash

One simple Regency cosmetic recipe to cleanse and brighten the hair included egg whites. They would be beaten to a froth and applied to the hair in the morning and left to dry. The hair and scalp were then washed with a mixture of rum and rose water.

Hand Softener

Paste of Palermo was a paste for the hands. It was used 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 & 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 soft wax. Another recipe was Beaume a l’Antique:

cosmetic recipes regency
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. It was poured into suitable pots and left to set.


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

The powdered pigments used in Regency cosmetic recipes included vermilion, carmine, alkanna root, red sandalwood, and saffron.

Red powders used in makeup
The colours of vermilion, carmine, alkanna root, red sandalwood and saffron.

Suntan Remover

Having a tan was not the done thing for Regency ladies. Therefore, various cosmetic recipes were produced during the Regency to “take off the effects of the sun and render the complexion brilliant”.

Pommade de Seville was one such recipe for using on the face. This was made by beating an equal amount of lemon juice and egg whites together in a “varnished earthen pipkin” and stirring over a slow fire. The finished product had the consistency of a soft pomade and could be left as it was or perfumed.

White Powder

Talc White could be made at home by preparing a piece of Briançon chalk, preferably of a pearl-grey colour. It was broken down over a few weeks, resulting in a fine white face powder. The first step was to break the chalk piece 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]

The powder and vinegar mix was then bottled and shaken daily for a fortnight. After this, the chalk powder was left to settle for the final time and the vinegar was poured off. The resulting powder was washed by stirring it in a pan with filtered water. The powder could be washed several times.

After washing, the powder was left to dry in a place where it was not exposed to dust or dampness. The powder was made finer by sifting it through a silk sieve. Finally, it was ready for 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.

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[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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