Category Archives: Renaissance beauty

Renaissance Beauty Secrets Workshop

Creating Natural Cosmetics at Hampton Court Palace

Golden Arch – Gateway to Learning
Adult Learning Centre at Hampton Court Palace

It was a bright  day on August 21st and a merry band of 12 students had gathered to learn the art of cosmetic making inspired by the lush complexions of the Stuart beauties.

Little did they know that much toiling over less than desirable potions containing toxic ingredients were the order of the day in their primping and grooming regimes,  which you can read more of on a previous post here.

However, our ingredients, although inspired by the spirit of beauty displayed by the Stuart lovelies, are non-toxic, natural and plant based – so no fear of losing your teeth of developing pocked skin!

We had lots of fun creating and sampling  beautifying masks and a very soft balm combining shea butter and coconut.

budding beauty alchemists!
photo credit: Historic Royal Palaces

I chose white clay and red clay not only for their amazing cleansing and refining properties and their  safety, but also for their visual resemblance to the white lead and cerise the ladies of 17c, who would have used these undesirable items to tint and whiten their complexion and to apply a blush to  their lips and cheeks.

White Argiletz Clay (also known as kaolin or China clay)

I love white clay, it is incredibly fine-textured and easy to use.  The main action of any clay is to draw out toxins and absorb excess impurities and oils, however,  this is most gentle of the French argiletz clays and is suitable for all skin types, especially dry skin conditions.

It is not too drying, is soothing and rich in silica and magnesium helping to not only gently exfoliate and clarify the skin but also to replenish it.

White clay can also be used as a body powder and is particularly useful as a foot powder to absorb excess moisture.

White clay absorbs water very quickly, so when making your mask, add a few drops at a time. Use a teaspoon of clay initially to 1 teaspoon of water.  Allow the liquid  to absorb before stirring with a wooden/glass or ceramic utensil, adding more clay or water accordingly to achieve your desired texture.

Red Argiletz Clay

Iron oxide rich Red Clay

This clay is rich in iron oxide – hence its copper red colour – and is rich in trace minerals.  It is fine to the touch, but a little grainier in texture when water is added, than the White clay.  It revitalises the appearance and brightens dull and congested skin, it is strengthening to capillaries and can help improve condition of dry, sensitive and irritated skin.

If using this clay on its own, I would only leave on for between 5-8 minutes, it can leave a faint colour, so wash off well with warm water.

The beauty of using these clays is that they can be used alone or mixed together to form a basic ‘dry mix’ thereby creating a therapeutic and bespoke mask to suit your specific skin needs.

Making the mask:

For practical sampling, our group created a few samples of white, red and the two mixed together for a pink clay:

1. Take one teaspoon of clay and add to a small shallow bowl

2. Add a little water and allow the clay to absorb all the water before stirring to combine – this helps to avoid air bubbles and lumps; add clay a little at a time if the mixture is too thin and water incrementally until you achieve your desired consistency.  Remember to stir once most of the water has been absorbed.

This is your basic mask mix; the water phase can be replaced with a cooled herbal infusion or tea, such as green tea, chamomile etc or a floral water to suit your skin type (rosewater, neroli, lavender etc).

The most popular mix of the day was the white on its own for the more sensitive and dry skins and the mix of red and white for those who desired a more clarifying and brightening effect.

We practised on the back of our hands, and lo and behold, the skin was brighter, more even and softer – what wouldn’t the Stuart beauties have given for that instead of the mercury and lead based powders and paints they used instead!

Sampling red clay on the hand – prepare for lily-like hands!
photo credit: Historic Royal Palaces

The clays  can be further tailored to suit your skin needs by adding other ingredients to boost their effect, such as oatmeal, banana, strawberries etc.

We practised with adding honey to the clay+water mix,  which has humectant properties and is very nourishing and hydrating, or double cream – pour in a little at first and stir slowly without over-mixing, this is incredibly softening and gives a smooth, cooling mask.

Adding other agents from your fridge or larder can really help to adapt your basic dry clay mask  mix for every season and skin ‘mood’!

Making our Body Balm

With our skin clean, refreshed and silky-smooth, we turned our attention to the Body Balm.

Inspired by the hogs-grease and animal-based pomades of the Renaissance, I turned to the modern day, plant-based butters we now have available to us in order to create a soft paste-like balm to soften and hydrate the skin.

Shea butter and shea nuts
skin softening heaven

We combined shea butter and coconut oil (sweet almond could also be used) and a choice of essentials oils, inspired by the plants and herbs Apothecaries of the day may have used.

Everyone was diligently combining the shea butter with the coconut oil until they achieved their desired consistency and then we added the scent!

A choice of the following organic essentials were available:

  • Lavender – Lavandula angustifolia (High altitude)
  • Orange – Citrus sinensis
  • Rose otto – Rosa damascena
  • Geranium – Perlargonium graveolens
  • Clove bud – Eugenia caryophyllata
  • Benzoin – Styrax benzoin
  • Grapefruit – Citrus paradisi
  • Rosemary – Rosemarinus officinalis

The most popular combinations were:

  • A delicate and soft combination of Rose + Benzoin
  • An ‘Elizabethan-type pot pourri’  of Rose, Lavender, Geranium + Clove
  • Reminiscent of liqueurs:  Benzoin + Orange
  • Warm and spicy mix of Orange + Clove

A sample of our scented Shea butter and Coconut oil balm
a silky skin marvel!

The shea butter balm is a super multi-tasker and can also be used in the following ways:

  • Add a tablespoon to a warm bath, for a fragrant and softening soak
  • Add a tablespoon of balm to either brown/white sugar or fine sea salt to use as a rich exfoliating scrub for legs, feet, arms and elbows.  Apply to dry skin and rinse off to leave skin buffed and smooth.
  • As an overnight treatment: apply a layer to feet (or hands) and put on some cotton or natural fibre socks (or gloves) and leave overnight, et voila, no more alligator feet (although you might need a few treatments depending on state of said feet!).

*****

 

The shea butter and essential oils were purchased from one of the wonderful suppliers I use, their shea butter is truly special, as they are fair traded and unrefined and is one of a select few varieties that I purchase.   Their webshop is:  www.materiaaromatica.com

With many thanks to Rachel Crossley at Hampton Court Palace for helping the day to run so smoothly.

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under History, Recipes, Renaissance beauty, Uncategorized

Beauty Secrets: Natural Cosmetic Making

Barbara Villiers painted by Peter Lely
Mistress of King Charles II and a renowned beauty

If my previous post on the 17th century beauty lecture I attended whetted your appetite, well exciting news…

In conjunction with the ‘The Wild, Beautiful and the Damned‘ exhibition and as part of their events programme, I will be at Hampton Court Palace on Tuesday, August 21st , running a workshop creating natural cosmetics; guaranteed to be a mercury, pigeon-dropping and hogs-grease free event!

We shall be channelling our inner Stuart beauty, sampling safe, natural botanical ingredients (some are edible!), renowned for their complexion enhancing properties and creating 17th century-inspired, luxury cosmetics.  You will make two generous sized products to take home, which can be adapted and used  for your personal beautification needs.  A selection of natural beauty recipes will also be provided for home practice.

The workshop will be hands-on and practical, with a smattering of ‘cosmetic history’ and fun theory.  A small selection of essential oils will be available for use during the workshop and the fee includes entry to the ‘The Wild, Beautiful and the Damned’ exhibition – a definite must see, especially the sumptuous Peter Lely paintings of the Windsor Beauties.

You can find out more and  book a place here

And if your sum history knowledge constitutes  re-runs of Blackadder, then here is a short introduction to King Charles II to set the scene, thank you to Horrible Histories and Youtube!

Leave a Comment

Filed under 17c Beauty, Anti-ageing, History, Recipes, Renaissance beauty

Courtly Beauty Secrets of the Renaissance

be-witching beauty

2nd witch:

“Eye of newt, and toe of frog,


Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,


Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,


Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing,–


For a charm of powerful trouble,


Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”

Macbeth (IV, i, 14-15), …

Well this is not exactly a typical anti-ageing recipe, but in the 17th century, similarly strange, repellent and sometimes toxic substances were used in the name of beautification, as we soon found out in a fascinating lecture on May 10th:  “Skin deep: Beauty in the reign of Charles II” with Stefania Crowther, Centre for Renaissance Studies, University of Warwick



For the beauty ideal of the time we need look no further than any one of the King’s mistresses; pale, lily-like and translucent of skin, wide and dewy-eyed, flush of cheek and giving the impression of a natural, youthful beauty and innocence.

“pretty, witty” Nell Gwynn – one of the many mistresses of King Charles II

Was their beauty a genetic blessing or were their some magical cosmetic enhancements afoot?  Whatever their secrets, to be beautiful was the currency of the day and they were certainly the ‘celebrity’ inspirations for the many society and middle-class women who aspired to be like them.

We discovered that the substances used to achieve this ‘natural and subtle’ enhancement ranged from the toxic, such as belladonna extracts, lead and mercury; to the repellent -hogs grease, bird droppings and urine, so you can imagine our  audible sighs of relief when less fatal and more familiar, edible household ingredients were also mentioned, such as egg whites, vinegar, almond oil, rosewater and lemon juice.

Many women, as the main care-givers and given the general lack of doctors, usually had a small apothecary kit of laudanum, iodine, mercury etc in their home first aid kits, combined with some lay medical and herbal knowledge they could usually create many recipes that were available at the time.

the home beauty + first aid kit!
(image: www.medicalantiques.com)

There were a number of educated and entrepreneurial women taking advantage of this trend for beautification and the printing of recipe pamphlets & almanacs started to circulate pronouncing their products’ miracle effects (and in some cases highlighting their non-toxic, ie, mercury/lead free ingredients) in hyperbolic terms.

Stefania showed us some fascinating and hilarious samples from the Wellcome Library archives  illustrating adverts for popular ‘Miracle Waters” of talc and pearl, of ‘Pomades and grease’ and ‘skin-enhancing powders’.

One of the more successful and respected of these beauty-pedlars was Hannah Woolley (1622-1675), an English writer who published early books on household management and etiquette, one of which  ‘The ladies directory’ included both cosmetic and culinary recipes.

Hannah Woolley, writer
‘The Ladies Directory’

Other writers of culinary and cosmetic almanacs included Mary Doggett; Lady Frances Catchmay’s ‘A booke of medicens’; Sarah Jinner and the mysterious WM (author initials) of whom very little is known, who wrote ‘The Queens Closet Opened” (recipes of Queen Henrietta Maria, wife to Charles 1) in 1655 , a precursor to celebrity endorsement that we have now. The book is divided into three sections: ‘The Pearl of Practice’ which covers medical remedies; ‘A Queen’s Delight’ which examines confectionery; and ‘The Compleat Cook’ which looks at general culinary recipes.

So, after delving into the metaphorical ‘renaissance reticule’ what beauty tips did we unearth?

  • For pale, lily-like, translucent skin

Mercury: the slightly white sheen effect of mercury on skin gave the illusory effect of innocence, youth, radiance, fertility and virtue, (the same beliefs that are revered today and synonymous with our ideal of beauty) and was applied to face, neck and décolleté.  A cosmetic ‘airbrush’, it also helped to cover scars, ruddy complexions, freckles and brown spots and therefore ‘blur’ the ageing process, as these were seen as undesirable (nothing changes then!)

There were many side effects and disadvantages to using mercury, to many it had an offensive smell so waters, cleansers, whitening tonics that contained it were frequently scented and other ungents and fragranced accessories were used to mask the smell. This is a mere ‘fly in the ointment’ considering its other toxic and often fatal attributes: prolonged use led to wrinkled leathery skin (sweet irony), tooth decay, loss of memory, aches and pains, etc.  By Charles II period its harmful effects were probably known but it was still in use, as many perceived the risks were worth it…the price of beauty indeed!

Many beauty recipes used in the Elizabethan era were continued into Charles II reign, such as white lead or  ‘Venetian Ceruse’, also known as Spirits of Saturn, a 16th century cosmetic used as a skin whitener. It was in great demand and considered the best available.  The ‘Ceruse’ was mixed with vinegar to achieve the coveted pale complexion.  The pigment of white lead caused poisoning, damaging the skin and causing hair loss.   Usage over an extended period could result in death.

The classic ceruse base with vermillion rouge for lip and cheek
pale and er…interesting?

Egg white was popular to mix in with white chalk or lead and vinegar, this paste was applied to give a smooth shiny finish.  You just had to remain immobile, as this new ‘skin’ had a tendency to crack and flake (perhaps the reason for the demure faces in the paintings!)

  • Flushed cheeks and rosy lips

Although the desired effect of mercury and lead gave the promised whitening complexion, it could sometimes obscure the natural blushing mechanism, a desirable trait, as it demonstrated modesty and a sense of shame, so women frequently applied extra rouge on top of their ‘white foundation’.

The colour for cheeks and lips came from mercuric sulfide (vermillion), which could be laid on thickly, or from other compounds such as ‘cerise powder’, white lead to which red colouring was added, or by using Spanish papers, which was bought dyed red to rub into cheeks.   Mercuric sulfide could cause tooth loss, gum disease and depending on concentration and frequency of use, other organ diseases.

Lips were reddened with ‘Vermillion rouge’, again mercury based, or natural, but expensive colourants such as alkanet/madder root or Cochineal.

Madder root, a plant-based dye used as a red tint for lips and cheeks

  • Wide-eyed and innocent

The ‘come hither’ doe-eyed look
Nell Gwynn by Simon Verelst

Many upper class women used Belladonna eye-drops to dilate their pupils and to achieve the desired doe-eyed, limpid look. Though the desired effect was considered attractive, belladonna (deadly nightshade) is a toxic herbaceous plant containing an active ingredient called atropine.  Cosmetic use of Belladonna in eye-drops could cause visual disturbances, increased heart rate and prolonged use could lead to blindness.

Belladonna berries
A sight for sore eyes indeed!

Belladonna berries – a sight for sore eyes indeed!

  • Lustrous locks

Golden, reddish hair was still revered and dyes to promote the yellow colour that might have been used were a mixture of urine, rhubarb, lye, saffron, cumin seed, celandine and oil.  Hair was not frequently washed so fragranced powders were used on natural hair and wigs.  Men and women wore wigs due either balding or from the indignity of hair-loss due to the side effects of mercury/lead usage.

The coveted golden locks

  • Skin toning and softening

Usually animal fats, alcohol, urine and flower waters in various combinations was recommended for toning, plumping and rejuvenating ‘ye saggye skin’!  If you are feeling daring, perhaps a few recipes might tempt you?

A recipe to soften the skin, quoted by Lemery, a French chemist was to:

wash in your own urine, or with rosewater mixed with wine, else make a decoction of the rinds of lemon”.

A more challenging (and foul) recipe to target particular flabby or sagging areas, (perhaps on a lazy Sunday afternoon):

to brew up a mixture of chicken and goose grease, pine, rosin, pitch and turpentine in an earthenware pot.

This was then mixed with wax, cooled, applied “to the place that Languishes, or does not equally Thrive”, and allowed to set into a plaster.

  • Pomatums

A form of grease used for lips, hair, hands etc, usually a combination of suet, waxes and animal fat.   Spermaceti, an extract of sperm whale, was commonly used for candles and pomade-cosmetics. However, the downside was that it would melt in high temperatures, so if you had been over generous in your application to your face, hair etc it would soon liquefy to give the undesired ‘looked like a greasy fry pan’ effect!  Pomatums were frequently perfumed and combined with bean flours and orris root in recipes to whiten and soften (ideal for hands!).

********

A revelation indeed, but a final thought struck me that nearly 400 years separate us from the Stuart lovelies and their ideals of beauty and maintaining it; yet the pursuit of  delaying and blurring the encroaching effects of age continues and we still seem bound by the same expectations, fed no doubt by  media’s influence to aspire to ‘naturally’  flawless complexions, pert and toned skin, wide-eyed and ‘fresh-faced’.    Welcome to the brave new multi-million-dollar world of high tech skin-care (snake venom anyone?) injectibles (botox) and cosmetic surgery…and increasing self-dissatisfaction?

I am off to purloin some wine (to drink) and eggs (to scramble); although I might save the egg white for a face mask!

The lecture is part of a programme of events in conjunction with Hampton Court’s current exhibition “The Wild, Beautiful and the Damned”, allowing you to discover more about its theme of beauty and decadence in the late Stuart court.

Leave a Comment

Filed under 17c Beauty, History, Renaissance beauty, Skin