Skin Care September 17, 2015

Victorian Era Skin Care Practices

Woman looking in a hand-held mirror applying makeup

Skin care has always been important to people, but how we take care of our skin changes from era to era. In the Victorian times, appearances were very important, and so was skin care. Some of the ways they took care of their skin, though, was drastically different than today’s skin care practices – although some things have not changed all that much!

Some of their practices may seem quite strange to us, but to Victorian men and women, these skin care habits were the epitome of elegance and refinement.

Skin Care Practices in the Victorian Era
Wealth, status, and appearance were everything to people who lived in the Victorian times. And their skin care habits reflected their views on social status, much like today:

  • Pale skin meant you were well-off. If you had a tan, it meant you spent time working outside, like the “common folk.” Some went so far as to paint their skin with skin-whitening powder, such as zinc oxide. Others avoided the sunlight altogether. Pale skin was a symbol of wealth and riches and many people would color not only their skin but also their hair with a thick dusting of white powder, exuding royalty and high standing in the community. The opposite could not be more true today as most all celebs and average Joes and Janes use just about any means possible to get their skin as tan as they can using the sun, tanning beds and spray tans.
  • Make-up was bad for your health. Instead of wearing make-up, Victorians were supposed to ingest the occasional charcoal tonic to keep skin healthy and vibrant. They regularly used pumice stones to slough off dead skin. But these habits didn’t stop some Victorians from buying and applying makeup in secret!
  • Facial complexion required the utmost care. Mixtures were used to wash the skin of the face in order to keep it young and supple. Ingredients included everything from lemon juice and rose water to brandy and milk.
  • Lip care kept one attractive. Pomade and other ointments were used to keep the lips shiny and keep them protected. Any pomade recipes that contained dye were subtle and discreet, since showing off was a faux paus. Lip salves were used on chapped lips, to keep them moist and keep them protected from the wind and other elements. While the ingredients may differ, the shine and health of a glossy lip is still just as popular!

Keeping the skin healthy was a big job! Makeup may have been a social no-no, but that didn’t stop women from indulging. Hundreds of recipes were published that told women how to create and combine their own skin care ointments. These included lip salve, eyebrow blackeners, rouge, perfumes, cold cream, tinctures that would help skin “bloom,” and so on.

Specialists would use these recipes to cook up cosmetics and women would purchase them through local pharmacists, doctors, or even order them abroad from dealers. Those who didn’t want or couldn’t afford to make these purchases would use the recipes to create their own home-made versions.

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