Regency Content

Regency Cosmetics and Make-Up

Looking Your Best in 1811

Women like to look their best and today it's easy: anyone can pick up a tube of lipstick
and the latest women's magazine at her corner store. But how was it in the Regency era?
Was there cosmetics to be had? Did women wear make-up and if they did, did it matter
what type of woman you were? This page attempts to answer those questions.


Fashion in make-up changes, often from one extreme to another, so after the Rococo era of white faces, red lips and heavily rouged cheeks the Regency, as a reaction, was one when natural beauty was highly praised. Skin care not cosmetics was the watchword of the day and manufacturers competed in fantastic lotion with equally fantastic names such as Olympian Dew, a Bloom of Ninon, b Milk of Roses c or, to inspire confidence, down to earth Gowland's Lotion, d The Bath Lotion e and many others. Fancy lotions were very popular among upper class women although it's doubtful whether they offered improved efficacity over home remedies such as crushed strawberries and cucumber. The complexion, that is the texture of the skin and the brilliance of the checks, where for once as important as mere prettiness. Women took exercise to brighten their complexion; after two centuries of hiding indoors with nary a draft of air 'taking the air' became a national pastime. Women walked, rode and went for spins in open carriages. Although freckles and tans were still frowned upon, a fresh and windblown face was no longer considered the province only of dairymaids.

In 1811 a woman's beauty book saw the first light of day. 'The Mirror of the Graces or The English Lady's Costume' f published anonymously by A Lady Of Distinction, assures us of its purpose to:

The much admired rosy natural look in 18171
"Combining and harmonizing taste and judgment, elegance and grace, modesty simplicity, economy with fashion in dress. And adapting the various articles of female embellishment to different ages, forms, and complexions; to the seasons of the year, rank and situation in life: With useful advice on female accomplishments, politeness and manners; The cultivation of the mind and the disposition and the carriage of the body: offering also the most efficacious means of preserving health, beauty and loveliness. The whole according with the general principles of nature and rules of nature."

Even though natural beauty was the yardstick it was often achieved by helping nature along by judicious use of cosmetics. Let's look at the make-up product available to the Regency woman.


"No eye... can look on a face bedaubed with white paint, pearl powder or enamel and be deceived for a minute into belief that so inanimate a 'white wall' is the human skin. ... Nothing but selfish vanity, and falsehood of mind, could prevail on a woman to enamel her skin with white paints... to draw the meandering vein through the fictious alabaster with as fictious a dye."
Ladies powder box, 1838 2

The white face of the earlier era was giving way to a more natural look, which meant less reliability on the white face paint. It was still used to some extent, rather sparingly, by older women trying to hide the ravages of time and by women of ill repute. White paint was similar to modern foundations, mainly consisting of [aromatic] water, oil, talk and emulsifier (tragant or gum arabic) in which a pigment was suspended. g The problem was the pigment used - lead! The lead was responsible for the opaque quality of the white paint, or enamel as it sometimes was called, but extremely toxic. A coarsening of the skin was also observed, caused by both the poisonous lead and the drying effect of the maquillant itself. The lead based white paint was slowly replaced by zinc oxide and chalk, which were less opaque and glossy but much healthier. h

At this time white face paint was also slowly replaced with tinted foundations more similar to what we are familiar with. One of the first preparations was the Pear's Almond Bloom, touted by its maker to "adhering firmly to the face, giving a light and delicate tint that cannot be distinguished from nature". i Others were to follow and fashion, rather than health, delivered the final death-knell to lead cosmetics.

Powder was permissible in this age however. The most common varieties were made of rice flour although fine talcum powder was at times also used. For a glossy or shiny look pearl-powder, a brilliantly white powder made of finely ground bismuth, was used rather like the modern highlighters. j Pear's White Imperial Powder k was one such product. Again, this was more common for mature women and not so much for the debutante.


"A little vegetable rouge tinging the cheeks of a delicate woman... may be excusable."

The rogue was one of very few accepted cosmetics that survived the French revolution. One such product appearing during the Regency era was Pear's Liquid Blooms of Roses. l The blush came in several shades and the pigment was usually bright red carmine (cochineal dissolved in alum water) m and the rose pink safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) in varying combination. Sometimes muriate of tin was used, not so healthy but producing a bright red color. n It is the safflower, commonly referred to as bastard saffron, which is the basis for the French rouge vègètale n1 not the saffron crocus. Talcum powder was sometimes used to mute the color and ease application. Powder blushes were most common although liquid or creme rouge could be found. Sometimes rouge was sold in sheets - crepons- made of thin crepe fabric dipped in the makeup. o The make-up was rich in pigment and, for a natural result, a light hand needed for the application. Or as the author of the article Improvement of Beauty wrote:

"Fine carmine, properly pulverized and prepared for the purpose, is beyond all question the best composition that can be employed with safety and effect. It gives the most natural tone to the complexion and imparts a brilliancy to the eyes, without detracting from the softness of the skin. In order to use it economically, procure some of the finest pomatum (without scent) in which there is a small proportion of white wax; of this pomatum take about the size of a pea, and just flatten it upon a piece of white paper; then take, on a pointed penknife, or the end of a tooth-pick, about the qanitity or size of a pin's head of the carmine, mix it gently with your finger, and when you have produced the desired tint, rub it in a little compressed cotton, pass it over th cheeks till the colour is entirely spread and it ceases to be greasy. Ladies who have been accustomed to paint, and cannot therefore entirely relinquish the use of it, will find, upon trial, that this economical rouge will neither injure the health nor the skin, and that it imitates the natural colour more perfectly than any other composition to which the attention of the British fair is at present solicited." o1

"Messrs. Burlington supplies the best rouge in the kingdom." - The guerilla chief By Emma Parker, published by William Lindsell, 1815

A slang term in the era for applying rouge was to 'set a nap on the cheek'. - Quarterly Review, Dec 1811, page 479.

Color samples:





"Penciling eyebrows, staining them, & c, are too clumsy tricks of attempted deception... But take this fair image, draw a black line over her softly-tinctured eyes, stain their beamy fringes with a somber hue"

The Egyptian craze produced some rather startling side effects. Suddenly the European world discovered such wonders as mascara and eyeliner. We can almost hear the dismay echoing through the ages! The English exploration of India and contacts with other Oriental areas such as Turkey, p also contributed to the spreading of these cosmetics. Mixing lamp-black (a fine black soot) with a little oil produced a usable paste to apply to both eyebrows and eyelashes. Burnt cork, we can imagine the stink!, was sometimes used as well. q Of all the cosmetics available those for the eye were most frowned upon, probably because of the difficulty in application, which made a natural result rather unlikely, particularly when viewed in daylight.


Silver cachou box for lip rouge 1797

"Nothing but selfish vanity, and falsehood of mind, could prevail on a woman... to lacker her lips with vermilion"

Although heartily condemned by moralists, it is probable that most women used some type of lip color in the Regency. One popular cosmetic was Rose Lip Salve, available from any drug store near you, and chiefly containing white wax, almond oil, alkanet (the root of Alkanna tinctoria) to color and scented by otto of roses. r Rigge's Liquid Bloom s seems to have been a popular brand. This type of lip rouge would give the lips a somewhat transparent rosy glow, rather like modern lipglosses. For bright red lips vermilion (an opaque cochineal derivate) was used, which created a more painted look, similar to that of our lipsticks, than the alkanet salve.

Perhaps we should here also make mention of the teeth, so much a part of a nice smile. Dentistry was still in its infancy and the general cure for cavaties and tooth ache was tooth extraction! However, together with general cleanliness people had become more dilligent at brushing their teeth. Commercial tooth powders became available, carrying suggestive names such as Essense of Pearl t and making round promises of fastening loose teeth, stopping decay and curing infections in the gums.

So although natural beauty was much praised, the majority of the women in Regency days would take cosmetics to fill in where nature proved deficient and in many cases what we see is the natural look, which differed from the previous century in pretending to be natural, but was still helped along by a judicious amount of cosmetics.

Next: Prince of Pleasure

1. Ackermann's Repository 1817

2. French Guilloche enamel ladies powder box from around 1838. 2 3/4 inch wide.

Notes on the text:

a-e:: For further information on the face lotions, she the special Complexion page

f: Unless otherwise stated all quotes are from 'Mirror of the Graces', first published 1811. Reprinted in facsimile edition 1997 as Regency Etiquette, not a very good title as it's a woman's beauty book. A review of the book can be found here.

g: Johann Bartholomäus Trommdorff. Kallopistria, oder die Kunst der Toilette für die elegante Welt. Erfurt 1805.

h: The druggist's general recipe book by Henry Beasley, published 1850

i: "Companions for the toilette - Almond Bloom, or Vegetable Rouge

A Pears, Prefumer, No. 55, Well's-street, Oxfrd-street, with all due respect to the Female World, embraces this opportunity of recommending his Almond Bloom, or Liquid Vegetable Rouge, to distinguished attentioon.

This invaluable Preparation, although it may be said to be in its infancy , from the short time that has occurred since it was first introduced to public notice, has required a reputation almost unparalleled in the annals of personal improvement. Its principal excellencies are the softening the skin for a free perspiration, adhering firmly to the face, giving a light and delicate tint that cannot be distinguished from nature. Five shillings per bottle. - Advertisement, La Belle Ansemblée, October 1807.

j: Chemistry for Beginners By Lincoln Phelps, 1850

k: Pear's White Imperial Powder is an admirable Companion to the above, being the most simple and effective Cosmetic in fashionable use. It is produced from Vegetables only, and gives to the Skin a delicacy strictly consonant to true Beauty, nor can the most circumspective observer preceive the application of it on the Countenance. Price 2s. 6d. and 5s. per Bos. - Advertisement, La Belle Ansemblée, October 1807.

l: Pear's Liquid Blooms of Roses gives a most delightful tinge to the Female Countenance, and to such a degree of perfection, that it may with propriety be said that Art was never so successfully employed in improving the Charms of Nature. Price 5s. 6d. per Bottle. - Advertisement, La Belle Ansemblée, October 1807.

m: A supplement to the Pharmacopoeia: being a Treatise on Pharmacology in General by Samuel Frederick Gray, 1821

n: The London Magazine, 1826

n1:Elements of Practical Agriculture, comprehending the cultivation of plants, the husbandry of the domestic animals and the economy of the farm by David Low, published 1838

o: The druggist's general recipe book by Henry Beasley, published 1850

o1:Ackermann's Repository of Arts, p 88-91, No 2, Vol 1 1809

p: The Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, 1834

q: The London Magazine, 1826

r: The druggist's general recipe book by Henry Beasley, published 1850

s: "To Ladies who have occasion for Rouge, Rigge begs to recommend this Liquid Bloom, made from Damask Roses. This Rouge is so suitable to the complexion that it cannot when judiciously applied be distinguished from a natural Bloom. It is as innocent as simple Rose Water, and may be used to the lips, when required, with pleasing effect, price 3s. 6d. and 7 s. Those elegant and approved articles are prepared at D. Rigge's Plantation, Wandsworth, and sold in London, at his Warehouse only, No. 31, New Bond-street." -Advertisement in La Belle Ansemblée, January, 1808.

t: The Essence of Pearl and Pearl Dentifrice, invented by the late Baron Hemet, dentist to the Royal Family, have been proven by long experience to greatly excel both in elegance and efficacy, every other preparandum for the teeth and gums: they effectually preserve the teeth in a sound state even to old age, render them white and beautiful without imparing the enamel, fasten such as are loose and keep such as are decayed from becoming worse. They likewise render the breath delicately sweet, prevent the tooth-ach, perfectly cure the scurvy in the gums, and make them grow firm and close to the teeth. The essence is particularly recommended to parents and persons who have the care of children as the greatest preservative of young and tender teeth. None are genuine but what have the words "J Hernet, Bayley and Brew, Cookspur street;" engraved on the stamp: price 2 s 8d each. Bayley's true Essential Salt of Lemons to take ink spots and stains out of lace and linen. The resine is signed #J Bayley" on the box and wrapper: also Brs Scoors Drops, for taking grease out of silk, stud, woollen cloth &c, price 1s each. Perfumed Pommade Davie, price s 8d, Liar glass. Sold wholesale and retail, oy Bayleys and Brew, perfumers, Cockspur street, London. - Advertisement in The Times, March 9 1819.


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