Regency Content

The Complexion

Regency Skin Care Lotions

Through all times and ages have women tried to improve their skin and combat the signs of aging;
the Regency era was no exception. Lotions abounded, each more exotic than the other. Home
made remedies existed alongside the fanciful commercial products and the efficacy
of either may well have been the same. This article discusses some of the more
famous of the beauty aids on the well dressed Regency woman's vanity.



Looking Your Best

Women have always wanted to look attractive and pretty, as today so in times of old. In Arabella a, Georgette Heyer wrote:

"Each had large, dark, and expressive eyes, little straight noses, and delicately moulded lips; each had complexions which were the envy of less fortunate young ladies, and which owed nothing to Denmark Lotion, Olympian Dew, Bloom of Ninon, or any other aid to beauty advertised in the society journals." The cheaper price of newspapers and the invention of the fashion magazine meant more scope for the apothecaries to advertise their wares. Papers of the time are filled with ads for the most amazing remedies of every fault of face and form. Extravagant claims abound, as the one for Olympian Dew, promising to "effectually clear the skin of freckles, pimples, tan and every deformity" and even "instantly makes wrinkles disappear." b Or, as the poetic effusions for Gowland's Lotion puts it, "Eruptive humours fly before its power, Pimples and freckles die within an hour." c What woman would not want to possess such wonder products?

Botox - Regency Style

In reality, many of these products were lethal, as they contained such poisonous substances as lead and mercury. Regarding Bloom of Ninon de L'Enclos, The Gazette of Health d states:

"On examining this unequalled and inestimable cosmetic, we find it to be composed of white lead, almond emulsion, and essence of lavender. Now of all the compositions that have been offered to the public as cosmetics, this is the most dangerous. The repeated application of lead to the skin of the face, instead of animating the countenance, would assuredly, by paralysing the nerves, render it inanimate. Such are the baneful effects of lead on the constitution, that the most serious consequences have followed, even the partial use of a weak preparation. What then must be the effect of the repeated application of a lotion strongly impregnated with it?" In other words, lead was the Regency apothecary's answer to Botox!

Below we will look at some of the most famous lotions of the era. Please note that in the Regency era what we today call cleansers, face tonics or moisturizers were often jointly referred to under the one word lotions. Each lotion is presented with the advertised text, use and recipe, when know. Unfortunately I have yet to locate any bottles or labels for these remedies, probably due to the fact that the paper labels have disintegrated over the year, so even if the bottles still exist we have no certain way of identifying them.


Gowland's Lotion


Regency era lotion bottle. As the paper labels used easily washed off I have yet
to locate any intact bottles with labels.

During the Regency the Gowland's Lotion may have been the most famous of them all. Prepared by Macdonald, Humbert, & co. in Longacre, it was priced at 6s. the Quart. e Said to cure everything from pimples to scrophula, this lotion was a must have for the fashionable lady of the era. It was not for everyday use but to combat sudden eruptions of the skin, sunburn etc. In Modern domestic medicine f Thomas John Graham commented "These red, stationary pimples in the face, form a complaint called by professional men gutta rosea, and are often a source of much disgust to the female part of society. Gowland's lotion is a favourite remedy for their removal; but, as it is a solution of corrosive sublimate, it is by no means safe."

The Medical lexicon g gives the following information on the recipe: "Lotion, Gowland's. An empirical preparation (Bitter almond, sugar, distilled water. Grind together, strain and add corrosive sublimate, previously ground with spiritus vini rectified.) Used on obstinate eruptions." and The Modern Practice of Physic h further explains the formula as "A remedy much employed by women who are troubled with eruptions in the face is Gowland's lotion, the basis of which is the oxymuriate of mercury or superacetate of lead; but it is a hazardous application when continued for any length of time." It was obviously best suited to oily skin, although the addition of mercury and/or lead would indeed make it unsafe!


Milk of Roses

One of the most efficacious, and a product that actually delivered on some of its promises, was Warren and Rosser's Milk of Roses. i An 1819 ad called it "the most delightful cosmetic in Europe" and goes on to say that "It is highly recommended, not only by the proprietor, but by most females of distinction, for clearing and preserving the skin, and for rendering the complexion delicately fair and beautiful: it entirely removes redness, sunburn and freckles." A product of the mid eighteenth century, it contained, surprisingly enough, no injurious substances, such as lead or mercury so predominant in beauty products of the era.

The new family receipt book j has the preparation of Warren's Milk of Roses as following: "Two ounces of rose water, a tea-spoonful of oil of sweet almonds, and twelve drops of oil of tartar must be put into a bottle, and the bottle well shaken till the whole combines." The combination of rose water and almond oil, both still in extensive use in today's skin care industry and known for their healing properties, made it a good remedy for dry to normal skin. The oil of tartar served as a preservative, although this oil based product would still have a rather limited shelf-life, best kept in a cool, dark place to prevent the oil from becoming prematurely rancid.


Olympian Dew


One of the most well known lotions was the Olympian Dew, also known as Grecian Bloom Water. k It's efficacy was lauded in verse by poets such as George Crabbe l, who wrote:

Come, faded belles, who would your youth renew,
And learn the wonders of Olympian Dew;
Restore the roses that begin to faint,
Nor think celestial washes vulgar paint;
Your former features, airs, and arts assume,
Circassian virtues, with Circassian bloom. m
endorsed by celebrities of the day such as Marie Antoinette (see the advertisement to the right) and lampooned in the gentlemen's magazines. n

I have not found any recipes for this concoction but, since it's also referred to as a scent or perfume o, we might draw the inference that this lotion is actually a face tonic. The main ingredient would probably be rose water, which is a well known astringent and would help close up the pores, making the skin appear finer. It might have been similar to the French toilet water Eau d'Ange (Angel's Water) p, which contained benzoin q, known for its healing properties and to whiten the skin, rose water, sweet sedge (calamus) and orange water.


1786 advertisement for Olympian Dew by Mr Charles Sharp and sold by every perfumer of note in England. 1

Bloom of Ninon

If Olympian Dew was a rather benign product, the same could not be said about the 'incomparable' Bloom de Ninon r, touted by its makers as "superior to any thing yet discovered for rendering the skin soft, smooth and beautiful in the extreme. Its wonderful effects in removing freckles, morphews, worms, &c, justly entitle it to that preference so long bestowed on it by the most elegant beauties in this kingdom." As mentioned above, the active ingredients was dangerous white lead. Whatever it's poisonous qualities, it remained popular far into the century and it's still listed in The House of Commons 1830's list of taxable medicines s. During the Regenecy it was sold for 4s. 6d. a bottle, cetainly netting the proprietor a good return as it was evaluated by doctors to cost about one penny to make. t


Denmark Lotion

Denmark Lotion was historical fiction writer Georgette Heyer's favorite, as it crops up time and again in her books. The existence of this lotion is verified, The Toilette Of Health, Beauty, And Fashion u has a recipe for it, although this author doubts very much whether it was ever advertised in the journals - at this point no such ads have surfaced - the inclusion of fresh cream and milk in the recipe must have given it a very short shelf-life.

It's interesting to note that this is not the same concoction as the one going under the name the Lotion of the Ladies of Denmark v, which was very different and, if the writer of Encyclopédie méthodique w is to be believed, contained raw pigeon meat! Also observe that both these 'lotions' were cleansers (or 'washes', as the Regency era referred to them) and not for the protection of the skin, which set them apart from moisturizers such as the aforementioned Bloom of Ninon and Milk of Roses.



Next: Regency Cosmetics and Make-Up



Pictures:
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: Historical novel, written by Georgette Heyer (1902 - 1974), first published by Heinemann, 1949.

b: "Olympian Dew or Crecian Bloom Water, is now allow'd to be the best thing ever brought into this Kingdom for the complexion, no other thing yet discovered makes it so beautifully fair, taking away wrinkles, freckles, pimples, redness and every deformity from the skin, and redering it elegantly delicate." - Advertisements in Felix Farley's Bristol Journal Aug 31, 1782

c: Complete text: To the Gowland's Lotion now my muse has wing,
Its real intrinsic worth I mean to sing;
Long has it stood the foremost in the race
Of cosmetics, to beautify the face:
Eruptive humours fly before its power,
Pimples and freckles die within an hour.
Dread foe to beauty, thy disgusting harms
No more shall prey upon the ladies's charms;
No more shall scrophula with horror creep,
And steal the beauty from the blooming cheek.
While Britons patronize each good invention,
This grand restorative must claim attention:
The best prepared, as chemic art can prove,
Once try'd, will every prejudice remove.
Who wants to see its true and genuine maker,
Must call at No 53, Longacre.

*_* The Proprietors respectfully inform the public that they can only be responsible for the good effects and efficacity of the improved Lotion: you are requested to ask for that only, or the Emollient Preservative. To be had at the Warehouse, and of every Vender in the united kingdom. - Advertised in Ackermann's Repository, November 1809.

d: The Gazette of Health, published Complete text: "On examining this unequalled and inestimable cosmetic, we find it to be composed of white lead, almond emulsion, and essence of lavender. Now of all the compositions that have been offered to the public as cosmetics, this is the most dangerous. The repeated application of lead to the skin of the face, instead of animating the countenance, would assuredly, by paralysing the nerves, render it inanimate. Such are the baneful effects of lead on the constitution, that the most serious consequences have followed, even the partial use of a weak preparation. What then must be the effect of the repeated application of a lotion strongly impregnated with it? We suspect the article is made in London. The contents of a 4s. 6d. bottle, cost the proprietor about one penny."

e: Gowland's Lotion Improved, By Macdonald (from Dickinson's,) prepared only by Macdonald, Humbert, & co. At their Royal Arcanum Warehouse, 53, Longacre, at reduced prices, viz. Quarts, Pints, and Half Pints, 6s. 3s. 9d. and 2s. 3d. duty included. - Advertised in Ackermann's Repository, November 1809. See further, note c.

f: Modern domestic medicine by Thomas John Graham. Full text: "These red, stationary pimples in the face, form a complaint called by professional men gutta rosea, and are often a source of much disgust to the female part of society. Gowland's lotion is a favourite remedy for their removal; but, as it is a solution of corrosive sublimate, it is by no means safe;"

g: Medical lexicon by Robley Dunglison, published 1860. Full text: Lotion, Gowland's. An empirical preparation (Bitter almond, sugar, distilled water. Grind together, strain and add corrosive sublimate, previously ground with spiritus vini rectified.) Used on obstinate eruptions.

h: The Modern Practice of Physic by Robert Thomas, published 1813. Full text: "A remedy much employed by women who are troubled with eruptions in the face is Gowland's lotion, the basis of which is the oxymuriate of mercury or superacetate of lead; but it is a hazardous application when continued for any length of time."

i: Warren and Rosser's Milk of Roses The experience of more than half a century, and the general approbation of a discerning public, justify the details of those admirable qualities which have given to Warren's Milk of Roses as prepared by Richard Rosser, the character of the most delightful cosmetic in Europe. It is highly recommended, not only by the proprietor, but by most females of distinction, for clearing and preserving the skin, and for rendering the complexion delicately fair and beautiful: it entirely removes redness, suburn and freckles. Prepared only by Richard Rosser; and sold as the perfumery warehouse of Warren and Rosser, 5 Skinner street, Snowhill, and at their shop, 20 Eawwickstreet, Goldensuware. Superior perfumery retail, wholesale and for exportation. - Advertisement The Times, March 9 1819

j: The new family receipt book by M.E. Rundell, published 1837.

k: "To the ladies Olympian Dew, or Crecian bloom water, is recommended, being the only thing discovered that will effectually clear the skin of freckles, pimples, tan an every deformity, it instantly makes wrinkles disappear, and gives a loveliness to the countenance too charming to be described. This elegant article is not only used all over Europe as a cosmetic by the ladies (and by gentlemen after shaving) but is universally used as a Perfume for the handkerchief. No perfume so sweet, so delicate, so refreshing, as Olympian Dew, says the Queen of France; she not only uses it herself, but has commanded all her attendant Nobility to do the same. Sharp's curious Chinese Gloves and Cyprian Wash-Balls are held in the highest esteem for softeneing and whitening the hands, pervents their chopping, and cures them when chopped even in the coldest weather. His warranted Tooth-Brushes, the Prince of Wales's Tooth-Powder, and Royal Tincture of Peach Kernels for the Teeth and Gums, are held in the greatest esteem, being the most plreasant and efficacious of any things of their kind. Sold, wholesale and retail, bu Charles Sharp, Perfumer, No 131, Fleet-street, London; and, by appointment, by Mr. Mulcaster, of Hull; Mrs. Robinson, of York; Mrs. Carr, Newcastle-upon-Tyne; Mr Sykes, of Manchester; Mr Murphy, of Chester; Messrs Evans and Burnet, of Salop; Andrass, of Bristol; Burges, of Beverley; Davis, of Leeds; Mawdley, of Wakefield; Nailor, of Sheffield; and Sleaford, of Doncaster." - Advertisement General Evening Post - May 1 , 1784

l: George Crabbe (1754-1832), British doctor, minister (chaplain to the Duke of Rutland) and poet, best known for his poem 'The Village' (1783).

m: Complete poem:
"The simple barber, once an honest name,
Cervantes founded, Fielding raised his fame:
Barber no more — a gay perfumer comes,
On whose soft cheek his own cosmetic blooms;
Here he appears, each simple mind to move,
And advertises beauty, grace and love.

Come, faded belles, who would your youth renew,
And learn the wonders of Olympian Dew;
Restore the roses that begin to faint,
Nor think celestial washes vulgar paint;
Your former features, airs, and arts assume,
Circassian virtues, with Circassian bloom.
Come, batter'd beaux, whose locks are turn'd to gray,
And crop Discretion's lying badge away;
Read where they vend these smartengaging things,
These flaxen frontlets with elastic springs;
No female eye the fair deception sees,
Not Nature's self so natural as these."

'The Newspaper' by George Crabbe, 1785 also Salisbury & Winchester Journal Monday, July 24th, 1786.

n: The British Magazine and Review: Or, Universal Miscellany of Arts, Sciences, August 1783, page 143-4: Air - Miss Plums

See, gay Mrs. Tonith, of Grosvenor Place,
How charming she enamels her face!
She pencils her veins with azure blue;
With black her eye-brows; combs them, too;
She paints so true,
In nature's hue,
With red and white, and Olympian dew,
As makes her look like a doll quite new,
And shoots maccaroonies through and through.

o: The perfumes which dominated were lavender-water and Olympian Dew: the latter indeed was most refreshing and was particularly observable in the circle near Their Majesties." - Memoir of Her Majesty Sophia Charlotte, of Mecklenburg Strelitz, Queen of Great Britain, published 1818, page 351-2

p: The domestic dictionary and housekeeper's manual, by Gibbons Merle and John Reitch, published 1842, page 264.

q: Personal Beauty, printed 1870 has the following information: "Gum Benzoin is a fragrant resin which comes to us from the sunny meadows of Sumatra, and is redolent with odors of the Spice Islands, and the mysterious virtues of tropical balms. Its qualities are strange. Mix a little of it with fat, and the latter will not become rancid. Some of the tincture, combined with glycerine, is simply the best application in the world for chapped hands, and for those cracked nipples which afflict some women during nursing. But this apart. We speak of it now as a cosmetic. Two ounces of it to a pint of pure alcohol (free from acrid fusel oils and the like) make as fine an application as those can ask who wish a white spotless tint, and fragrant arome. Some of it may be used once or twice a day in the manner already mentioned.

About a tablespoonful should be poured into a small tumbler of water. It changes the water to a whitish fluid, which is known in France as lait virginal, virgin's milk, and is highly and justly esteemed. None of the cosmetic washed is more agreeable. Some glycerine can be added to the water if desired."

r: "Delicacy of Complexion - The incomparable Bloom of Ninon de L'Enclos, superior to any thing yet discovered for rendering the skin soft, smooth and beautiful in the extreme. Its wonderful effects in removing freckles, morphews, worms, &c, justly entitle it to that preference so long bestowed on it by the most elegant beauties in this kingdom. It is particularly recommended for the hands and arms, bestowing on them a delicacy and whiteness, superior to any thing vended for similar purposes. Sold only by Mr Golding, 42 cornhill; Mr Overton, 47 Bond-street; Mr Wright, Wade's Passage, Bath; and Miss Grigson, Liverpool; in bottles 4s each." - Advertizement in The Times April 12 1805.

s: The House of Commons Journal Volume 85, 8 April 1830: MEDICINES-For and upon every packet, box, bottle, pot, phial or other inclosure containing any of the medicines or compositions hereinafter mentioned and specified, made, prepared, uttered, vended or exposed or kept for sale in any part of the United Kingdom.

t: See note d.

u: 'The Toilette Of Health, Beauty, And Fashion', published by Allen & Ticknor, 1834. Recipe for Denmark Lotion:

Take equal parts of bean-flower, and water of the four cold seeds — namely, of pompion, melon, cucumber, and gourd, and of fresh cream; beat the whole up together, adding a sufficient quantity of milk to make a wash, which apply to the face.

OBS. — This recipe is taken from the 'Ami des Femmes."

This is undoubtedly "L'ami des femmes, ou Lettres d'un médecin" by P J. Marie de Saint-Ursin, (French) first published 1804 by Barba, Paris, second edition 1805 by Barba et L'auteur, Paris.

v: 'Toilette of Health' Recipe for Lotion of the ladies of Denmark:
"Another writer says (Encyclopédie méthodique, see note w.), that the cosmetic lotion used by the ladies of Denmark is totally different — it is what is called Eau de Pigeon (pigeon water.) It is composed as follows:

Take juice of water-lilies, of melons, of cucumbers, of lemons, each one ounce; briony, wild succory, lily-flowers, borage, beans, of each a handful: eight pigeons stewed. Put the whole mixture into an alembic, adding four ounces of lump sugar, well pounded, one drachma of borax, the same quantity of camphor, the crumb of three French rolls, and a pint of white wine. When the whole has remained in digestion for seventeen or eighteen days, proceed to distillation, and you will obtain pigeon-water, which is such an improvement of the complexion.

OBS. — It is by washing themselves with this water, we are told, that the Danish ladies, who have naturally a fine complexion, preserve all the freshness of early youth till the age of fifty. The three French rolls and the purpose of invigorating the stomach and digestive organs."

w: 'Encyclopédie méthodique', published by Plomteux in 1789. Here follows the original text:

"Eau de Pigeon pur le teint

On prétend que les dames de Danemarck, qui ont le teint naturellement beau, le consevernt avec la fraicheur de la première jeuneffe jusqu'á l'áge de cinquante ans en se lavant le visage avec l'eau de pigeon, dont voici la recette.

On prend de l'eau de néuphar, de melon, de concombre, de jus de limon, de chacun une once.

De la brione, de la chicorée sausage, des fleurs de lys, de bourrache, de févesm de chaque une poignée.

Huit pigeons que l'on hache.

On met tout çe mélange dans un alambic, en y ajoutant quartre ounces de sucre royal bien pilé, une dragme de borax, autant de camphre, la mie de trois pains molets, une chopine de vin blanc.

L orsque le tout a reflé en digestion pendant dixsept ou, dix-huot jours, on procéde à la distillation, & on obtinent l'eau de pigeon si favorable pour la teint."

The English translation contains an error regarding the pigeons that are not to be stewed but rather chopped! Not that it makes the recipe that more appealing!


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