Sunday, July 31, 2011

Simple 19th Century Citrus-Rosemary Perfume

Take of

Oil of bergamot… 1 fluid drachm

Oil of orange… 1 fluid drachm

Oil of rosemary… 1 fluid drachm

Neroli (or petitgrain)… ½ fluid drachm

Rectified spirit… 1 pint

Mix. Very excellent

For reference, 1 fluid drachm is approximately 0.125 fluid ounces. "Rectified spirit" refers to perfumer's alcohol. I have not personally tried this perfume, but the blend of citrus fruits and flower in addition to the rosemary sound as though it would be fresh and uplifting. Please let me know if and when you try it!

Source: Cooley, Arnold James. The Toilet and Cosmetic Arts in Ancient and Modern Times. London, 1866.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Skin Lightening in the Age of the Stuarts

A portrait of Queen Anne

When England was ruled by the Stuarts during the 17th century, Gervase Markham developed a skin lotion, which was famous at the time and sold commercially throughout England. It was distilled from rosemary, featherfew, fennel, violets, and nettle leaves, then diluted with milk and applied to the face. It was introduced during a time when white lead and lime were being applied to the skin, permanently disfiguring faces, and this was a natural alternative for skin lightening.

Another alternative to skin whitening with lead was to make a concoction of white mercury, lemon juice, powdered white egg shells, and white wine. This caused a burning sensation of the face, but was nevertheless used by ladies who sought pure white facial skin.

“Ceruse” was used during special occasions to cover blemishes – it consisted of white lead mixed with the white of an egg. The cheeks were tinted red with Spanish wool and black beauty spots were applied. During Queen Anne’s time (1665 – 1714), a beauty spot on the right side of the face meant that you were a Tory supporter, while a lady who wore one on the left side of the face showed favor for the Whig party.

Source: Genders, Roy. Perfume Through the Ages: Scent – What It Is, How It Works, Its Effect on Man and Animals - Including the Science of Perfumery. New York, 1972. P. 161 - 162.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Use of Perfumery in Greek Religious Ceremonies

Alexander the Great’s tutor objected to the excessive and wasteful use of incense in the sacrifices that Alexander ordered. He said:

“It would be time for him, so to worship when he had conquered the countries that produced the frankincense.”

So basically: conquer the countries that make the incense instead of importing them, so that they're cheaper. Alexander must have remembered his tutor’s words, because when he had taken possession of Arabia, he sent a shipment of frankincense and myrrh to his old teacher.

Incense and perfumery were almost always used in ancient Greek sacrificial ceremonies. When the Greeks sought the guidance of the Gods or wanted their luck in an undertaking, they sacrificed the animal associated with that particular God or Goddess. For example:

Zeus (Greek) / Jupiter (Roman) – an ox

Hecate – a dog

Aphrodite / Venus – a dove

Poseidon / Neptune – a fish

Demeter / Ceres – a sow

The animal victim was laid on a bed of fragrant flowers and herbs, and garlands of flowers were placed around its neck while frankincense was burned. Libations of wine were poured out of flat vessels and fragrant, edible plants were consumed by those present.

Hesiod described the scene:

“Let the rich fumes of od’rous incense fly,

A grateful savour to the powers on high;

The due libation nor neglect to pay,

When evening closes or dawns the day.”

In more ordinary sacrifices, incense was still burned, filling the air with its scent.


Piesse, George William Septimus. The Art of Perfumery and the Methods of Obtaining the Odours of Plants. London, 1862. pp. 4.

Rimmel, Eugene. The Book of Perfumes. London, 1867. pp. 78.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Just a quick post

Taylor and I made a posting schedule for ourselves, so that blog readers will be sure to get a post every other day. When we have more resources and are on a roll, one of us will try to post every day. But for now, one of us will post every other day.

Mary (historical beauty preparations): Mondays and Fridays
Taylor (historical cosmetic/perfume recipes): Wednesdays and Sundays

Be sure to follow our blog so that you get our updates! :) Thanks for checking us out!

Indian Beauty Rituals for Both Sexes

The Ritusamhara (approx. 400 AD), a classic poem of India, describes the beauty regimens taken up by women of the time:

“With their soft hips covered with beautiful fabrics and wrappings, their breasts perfumed with sandalwood, covered with necklaces and jewels, and with hair perfumed from the bath, the beautiful women coax their lovers to burning desire.”

But men were not exempt from such personal care rituals. Great care was taken to beautify the men of higher castes. In the Kama Sutra (approx. 400 AD), the daily preparations are described:

“He must get up early in the morning, answer the calls of nature, wash his teeth, smear his body with just a little fragrant paste, inhale fragrant smoke, wear some flower, just give the lips a rub with wax and red juice, look at his face in the mirror, chew betel leaves along with some mouth deodorants, and then attend to his work.”

But of all the male beauty rituals, none were more elaborate than the king’s. One Sanscrit author, Someshvara (1130 AD), describes the bath in vivid detail, even down to the architecture of the room. The pillars of the apartment would have been artistically painted. Beautiful female attendants would wash the ruler’s body with warm water, and his hair would be washed with the fragrant pulp of amalaka (Indian gooseberry), then rinsed.

After his body was dry, athletes would massage the king and a fragrant oil would be applied by the beautiful female attendants. The oil was comprised of sesame oil, jasmine, coriander, cardamom, holy basil, costus, pandanus, agarwood, pine, saffron, champac, and clove. The king would then be dressed in a clean cotton garment, ready for the day.

Source: Morris, Edwin T. Fragrance: The Story of Perfume from Cleopatra to Chanel. New York, 1984. p 94.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Heirloom Cold Cream - The Woman Beautiful

I have really enjoyed reading and researching these Heirloom Toiletry recipes. How amazing it is to make and use toiletries whose recipes are older than your grandmother! What a special way to connect to the generations that came before us. This recipe is from the book The Woman Beautiful by Helen Follett Stevans. Come join me as we travel back in time to make this fabulous cold cream. Here we go!

Cold Cream
The Woman Beautiful
Helen Follett Stevans
½ ounce White Wax
½ ounce Spermaceti
4 ounce Sweet Almond Oil
2 ounces Orange Flower Water

Melt all together gently and pour into cups to cool. When cold pour off the water, remelt and pour into jars to keep.

I needed to make some changes to the recipe before I even started. First of all, I do not have any Spermaceti. Spermaceti is a oil that is collected from the sperm whale. The sperm whale was nearly hunted to extinction because there was such demand for this oil. Due to my research, I have concluded that Palm Oil is the most comparable oil that is available today.

Second, I have yet to get some paraffin (White Wax) into the kitchen for recipe use. I really need to get with the program. Instead, I will be using Stearic Acid, of which I do have access to in the kitchen.

Third, I don't have any Orange Flower Hydrosol. Any of the hydrosols can be used in this recipe. The hydrosols impart a light scent to the cream. Fragrance or Essential Oils can be used for a light scent. If you decide to use essential oils, you will not need any water or hydrosols. I used Rose Otto to lightly perfume this cold cream.

When I made this recipe with Rose Hydrosol, I forgot that during this time they did not have access to microwaves and so the ingredients were heated much more gently. I microwaved the solution for less than 45 seconds and it blew up in the microwave! Not only did I do this one but twice! I also happened to have both explosions occur in the same day. I spent some major time cleaning out the microwave. Much to my chagrin, as I cleaned I was teased by my passing coworkers. It was not an experience I want to repeat a third time. :-)

In the end, I used Rose Otto to scent this mixture. No explosions, no mess, no waste and hardly any Rose Otto was used. You will be amazed at how far that gram will go. I had an empty container from pre-pack that only had a slight film of Rose Otto on the inside. I filled the container with warm Sweet Almond Oil. Of the scented oil, I only used 5 mL per batch of cold cream. The Rose Otto goes a very long way. If you have a gram of Rose Otto, you can use a tooth pick to pull a very small amount out for your cold cream. Enjoy!

Cold Cream (Reformulated)
Helen Follett Stevans
½ ounce Stearic Acid
½ ounce Palm Oil
4 ounce Sweet Almond Oil
Q.S. Rose Otto

Melt all together gently and pour into cups to cool and keep.

Weigh and gently melt all of the ingredients together until liquid. Stir gently with a spoon and pour into containers. Enjoy.

Note: The reason that this recipe uses Orange Flower Hydrosol is to impart a light scent. At the time, this scent could only be water extracted. They could not obtain an essential oil or absolute from the orange blossom. This method allows scent to be transferred to the oils. Orange Flower Water was a popular and highly sought after scent. This recipe reflects the time in which it was formulated.

Also, while I didn't add very much Rose Otto, this product should be used with a light hand. It is very long lasting odor and I was quite pleased that a little goes a long way. A light and delicate odor surrounded me all day. While it does not smell strongly in the jar, when rubbed on the skin, a gentle odor is released. This is truly the heirloom product I imagined it to be.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Poppaea's Bath

A bust portrait of the Empress Poppaea

According to contemporary sources, the Roman emperor Nero’s (54 – 68 AD) wife, Poppaea, employed one hundred female attendants to ensure that she was at her most beautiful.

Every night, Poppaea wore a face mask of bean meal, which was washed off during her morning bath of donkey’s milk. She would remove unwanted hair with depilatory creams, bleach freckles with a mixture of bean meal paste and lemon juice, and use powdered pumice to whiten her teeth.

The empress would remove pimples by washing with barley flour and butter, and bleach her hair with German soap to attain a reddish hue (at this time, soap imported from Germany was used by the Romans as a hair dye rather than on the skin as a cleanser).

Then her make-up would be applied for the day. Poppaea’s attendants would start by covering her body with chalk, to lighten her skin, and to cover her face with toxic white lead paint. Her lips and cheeks would be colored with red paint, and her eyelids, lashes, and brows would be penciled with black antimony. Her nails would be polished with Dragon’s Blood mixed with fat, and her veins would be penciled with blue paint.

No wonder it took one hundred attendants to get her ready in the morning!

Source: James, Peter and Thorpe, Nick. Ancient Inventions. New York and London, 1995. p. 256 - 7.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ancient Egyptian Love Poetry and Perfumery

For the ancient Egyptians, perfumery and cosmetics pervaded all aspects of daily life, from the religious to the secular. Fragrance is often mentioned in love poetry, usually from the point of view of a man describing the beautiful aroma of the woman he adores.

“I wish I were her laundryman,

Just for a single month.

Then I would flourish by donning her garment

And be close to her body.

I would wash away the unguent from her clothes

And wipe my body in her dress.”

Unguent, an ointment made with fat and fragrant materials, was considered personal and intimate, much like a perfume oil would be today – something that you would have to be in close contact with the wearer in order to smell. Perfume, along with intoxicating beverages, created the perfect romantic scene for two lovers to meet - kind of like today!

“If you go to the room of the beloved,

She being alone and without another,

You can do what you wish with the latch.

The door hangings flutter

When the sky comes down in the wind,

But it does not carry it away, her fragrance,

When she brings you an abundance of scent,

Intoxicating those present…”

So when you dab a little perfume on your skin before meeting someone special, remember that using the power of scent to excite and attract someone goes back a very long way!

Source: Manniche, Lise. Sacred Luxuries: Fragrance, Aromatherapy & Cosmetics in Ancient Egypt. Ithaca, New York, 1999. p. 91 - 92.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Glycerin Balsam

Do you every wonder how your toiletries were formulated, or how different the cosmetics your great great grandmother used vary from the ones you use today? Well, I am working on a project collecting old cosmetics and toiletries recipes and it has been quite an experience. I am planning on sharing these recipes and what I discovered. I will give you the original recipe as well as the source from which I received the recipe. I will share the "modern" recipe. Many recipes call for spermaceti, of which we don't have access to. Spermaceti is an oil that comes from the Sperm Whale. Spermaceti was in so much demand, that the whales became an endangered species. The Sperm Whale was nearly hunted to extinction! I will also add preservatives so that these fabulous toiletries do not begin to grow. Come join me as we travel back in time for the making of heirloom toiletries. Here we go!

Glycerin Balsam

The Woman Beautiful
Helen Follett Stevans
½ ounce White Wax

1 ounce Spermaceti

4 ½ ounce Sweet Almond Oil

1 ½ ounces Glycerin

8 drops Oil of Rose Geranium

Melt the oil. Remove from fire and beat in the glycerin and perfume. Stir briskly until cold and white.

I had to make some changes to the formulation before I even headed for the test kitchen. First, there is no way am I going to get my hands on any spermaceti. No point of trying to formulate with a banned product. So I did some research and decided that Palm Oil would act as a replacement for the spermaceti.

Second, I didn't have any white wax (paraffin). I replaced the paraffin with beeswax, both of which contribute similar properties to toiletries.

I also wanted to add emulsifying wax to my formulation to prevent it from separating. So far so good.

Last, I felt the need to add a preservative to the formulation to prevent the mixture from growing bacteria and fungi. We don't work this hard on our projects to lose them to micro-organisms.

Glycerin Balsam (Reformulated)

The Woman Beautiful
Helen Follett Stevans
.5 ounce Beeswax

1 ounce Palm Oil

4.5 ounce Sweet Almond Oil

.25 ounces Emulsifying Wax

1.5 ounces Glycerin

.03 ounces Liquid Germall Plus

8 drops Bourbon Geranium

Put oils and glycerin into a microwave safe container. Heat gently until everything is liquid. Using an immersion blender
combine the ingredients . Once the mixture is cool, add the preservative and Bourbon Geranium. Continue whipping until it is gel like
in constancy and the temperature is no warmer than the room.

Note: This product is intended to be whipped. This helps the glycerin stay in suspension and allow the mixture to remain emulsified.

I really enjoyed this project. The Glycerin Balsam is fabulous and really fun. I must admit that I was rather surprised by the final product. When put on my hands, I liked it but the Glycerin Balsam seemed a little too oily. However, when I used it on the softer skin of my arms, legs and face, I felt as if I were being pampered and spoiled. The Glycerin Balsam really hydrates and protects the skin. Personally, I think the the Glycerin Balsam rivals a lotion with Hydrovance! It was also exciting that I had created a product similar to one used by women over a century ago. That, in itself, was amazing.

I wish to thank those who came on this fabulous journey with me. What fun! I hope you delight in making and using the Glycerin Balsam as much as I did. Enjoy!

Source: Jameson, Helen Follett. The Woman Beautiful . Chicago: Jamieson-Higgins, 1873. Print.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Welcome to our historical beauty project!

Hi, everyone! Our names are Mary and Taylor and we're working on a "cosmetics and perfumery through the ages" project in which we'll be uncovering and sharing cosmetics/perfume recipes as well as beauty rituals from the ancients to the Victorians. Think of it as the perfect way for modern beauty "geeks" to experiment with recipes from the Greeks! A pyxis was a cosmetics container in ancient Greece, so it seemed appropriate to include it in the name of our blog.

Mary will be including photos of ancient, Medieval, and early Modern cosmetic and perfume vessels as well as paintings/sculpture depicting beauty rituals. She will talk about beauty preparations through the ages, sometimes making comparisons between cultures and time periods.

Taylor will be focusing on authentic cosmetic and perfume recipes, sometimes tweaked a bit to reflect modern availability and excluding ingredients that we now know are unsafe (but we will talk about it all).

We hope that you enjoy our project!

A red-figure pyxis, Greek, 5th century BCE