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.

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