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.

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