Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A curious Varnish for the Face

The recipe
263. A curious Varnish for the Face.

Fill into a bottle three quarters of a pint of good Brandy, infusing in it an ounce of Gum Sandarac, and half an ounce of Gum Benjamin. Frequently shake the bottle till the Gums are wholly dissolved, and then let it stand to settle.

Apply this varnish after having washed the face clean, and it will give the skin the best lustre imaginable. (The Toilet of Flora, p. 213)

Breaking down the recipe

Brandy Spirit from distilled wine. As safe as any alcohol you can drink.

Gum Sandarac Resin from the tree Tetraclinis articulata. Used as varnish and incense. Safe.

Gum Benjamin or more commonly, Benzoin resin. Despite the gum, which indicates that it is soluble in water, it isn’t. Used as incense and as a fixative in perfumes. Vanilla-like scent. Safe.

My thoughts
This is a varnish, indeed, and ought to leave the face in the desirable shiny state. Presumably for people who didn’t want to use white face paint, but wanted the shininess. I’m curious about it and if I can find Gum Sandarac I will test it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Making Spanish white face paint

This weekend I tried out the recipe for white face paint that I discussed here.

Updated recipe
Oil of Ben: 15 ml
Bees wax: 4 gram
Titanium dioxide with mica: 1, 1 ml

Everything melted together very quickly, but the amount of white pigment was far too little. The skin got a slightly pearlescent sheen to it, but it didn’t whiten the skin. Either the bismuth of the original recipe is more concentrated pigment, or I converted the amount wrongly. I added twice the amount of pigment and then got a shiny white substance.

Friday, May 18, 2012

An excellent Cosmetic for the Face

Another recipe for a white face-paint.

The recipe

6. An excellent Cosmetic for the Face.

Take a pound of levigated Hartshorn, two pounds of Rice Powder, half a pound of Ceruse, Powder of dried Bones, Frankincense, Gum Mastic, and Gum Arabic, of each two ounces. Dissolve the whole in a sufficient quantity of Rose-water, and wash the face with this fluid. (The Toilet of Flora, p. 5 or Abdeker, or the Art of Preserving Beauty)

Source: via Elisa on Pinterest

Breaking down the recipe

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

On hair powder, white, grey and flaxen

The recipes
White Powder

Take four pounds of Starch, half a pound of Florentine Orrice-root, six
Cuttle-fish Bones; Ox Bones and Sheeps Bones calcined to whiteness, of each half a handful; beat the whole together, and sift the Powder through a very fine sieve.

Grey Powder

To the Residuum of the preceding add a little Starch and Wood-ashes in fine powder; rub them together in a mortar some time, and then lift through a fine hair sieve.


Take the Marc or Residuum of the White Powder, mix with it a little Starch, Yellow Ochre, and Wood-ashes or Baker's Coals to colour it. Beat the whole well in a mortar, then sift it through a hair sieve. Beat the coarser parts over again, and sift a second time; repeating these operations till all the composition has palled through the sieve.

Flaxen coloured Powder

Add to the White Powder a very little Yellow Ochre. The White Powder may be tinged of any colour, by adding; ingredients of the colour you fancy. (The Toilet of Flora, p. 186-188)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A curious Perfume

The recipe
7. A curious Perfume.
Boil, in two quarts of Rose-water, an ounce of Storax, and two ounces of Gum Benjamin; to which add, tied up in a piece of gauze or thin muslin, six Cloves bruised, half a drachm of Labdanum, as much Calamus Aromaticus, and a little Lemon-peel. Cover the vessel up close, and keep the ingredients boiling a great while: strain off the liquor without strong pressure, and
let it stand till it deposits the sediment, which keep for use in a box. (The Toilet of Flora, p 6.)

I love perfume so I guess you are not surprised if I tell you that I’m very interested in 18th century perfumes as well. They lean toward heavy and animalistic and I would love to smell one. True, there are scents out there that are made after 18th century recipes, but they tend to be mono-scents like Lavender water and functions like a modern Eau de Toilette, more for freshening up than long-lasting scents. And indeed, in the 18th century scented waters were made to wash up with or dissolve makeup with, than for perfume.

(Picture source:

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Making a red lip salve

Today I tried my hand in "An excellent Lip-salve", a recipe that I discussed here. After reading up I decided to use olive oil instead of rose oil, as that is often use as base oil for just rose oil. I also made a much smaller batch, I didn't want to screw up big.

Updated recipe
Myrrh, 4 g
Honey, 15 ml
Bees wax, 8 g
Olive oil, 22 ml
Iron oxide, 4 g
Rosewood oil, 3 drops Note: A bit late it has come to my attention that Brazilian Rosewood is an endangered species, so my recommendation is to leave the salve unscented or add a few drops of another scented oil.
Edible gold powder, 2 ml (optional and used for half the batch)

I started out mixing everything apart from the pigment, Rosewood oil and the gold powder. It smelled quite nicely of honey and resin.


Mixing it together on low heat in soon became a cohesive mass that first was quite runny and then got thicker and thicker.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Spanish white

The Recipe
Spanish White
Take four Ounces of the Oil of Ben, an ounce of Virgin Wax, and two drams and a half of Magistery of Bismuth. The Oil of Ben is preferable to the Oil of sweet Almonds, and also that of the four Cold Seeds, because it does not over-heat so much as those Oils, and keeps a long time before it changes.

The Magistery of Bismuth is to be preferr'd to that of Tin or Lead, because it is a great deal whiter. This Cosmetic is commonly called Spanish White. If it be dissolv'd in Flower-de-Luce Water, it will whiten the face.
(Abdeker; or the Art of Preserving Beauty, p. 63)

One of the fun things with going through these old recipes and trying to find out what it is that actually goes in them, is that I learn a lot. Many things aren't as odd as they seem when you get down to it and most of them are actually used today, both for health and in cosmetics. In fact, apart from some harmful pigments, the overwhelming majority of the ingredients do more good than harm. I'm also getting a sense that the various white and red pigments differ more than I thought. I started out, when I first started to become interested in the subject, with the belief that white pigment meant lead and that you applied it by rubbing your face with pomade and then rub the pigment in. That is evidently not the case and I love that! So let's break down the ingredients in this recipe.

Oil of Ben or Ben oil comes from the pressed seeds from a tree, the Moringa oliefera. Has been used as a perfume oil for thousands of years as it easily takes up scent and because it keep very well, as the recipes above notes. Safe.

Virgin Wax Bees wax

Bismuth Pearlecent white pigment. I have always blithely assumed that bismuth and lead white are the same. However, this recipe makes a distinct difference between them and reading up I find that it is a metal on it's own, though in the 18th century it was often confused with lead and tin. It is not at all as poisonous as lead, for example Bismuth subsalicylate is used even today in some medications and Bismuth oxychloride is used in cosmetics, especially mineral makeup. Though it is considered safe, many people have allergic reactions to Bismuth in makeup (I for one) and I wouldn't use it. Titanium oxide can be purchased mixed with mica for a pearlecent effect and that is what I would substitute it with. Magistery in the recipe means that the pigment is in a fine powder.

Flower-de-Luce Water This one is a bit tricky. It seems to point at the flower Iris, but that flower is poisonous and irritates the skin. But, the Yellow Iris, or Yellow Flag, is often confused with Sweet Flag or Calamus. sweet flag has been used in perfume and food and applied on skin it works as an astringent and antiseptic. It is also used in several other beauty recipes from the 18th century. It seems quite likely that Flower-de-Luce Water is really made of Sweet Flag, not Iris. It should be possible to find essence of Sweet flag, but you can also find the dried root and make your own.

My thoughts
This recipe seems doable and, even with bismuth, quite harmless. I'd substitute it with Titanium oxide though, even so. I'm going to investigate the possibility of making Flower-de-Luce Water, otherwise I think I can fall back on Rose Water as it was used a lot in the 18th century. It must become a quite fat makeup and I wonder how much it smeared. Being made with oil and wax I doubt that it could really be dissolved in water, however it was scented. I really need to try this recipe out and see how it behaves in reality!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

An excellent Lip-Salve

159. An excellent Lip-Salve

Take an ounce of Myrrh, as much Litharge in fine powder, four ounces of Honey, two ounces of Bees-wax, and six ounces of Oil of Roses; mix them over slow fire. Those who are inclined may add a few drops of Oil of Rhodium, and some Leaf Gold (The Toilet of Flora, page 135)

An admirably clear recipe, with exact measurements for most of the ingredients. Let's take a closer look on those:

Myrrh A resin that have been in use since ancient times as perfume and incense but also for its medical proprieties. It is antiseptic and has a long standing tradition in various mouth remedies, like sores and cleaning teeth and gums. Melts tolerable well into vegetable oils. Is considered safe, but shouldn't be used the first 5 months of a pregnancy.

Litharge Lead pigment, in this case red. Poisonous.

Honey Apart from it's sweet favour, honey also have healing properties and works both as an antiseptic and as antibacterial. It also softens skin and can be used in salves and creams. Safe, but small children should not eat it.

Bees-wax A natural wax produced by honey bees. Melts well into oils and is often used as base for creams. It isn't absorbed by the skin, but doesn't clog the pores and softens and protects. Safe.

Oil of Roses ie Rose oil. An essential oil extracted from rose peals. It is very labour intensive and the oil is therefore very expensive. Used in perfumes and other cosmetics and is considered safe.

Oil of Rhodium Has nothing to do with the chemical element. Rhodium oil is also known as Rosewood and comes from the Brazilian Rosewood. Used in perfumes but is also healing and antiseptic. It also have a slightly deodorising effect. Considered safe. Note: A bit late it has come to my attention that Brazilian Rosewood is an endangered species, so my recommendation is to leave the salve unscented or add a few drops of another scented oil.

Leaf Gold Gold leafs are extremely thin sheets of gold that is used for gilding. Though an metal, gold is used in alternative medicine and is considered anti-inflammatory. Edible gold leaf can be found in well-sorted food stores

All the ingredients, if we disregard the Litharge, is quite safe to use and almost all have properties that makes them very suited for a lip salve. It doesn't seem to be very hard to make. The Litharge have to be substituted, of course and I plan to use Iron oxide instead. All the other ingredients are perfectly possible to attain, but I'm going to substitute the rose oil too. It's use in this recipe seems to be to provide oil and scent, and disregarding the scent, well, I think I could use and unscented oil instead. With the myrrh and the Rhodium oil I think that it will smell quite nicely anyway. I haven't decided on what kind of oil yet, but I have used almond and jojoba oil before and I think both would work well. As for gold leaf I happen to have edible gold dust in my cupboard already, so why not try it? I have all the ingredients I need except myrrh, but I know where to get it- hopefully I will have time to go there this week.

Lady Altamont by George Romeny, 1788, Tate Colletion