Put upon a Plate any Quantity you please of Pearls, and pour over them some good distill’d Vinegar. When the Pearls are dissolved, add a small Quantity of Gum Arabic. Keep the solution for Use Wash your face before you bathe it with this Solution, which will soon dry of itself. This is one of the best Secrets that have been invented for rendering the face both white and fair. (Abdeker: or, the art of preserving beauty, p. 76)
Breaking down the recipe
Pearls Occurs naturally when a small object, lika sand or similar manages to get inside an oyster. To protect itself it surrounds the irritant with nacre, creating a rounded object- the rounded the better. Wild ones are rare, but they can be cultivated. Used in jewelry, which I’m sure you all know.
Vinegar A liquid containing acetic acid and water. There are several kinds of vinegar and it has been used for thousands of years in food and as a beauty product. Astringent and somewhat anti-bacterial as well as having conserving properties. Also said to have a whitening effect on skin. Note that distilled vinegar has a very high proportion of acetic acid, which can be corrosive on skin. Either add water or use ordinary vinegar instead.
Gum Arabic a natural gum that comes from the sap of acacia trees. Can be used as glue or bonder, but are water soluble. Edible and can be found in cosmetics today- safe in other words.
Despite the name there is no actual oil in this recipe and what is more, it contains nothing harmful. It is also very straightforward. The pearls provide shine and luster, the vinegar ha multiple purposes, dissolving the pearls, whitening the skin and provide a medium to get the pearls on your face and the Gum Arabic provide a bonding agent so the pearls stay put.
I would like to try this one very much indeed. Unfortunately I don’t have any pearls laying around for the purpose. Do you? There are some pearlescent or nacreous pigments, like mica, that may work as a substitute. There is also something called Pearl powder which is used in China and is said to be very good for sensitive, or acne-prone skin as well as having a whitening effect. It’s made from ground-up pearls, so it would probably work perfectly and you can find it in some health food stores. However, even if it isn’t as pricey as pearls, it’s still much too expensive to be bought just for trying out a recipe. I’m told that you can buy it very cheaply in China though, so if someone I know takes a trip there I will ask them to get me some.
EDIT: Madame Berg pointed out what I didn't think about- cheap freshwater pearls that you can find in DIY shops. I did a qick search and buying a string or two is not expensive. Seems I will be able to test this recipe after all!