Friday, December 14, 2012

Making brown hair powder

I have been reading up a it more about the Marechalle powder and it seems that Marechale was a more common spelling of it. It seems to have started out as a scent created for the wife of a MarĂ©chale d’Aumont  in the late 17th century and was then used to scent a powder that matched the colour of her hair. That may be a myth, but the fact remains that Marechale powder had a distinct scent where cinnamon and cloves had a prominent place. You can buy an updated version of the perfume even now! The powder was not solely used for the hair, but also to fill little sachet to wear on your person. The Toilet of Flora gives direction on how to rub a little civet into the fabric of the sachet and then fill it with the powder. There is also a 19th century recipe for a Marechale scent sachet that lists Orris root, dried Rose leafs, Sandal wood, cloves, Cassia and a little Musk.

Though Marechale powder usually seem to have been brown, there are a few sources that describes it as especially flattering to the skin because it had a yellowish tint that was more becoming than white powder. I suspect that if you omit the brown pigment and only used cinnamon, mace and clove, the powder would be yellowish. That makes sense, because there are recipes where you mix the Marechale powder with flour and other edible things to roll out and make into cookies, “cut to your fancy”. At least I hope that the 18th century people didn’t eat brown pigment! It makes sense to use powder without brown pigment for scent sachet though, as it would be wasteful to use expensive pigment sewn into a little bag.

Updated recipe
4 gramme ground Cloves
4 gramme ground Mace
4 gramme ground Cinnamon
186 gramme Corn starch
47 gramme Burn umber pigment
1 ml Lavender oil
2 ml Thyme oil
2 ml Storax perfume base
1 drop Laurel oil

My thoughts
I had to omit the Sassafras oil from the original recipe as I couldn’t find a way to obtain it. On the other hand there is a little more Laurel oil that the recipe really calls for, but it’s a bit hard to drip in half a drop. I opted for plain starch as that is what was used for hair powder in the 18th century and not the scented hair powder I already made. Given how strongly perfumed the Marechale powder is, I think it would have overpowered the scent of that one anyway.  Essence of Amber probably meant a resin based essence and as I had Storax essence already, I used that.

The recipe was very easy to make. I started out with mixing the cinnamon, mace, cloves and Burnt umber together and then I dripped in the oils and essence while stirring.

The fluids made for some clumps, but they disappeared when I sifted it all into the starch. I stirred, then sifted it again twice and was done!

As you can see it became brown, but a pastel brown. No wonder as starch is white, but the tone is definitely brown, not grey. I have read that black and brown (dark brown I suppose) powder was made with burnt ivory as a base, which makes sense- as long as starch is part of the powder, there will be a bit of pastel over it.

Will I do it again?
If I like the effect on my hair, so yes, as I really like the scent. I was a bit afraid that the effect would be too much of gingerbread, but the lavender and thyme oils gives the scent an herbal hit. I will also try to make scent sachets and though I will use the batch I have now for a test, if I decide to make more scent sachets, them I will omit the pigment

What I will do, if I make it again and when I use it, is to get disposable mask  to prevent inhaling the stuff while I work with it. I’m not at all sure that Burnt umber is good to inhale and I am sure cinnamon and cloves would be very irritating to get in your throat!


  1. Dear Isis,

    Marechale powder looks really neat, and a reasonable thing to make too, since it can serve multiple purposes: scent, sachet, powder. When I finally get a chance to make an 18th century ensemble, this is the powder I'd use, most likely.

    Very best,


    1. I tried it yesterday and the scent was really agreeable. It looked nice too. :)

  2. This page has artificial sassafras oil: I bought some from them a few years ago

    1. Thank you! Unfortunately they just ship within USA, but perhaps that will change eventually.


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