Monday, April 30, 2012

How to measure and where to shop

A problem with recipes from the 18th century is that they often don’t give you proper measurements. Take “some” of one thing and “to you liking” the next. I wouldn’t be surprised if people back then had a good idea how much that represented so that there wasn’t a need to write it down exactly. And even when measurements are given, well, it wasn’t until the 19th century that such things were standardized, so an ounce may not really have been an ounce… As most of my recipes were published in England I will stick to these measurements and weight units, as they seem to have been the ones used in the 18th century:

1 pound = 373
1 ounce = 31.1 g
1 drachm (dram) = 3.89 g
1 scruple = 1,296 g
1 grain = 64, 8 mg
1 liq. pint = 473 ml
1 fluid ounce = 29, 6 ml
1 fluid dram = 3, 7 ml
1 fluid scruple = 1.23 ml
1 minim = 0,062 ml

So, where to buy all the odd things that go into an 18th century beauty recipe. A bit of here, there and everywhere, actually. Here is where I have had luck:

Food stores The everyday, ordinary kind can provide a few useful things, mainly in the spice and the bakery sections.
Health food stores Usually stock almond and jojoba oils as well as essential oils.
Art stores For loose pigments as well as resins and bees wax.
Exotic food stores I have found spices and rosewater, but depending on store I’m sure they can yield even more interesting things.
Online Most things can be found on the Net.

In general, when looking for ingredients, it can pay to look at unusual places. Things that were used for beauty recipes back then may very well be in use today too, but perhaps for other things.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Red pigments used in the 18th century

It feels rather reassuring that after going through red pigments, all but two that I have found so far are actually poisonous. Most of the other ones are still in use today. But still, please note that even if a pigment is considered safe, there is still a possibility to get an allergic reaction to it.

Alkanet root Cold, or blue-toned red pigment coming from a plant, Dyer's bugloss Considered safe and is used today as colourants both in makeup and food.

Brazilwood Warm red pigment coming from wood of Caesalpina brasiliensis. Safe, but the tree is considered an endangered species. Substitute with Red sandalwood.

Carmine, Cochineal Bright red pigment that comes from the scales of the cochineal, an insect. Considered safe and is used today as colourants both in makeup and food.

Field Gromwell, Corn Gromwell, Bastard Alkanet Carl von Linné writes in 1755 that peasant girls in the northern parts of Sweden uses the root for red makeup.

Litharge, Red lead Red pigment made of lead. Poisonous, so even if you could get it, don't try it. Red pigments from Iron oxides can be used instead.

Red sandalwood, Red sanders Red pigment coming from the root of the tree of the same wood. Used in makeup today. Similar to Vermilion in colour, but fades quickly.

Saffron A very expensive spice that colours everything you use it in bright yellow. However, saffron was also used for Safflower in the 18th century. Safflowers can yield both yellow and red pigment, Carthamin. It seems quite likely that saffron in recipes for red makeup really means Carthamin. It is used today as food colourant under the name of Natural Red 26.

Vermilion, Cinnabar A red pigment made of mercury. Poisonous, so even if you could get it, don't try it. Was known to be dangerous in the 18th century but was still used. Substitute with Red sandalwood.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

White pigments in the 18th century

Bones Pulverised bones from cuttlefish, sheep and ox where used to colour hair powder white. I suppose the powder gets too coarse to be used in makeup. However, the white pigment in bones is really Calcium carbonate which is easy to find.

Chalk Also used to whiten hair powder. However, pulverised chalk may irritate skin and can be corrosive if you get it into the eyes, so substitute it with Calcium carbonate instead.

Talc, Talcum Powder, French Chalk A mineral that becomes a very fine powder and is still in used in cosmetics. It doesn't cover well, but clogs up the pores and and the fine powder may irritate your throat. However, in the 18th century Magnesium oxide was also called Talc. It has supposedly better coverage and is indeed also used in modern cosmetics. It seems to be a better option when a recipe calls for talc in white makeup.

Tin white, Tin dioxide It is listed in Kallopistria, oder die Kunst der Toilette für die elegante Welt from 1808 as used for white makeup. Though not as poisonous as lead, tin doesn't seem to be all that nice to get into your system. It is supposedly similar to zinc, so if I would definitely use that instead!

White lead, Ceruse, Litharge. White pigment made of lead. This is very poisonous and should not, under any circumstances, be tested! Despite being known to be dangerous it was very popular for white makeup as it provided a very smooth, opaque surface. Luckily there is a safe substitute nowadays in Titanium dioxide. This white pigment is used in both makeup and sun block and can be bought at any art store that sells pigment. When called Litharge it can also mean red lead pigment.

Zinc oxide, Flowers of zinc. White pigment made of zinc that has been around since Classical times, but was rare until the 1780's. Still, The Toilet's of Flora from 1779 lists a recipe for a white paint that contains zinc, so it seems to have been used earlier. It is safe to use, zinc is used today in makeup and sun block and can be bought as loose pigment, but doesn't cover up as well as lead did.

Friday, April 27, 2012

About this blog

I have a long-standing interest in the history of beauty ideals and makeup, especially when it comes to the 18th century. I have for several years held a lecture on the subject for the Society of Gustafs Skål and the more I have read about the subject, the more interested I have become in actually trying out some the beauty products that they used back then. Too see how the makeup actually looks when you use it and not just go by what you read in a book.


The plan with this blog is to record the recipes I try out as well as research and other related subjects, like a glossary over material used. The reason why I start a new blog instead of posting in Isis’ Wardrobe is because I think it will be easier to get an overview if I keep it in a separate blog. I have no commercial interest; I don’t plan to ever sell anything, but to experiment to broaden my own knowledge. Hopefully you will find something interesting too. If a recipe calls for toxic or endangered ingredients I will use a substitute. And please note, even if an ingredients are considered safe, they may still cause allergic reactions.