Monday, May 20, 2013

Poudre d'Amour - Flesh coloured face powder from the 17th century

French noblewoman, possibly Louise de Kérouaille
by follower of Pierre Mignard, ca 1690
I have read several times that in the 17th century not only white makeup was used in the face, but also flesh-coloured and I have always wondered what was in it. So imagine my delight when I found a recipe on Poudre d'Amour from the reign of Louis XIV.

The recipe
Scrape 6 juicy raw carrots and 1/2 a pink beet root, squeeze the juice out through a muslin bag and put it aside. Take 3 ounces of finely powdered cornstarch, mix it with the carrot and beet juice, expose it to the sun and stir occasionally until fluid evaporates, leaving the tinted starch dry. Sift through a piece of silk gauze and add:
Powdered Venetian talc-300 grains
Powdered lycopodium-300 grains
Powdered bergamot-45 grains
Powdered bismuth-7 grains.
Sift grain and keep in a sandalwood box

Breaking down the recipe
Carrot & Beet root Root vegetables that are bright orange and red.

Cornstarch- see Starch in the ingredients list at the top of the page

Venetian talc- see Talc in the ingredients list at the top of the page

Lycopodium powder The spores from club moss plants. It is very flammable and is today mainly used in explosives. It has several other uses, though, like stabilizing ice cream, finger print powder or lubricating dust on latex gloves. In Sweden it has historically been used on baby bottoms instead of talcum powder.

Bergamot A citrus fruit that is shaped as an orange, but yellow. Bergamot essence is used in the perfume industry and to give flavor to foodstuff. Powdered bergamot probably means the powdered peel, which is used in aromatherapy today.

Bismuth- See Bismuth the ingredients list at the top of the page

My thoughts
This face powder seems quite doable; almost all the ingredients are easily obtainable. The exception is Lycopodium powder which even if I can get my hands on it (questionable) is also quite expensive, apart from being flammable. I just wouldn’t feel comfortable putting that on my face. . I can imagine that it has a purpose in getting the right colour as it seems to have a pale yellow tint, but I think I might mix ochre pigment with corn starch to approximately the right colour and use that as substitute. I do wonder about the final colour of the powder. The carrot and beetroot must tint the starch a very vivid colour- orange-pink? But the Talcand Lycopodium powder  must temper that. The powdered Bergamot and Bismuth too and the latter must give the powder a bit of a shine. I highly doubt that the end result will look natural, though.

A must try, don’t you think?


  1. Dear Isis,

    Ooh, do try it. The vegetable coloring somehow feels safer to me than some of the other coloring agents, and I wonder if, when mixed, the result wouldn't be a handsome pink rather than something terribly dramatic.

    Explosives for babies' bottoms? I laughed and laughed. They're explosive enough on their own, without moss added, say I. :}

    Very best,


    1. It might be- I just have to try it! :)

      Indeed, they are. :D

  2. I've seen Victorian beauty books still advising this one... I wonder what color carrots they mean though? Nowadays carrots are usually orange, but they were bred to be that way in the 17th century or so... I understand red or yellow or white were the usual varieties in nature before that time.

    1. Hmm, I didn't know that. Clearly vegetable history is worth knowing as well... This is a late 17th century recipe so if the orange variety had come along, then I think it might be. It will have to be for my experiment, anyway. :)

  3. I happened upon a much simpler recipe from the Victorian era for something called "poudre d'amour" and it was a mere pink-carmine powder. It suggests maybe the intended tone goes toward pink?

    In any event -- if you don't want to use lycopodium, orris root is often in historical face powders and seems to be there to add similar yellow tint and texture. Lycopodium itself can be had from Chinese herbalists, at least if your country doesn't ban it.

    1. Pink seems more likely, to me.

      I can get Lycopodium in Sweden, but it's crazy expensive, so I think I will choose a substitute. :)


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