Cosmetics of various sorts have been in use since very early in human history, but they became significantly more common during the 1800s. Subtle and delicate cosmetics became popular in the 19th century. By the end of the 19th century, beauty was big business, with cosmetic counters in newly opened department stores catering to women seeking tinted rouges, lip balms and fine powders.
From the early 19th century on, skin care was especially important to well-off women. Cleansers and moisturizers, many created with animal fat and scented with rosewater and similar ingredients, were used to keep the skin soft and clear. Home recipes were popular, often involving cucumbers, strawberries or milk. Additionally, women were encouraged to avoid sunburn or tan, but to take exercise outdoors to achieve a healthy and rosy-cheeked appearance.
During the 18th century, wealthy women commonly wore a white face makeup, created from lead and fats. By the 19th century, this fell out of fashion. Tinted foundations were available, but were not popular, particularly among women of good reputation. Powder, commonly made from rice flour, was used by women of the upper classes and was considered socially acceptable. Costlier additions were sometimes added to powders, like crushed pearl. The use of heavy makeup was most commonly associated with prostitutes.
Blush or Rouge
Rosy cheeks were valued as a sign of good health, and women frequently used blush or rouge to add color to their cheeks. This was the most popular cosmetic of the 19th century. Blushes were available in liquids, powders, creams and even in soaked sheets of crepe fabric. Intensely pigmented, several different shades were sold, most tinted with a pigment called carmine. Some women also made their own, using flowers and other natural pigments to produce blush at home.
Eyes and Lips
Eye makeup and lipstick were some of the less common cosmetics during the 19th century. Lamp black, or soot, was sometimes mixed with oil or water to form a black product that could be used as eyeliner, shadow or mascara; however, the effect was unnatural and not commonly used. While uncommon, belladonna drops were sometimes used to brighten the eyes. Rouge could redden the lips, and lip salves were sold in stores, often with a pink or red tint. Overall, less obvious makeup was preferred among the middle and upper classes, with more obvious cosmetic looks associated with prostitution.
- Gabriela Hernandez. The History of Makeup. 2011.
- Into the Gloss: Painted Ladies Then and Now
With a master's degree in art history from the University of Missouri-Columbia, Michelle Powell-Smith has been writing professionally for more than a decade. An avid knitter and mother of four, she has written extensively on a wide variety of subjects, including education, test preparation, parenting, crafts and fashion.