It was a simpler time. Long before hip beauty products boasted "vegan" labels (I expect things like Vaseline and olive oil to star bearing the vegan label any minute, just as during the low-fat dieting craze when even my apple juice was "100% Fat Free."). It was a time when animal testing of cosmetics was not an issue because no testing of any kind was being done at all.
Many ladies prepared their beauty products at home from charming and humble natural ingredients. More often then you might suppose, the first stop was not the garden, but the butcher.I mentioned lard and veal in my post 10 Beauty Tips from 100 Years Ago. Oh, but there's more. In the eighteenth century, noble ladies occasionally bathed in "flesh water,"-- water in which veal had been boiled. And we talked about Helena Rubinstein last week. Although she advocated a raw diet for health, she was no vegan:
"There are all kinds of masks, ranging from the simplest of clay packs to the meat mask. Fresh beef is cut into very thin slices, according to a pattern you should make at home. Cut pieces of paper-- a strip to cover the forehead, another for cheeks, chin, and a thin narrow strip for the nose. Give your pattern to the butcher who will cut the meat accordingly. Leave openings around the eyes and lips. Pack the meat over your skin and secure it with a strip of muslin which has also been cut according to pattern. Leave it on one to two hours or overnight if possible."
--From The Art of Feminine Beauty (1930)
I assume Ms. Rubinstein was single in the days when she slept in such a state.
You may know by now that I adore reading about beauty practices that risk life or limb. In this next one, two of my favorite historical beauty aids collide: poison... and lard.
"The eyelashes may be improved by delicately cutting off their forked and gossamer points, and anointing with a salve of two drachms of ointment of nitric oxide of mercury and one drachm of lard. Mix the lard and ointment well, and anoint the edges of the eyelids night and morning, washing after each time with warm milk and water. This, it is said, will restore the lashes when lost by disease."
--Mrs. Susan C. D. Powers, The Ugly Girl Papers (1874)
Of course the disease which caused the lash loss to begin with probably resulted from another beauty treatment.
Ms. Mixter goes further than mere lard and recommends melting down the fat from every variety of flora and fauna and applying it directly to achieve a fashionably plump cheek:
"A flesh-making cream, which may be used when the face is thin, is made from two and a half ounces of lanoline, a quarter of an ounce of spermaceti, two and a half ounces of freshly dried mutton tallow, two ounces each of cocoanut oil and oil of sweet almonds, half a dram of tincture of benzoin, and ten drops of neroli."
--Margaret Mixter, Health and Beauty Hints (1910)
Spermaceti is a wax, now outlawed, found deep within the heads of whales.
But what if you find yourself living in a time when cheekbones are more stylish than cheek flesh? Oddly, this noblewoman suggests something very similar to the above method to achieve opposite results:
"The only safe and stringent 'oily' unguent for the skin is mutton suet refined and slightly perfumed, it should be applied from neck to heels with the hand and gently rubbed in so as not to shine or become sticky. It then leaves a soft, satiny surface. This treatment prevents layers of fat from forming under the skin, and stout people will be surprised to see how rapidly it will reduce their bulk if continued nightly."
--The Marquise de Fontenoy Eve's Glossary (1897)
I'll finish up with a note on the most important beauty aid of all: lip balm. A few years ago, a guy I was dating saw me looking for mine, and held it over my head to tease me, saying, "Want it? Do you? Do you?" Time stopped for a moment as I realized every single person I had ever dated had taunted me like this at some point, amused by my crippling addiction. I have a feeling that if I used the following recipe, the boyfriends would have been dead serious as they snatched my beloved, tiny pots of grease away:
"Chapped Lips-- A simple, easily made remedy is a combination of mutton or lamb tallow and camphor. Melt a piece of gum camphor about the size of a walnut with two ounces of the tallow. Keep in a porcelain or glass jar."
--William A Woodbury Beauty Culture (1910)