12-14 April 2019

Jane Austen Festival Australia is an annual celebration in Canberra where Austen and Napoleonic fans from all over Australia come and indulge themselves in everything Regency - including dancing, music, food, games, archery, fencing, theatre, promenades, grand balls, talks, workshops, costumes and books. This festival is now a regular part of the ACT Heritage Festival, Australian Heritage Week and is supported by the ACT Government, the Australian Costumers Guild and the Earthly Delights Historic Dance Academy. Since its inception in 2008 this little festival has blossomed into one of the most delightful four days anyone could experience each April in an old and beautiful part of Canberra, the Federal capital of Australia.

January 12, 2012

Regency Cosmetics & Makeup

Regency Cosmetics and Makeup

By Melissa Stevens, presented at Jane Austen Festival Australia 2011

Makeup trends often change from one extreme to the other. After the Georgian era of white face, red lips and heavily rouged cheeks, the Regency era was one where natural beauty was highly emphasised. As a result, skin care became foremost.

The complexion

Women took exercise to brighten their complexion; they walked, rode and went for turns in open carriages. And although freckles and tans were still frowned upon, a fresh and windblown face was seen as healthy. White skin still signified a life of leisure while skin exposed to the sun indicated a life of outdoor labour. In order to maintain a pale complexion, women wore bonnets, carried parasols, and covered all visible parts of their bodies with whiteners and blemish removers.
The cheaper price on newspapers and the introduction of the fashion magazine meant more avenues for the apothecaries to advertise their products. Papers of the time are filled with ads for the most amazing remedies of every fault of face and form. In reality, many of the products were lethal, containing poisonous substances such as lead and mercury.
And while the fancy lotions were very popular among upper class women, it's doubtful whether they offered much over home remedies such as crushed strawberries and cucumber.
For Freckle Removal
Bruise and squeeze the juice out of chick-weed, add three times its quantity of soft water, then bathe the skin for five to ten minutes morning and evening.
Take half a pint of milk, squeeze into it the juice of a lemon, add a spoonful of brandy, and boil the whole. Skim it well, after which take it off the fire, and put it aside for use. It would not be amiss to add also a small quantity of loaf sugar.
To take away wrinkles
The juice from green pineapples takes away wrinkles and give the complexion an air of youth. If pineapples are not available, onion will do just as well.
Simple almond-milk to make the skin fresh (3)
Here is another beneficial receipt, which is easy, cheap and serves two ends. I beg my readers to make note of it. Crush some peeled sweet almonds in a mortar, in proportion of twenty to thirty to a pint of water. Add a lump of sugar to prevent separation of the oil. When the almonds have been reduced to a very fine paste, mix it little by little into the water. To turn it into a drink, you have only to add another lump of sugar.
Strawberry water to soften and whiten the skin (3)
Take well-ripened strawberries, crush them well in a vessel, then press them through white linen. Mix the resulting liquid with milk and a little water. You must make this preparation every night because, especially in very hot water, it swiftly turns sour.
However, some of the home remedies still included some pretty horrible ingredients. As a result the use of these sort of products significantly shortened the lift of many women.
Take equal parts of roots of wild cucumber and narcissus; dry them in the shade; reduce them into a very fine powder, and put it into some good brandy. Wash the face with it till you begin to fell it itching, on which wash with cold water. Repeat this every day till the freckles are removed, which they cannot fail to be in a very short time, because this liquid is somewhat caustic.
As a wash for the complexion
One teaspoon of flour of sulphur and a wine glassful of lime water, well shaken and missed with half a wine-glass of glycerine and a wine-glass of rose water. Run on the face every night before going to bed.
Rose milk for preserving the complexion (3)
Add an ounce of fine olive-oil and six drops of oil of tartar to a quart of rose-water. Decan the oil of tartar before adding it to the mixture.
Soap with Honey, to white the skin and dispel sun-burn marks (3)
Take four ounces of white Marseilles soap, as much of common honey, and ounce of benzoin, and half an ounce of storax. Mix every thing together in a marble mortar. When it has been well blended, shape it into little tablets.
What do I use?
The main note that we can take from the Regency era, which has still continued to this day, is to look after your skin. As we all know, drink plenty of water, cleanse your skin, sunscreen and moisturise. You can certainly try some of the safe home remedies for skin care, but these days it is as simple as finding a product that works for your skin. There are many reputable brands on the market.

The foundation

With the white face of the earlier era giving way to a more natural look, there was a lot less reliability on white face paint. It was still used to some extent, by older women trying to hide the ravages of time and by women of ill repute.
White paint was similar to modern foundations, mainly consisting of fragrant water, oil, talc and emulsifier in which a pigment was suspended. The problem was the pigment used was lead. The lead was responsible for the opaque quality of the white paint, or enamel as it sometimes was called. The lead based white paint was slowly replaced by zinc oxide and chalk, which were less opaque and glossy but much healthier.
Then white face paint was slowly replaced with tinted foundations more similar to what we are familiar with. Powder was permissible in this age however. The most common varieties were made of rice flour although fine talcum powder was at times also used. For a glossy or shiny look pearl-powder, a brilliantly white powder made of finely ground bismuth, was used rather like the modern highlighters. Again, this was more common for mature women and not so much for the debutante.
What do I do?
To get a similar look, it is as simple as keeping your foundation light. You don’t want a heavy coverage. By all means go ahead and conceal any of the more prominent blemishes on your skin, but keep everything light and remember to blend. Ideally, you should be looking for a tinted moisturiser or quite simply a light dusting of powder foundation over a moisturiser.
When choosing what colour to use, you want something that will blend in, generally you are trying to take into account the colour of your skin over your nose and cheeks. However, if you have a tan and the skin on your face is lighter, make sure that you pick a colour that will match the rest of your skin. Nobody really wants a white face and dark arms.


The rogue was one of very few accepted cosmetics that survived the French revolution. One such product appearing during the Regency era was Pear's Liquid Blooms of Roses. The blush came in several shades and the pigment was usually bright red carmine and rose pink in varying combinations. Talcum powder was sometimes used to mute the colour. Powder blushes were most common although liquid or crème rouge could be found. Sometimes rouge was sold in sheets - crepons- made of thin crepe fabric dipped in the makeup. The make-up was rich in pigment and a light was hand needed to get a natural finish.
A rouge for the face (1)
Alkanet Root strikes a beautiful red when mixed with Oils or Pomatums. A Scarlet or Rose-coloured Ribband wetted with Water or Brandy, gives the Cheeks, if rubbed with it, a beautiful bloom that can hardly be distinguished from the natural colour.
The Turkish method of preparing Carmine (1)
Infuse, during three or four days, in a large jar filled with White Wine Vinegar, a pound of Brazil Wood Shavings, having first beaten them to a coarse powder; afterwards boil them together for half an hour; then strain off the Liquor through a coarse linen cloth, set it again upon the fire, and having dissolved half a pound of Alum in White Wine Vinegar, mix both Liquors together and stir the mixture well with a spatula. The scum that rises in the carmine. Skim it off carefully and dry it for use.
Carmine may also be made with Cochineal, or Red Sanders instead of Brazil Wood.
How do I do this?
As the regency ladies used, a powder blush is generally the easiest to apply. Look for reds, pink and pink/peach tones as you are aiming for a soft flushed look. To get a good application, it is a good idea to invest in a blush brush. They are designed for sweeping across the cheeks to give a rounded shape at the front that sweeps up towards the hairline.
In applying your blush, it is much simpler to start light and add more colour later. To get your placement, smile, and apply to the apples of your cheeks, sweeping up to your hairline. Your want the bulk of the colour to be right on your cheeks.


The English exploration of India and contacts with other Oriental areas such as Egypt and Turkey, contributed to the spreading of mascara and eyeliner. Mixing lamp-black (a fine black soot) with a little oil produced a usable paste to apply to both eyebrows and eyelashes. Burnt cork, was sometimes used as well. Of all the cosmetics available those for the eye were most frowned upon, most likely because is was difficult to apply for a natural look, particularly when viewed in daylight.
To change the Eye-brows black (1)
Rub them frequently with ripe Elderberries. Some use burnt cork, or cloves burnt in the candle. Others prefer the black of Frankincense, Rosin and Mastic. This black will not melt nor come off by sweating.
Black for the eye-brows
Take one ounce of pitch, a like quantity of resin and of frankincense, and half and ounce of mastic. Throw them upon live charcoal, over which lay a plate to receive the smoke. A black soot will adhere to the plate; with this soot rub the eye-lashes and eye-brows very delicately. This operation, if now and then repeated, will keep them perfectly black.
So what should I do?
Any eye makeup that you apply should be very simple. Keep in mind that that aim is for a very natural look. If you want to apply eye colour, you need to keep in muted. Start with a soft flesh toned cream wash over the whole of the lid, add a little brown into the crease of the eye for definition, but make sure that you blend. You can also add a little white powder to your brown bone as a highlight, but make sure that you keep it subtle.
Eyebrow grooming will make a huge difference to your face. To keep your eyebrows in line, tweeze or wax them into shape to remove the stray hairs. When applying your makeup, brush the brow hair neatly and define them with a little of your colour powders in a colour that matches. This is especially important if you dye your hair darker than your eyebrows.
To finish the eyes, a very light coat of mascara can be used. However, you will need to make sure that you are not using a very thick or old mascara as it will clump on the lashes and look unnatural. Another way to achieve darker lashes is to paint them with liquid eyeliner. This way, you are just colouring the lashes.


One popular lip cosmetic was Rose Lip Salve, available from any apothecary, and chiefly containing white wax, almond oil, alkanet to colour and scented by attar of roses. This type of lip rouge would give the lips a somewhat transparent rosy glow, rather like modern lip-glosses. For bright red lips vermilion (an opaque cochineal derivate) was used, which created a more painted look, similar to that of our lipsticks. However, this bright colour was only used in the Regency period sparingly by older women or women of ill repute.
An excellent Lip Salve (1)
Take and ounce of Myrrh, as much Litharge in find powder, four ounces of honey, two ounces of bees-wax and six ounces of Oil of Roses; mix them over a low fire.
What do I use?
Quite simply, a lip gloss. There are historical reproduction cosmetics including lip salve on the market, however they are a little more difficult to come by. (2) The easiest thing to use would be a simple coloured lip gloss of the non-shiny variety. You need to look for something more like a lip smacker that will give shine without that wet-look.
If you find it difficult to buy a coloured lip gloss and still want to add a bit of rose to your lips, you can do so by first applying a light layer of lipstick to colour in your lips with a lip pencil. Blot off the bulk of the colour with a tissue and then apply your lip gloss.

Downloadable illustrated version for printing


1.           TheToilet of Flora, original publication date 1779
2.           http://www.agelessartiface.com
3.           TheLady’s Strategem by Frances Grimble, January 2009

1 comment:

Danielle Lisle said...

Thanks for the post! I have filed this away for future use. :)