Thursday, October 29, 2009

White Teeth! Fresh Breath! 10 (Truly) Old School Beauty Tips

[Audrey's back again, this time with some 17th century beauty tips! Enjoy.]

Long before drug store aisles were lined with creams, potions, and miraculous lotions, women invented their own beauty treatments and shared their favorites among close friends. Seventeenth-century writer Hannah Wolley, author of at least seven books on cookery, etiquette, and medicine, included recipes to address common cosmetic concerns of the day. Her tips range from the plausible to the grotesque.

The promises sound familiar, and when you consider the things modern women do for looks—chemical peels, bleaching trays, injections—the ingredients may not seem so bizarre. Although not for the squeamish, their organic credentials are ind
isputable. Do they work? Probably about as well as many of the claims we fall for today!

1. To make the Hair grow thick: Make a strong Lye, then take a good quantity of Hyssop-Roots, and burn them to Ashes, and mingle the Ashes and the Lye together, and therewith wash your Head, and it will make the Hair grow; the Ashes of Froggs burnt doth increase Hair, as also the Ashes of Goats-dung, mingled with Oyl.

2. A Water to take away wrinkles in the Face: Take of the Decoction of Briony and Figgs, each alike quantities and wash the Face with it.

3. To take away
Hair: Take the Juice of Fumitory, mix it with Gum-Arabick, then lay it on the place, the Hairs first plucked out by the Roots, and it will never permit any more Hair to grow on the place: Also annoint your Head with the juice of a Glo-worm stamped and it hath the same Virtue.

4. To take away Freckles in the Face: Annoint your face with oyl of Almonds and drink Plantain-water, or annoint your Visage well and often with Hare's blood.

5. To take away Pimples: Take Wheat-flower mingled with Honey and Vinegar, and lay it upon them.

6. To make the teeth white as Ivory: Take Rosemary, Sage, and a little Almond and Honey, and boyl them together in fair Running-water, and when it is well boyled, strain out the fair water, and keep it in a Glass, and use it sometime to wash your Mouth and Teeth therewith, and it will make them clean.

7. To make the Breath Sweet: Wash your Mouth with the water that the shells of Citrons have been boyled in, and you will have a sweet Breath.

8. To make the Nails grow: Take Wheat-flower, and mingle it with Honey, and lay it to the Nails, and it will help them.

9. For the Lips chopt [chapped]: Rub them with the Sweat behind your Ears, and this will make them smooth and well coloured.

10. To smooth the skin: Mix Capons-grease with a quantity of Sugar, and let it stand for a few days close covered, and it will turn to clear oyl with which to annoint your face.

Hannah Wolley, The Accomplish’t Lady’s Delight in Preserving, Physick, Beautifying & Cookery (1675)

Audrey Bilger © 2007-2009

Pix from Top
Hannah Wolley
Male & Female Glowworms
A Black Java Rooster (probably not "caponized," but you get the idea)


  1. Did men equally use such strange potions in the 17th century? (I seem to recall from reading Pepys that they were as vain and as ready to reach for a jar of face-cream as modern males)

  2. Hi Alan: I wouldn't be surprised at all, tho I don't know with certainty-- I wonder if either Audrey or Eberle knows more about that.

  3. Well, that settles it! No more lip-balm for me! If I have a storehouse of sweat behind my ears, who needs lip-balm?

    I draw the line at dung in my hair, however.

    The only one that sounds reasonable is the pimple cream. It's rather like the oatmeal creams used for itching nowadays. I might try that actually; I am a firm believer in the many wondrous uses of vinegar.

    GREAT post! Thanks, Audrey!

  4. To answer Alan's question, men did make use of these sorts of things, but women--then as now--were especially valued based on appearances. Wolley's book is aimed at a female audience, and, as the title implies, she felt that knowledge of cosmetics was as important for "accomplish't" ladies as was cooking or any other domestic skill.

    Thanks for the kind reception!

  5. guess sweat from behind the ears is better than sweat from the pits

  6. Hi Kat & Audrey & Heather

    Kat: I can definitely understand your drawing the line there!

    Audrey: Great job as always--hope you like the lay-out.

    Heather: Could this be related to all those admonitions to "wash behind your ears"? See you later!

  7. This was a great post, I'm thinking if we survive as a species, what will they think of our present-day potions? BTW the best whitener for teeth was human urine - with basic research proving it true.

  8. I love these, and I'm still chuckling about the chapped lip cure. Egad!

  9. Hi Cathy & Karen:

    Cathy: Yes, I'm thinking I'd pass on that one! Good point about how things look in retrospective; I imagine with horror at the synthetics used.

    Karen: That one does seem oddest somehow!

  10. wow, this is so interesting! I will say, one would have to be pretty desperate to get rid of harmless old freckles to wash your face with hare's blood!

  11. Hi Kate: I'll say. Can't imagine it would work either.

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  13. I’ve tried various teeth whitening products for the past 2+ years. The majority of the products are either a hassle to use, don’t give me the results I want, or they hurt my teeth/gums. It’s been mainly whitening toothpaste and whitening strips because I can’t afford (nor does my insurance cover) dentist whitening.
    I’m starting to use a new whitening kit I saw in InStyle Magazine called Pro-White. I think I like it because I’m seeing more upfront results right away. I was somewhat skeptical at first because they guarantee “10 shades whiter in 10 days”, but I can see a noticeable difference. They’ve got various kits available. It costs a little more than whitening strips, but I don’t think it’s overly expensive. I found a $10 off coupon on the internet so that helped ( ).
    I’m just hoping the results are long-term rather than temporary! =)


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