7 Year Tea Party Winners: Susan Craft's winner of her trilogy novels - The Chamomile, Laurel, and Cassia is: Lucy Reynolds, The winner of a copy of The Backcountry Brides is: Tammy Cordery, the winner of a silver quill charm is: Kathy Maher, Choice of one of three books by Carrie Fancett Pagels in paperback: Joy Ellis, A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Pegg Thomas winner is: Becky Smith, Janet Grunst's Selah-Award winning novel, A Heart Set Free, is: Sherry Moe.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Beauty or the Beast??? You decide. By MaryLu Tyndall

Often when we think of the past, we picture women with plain, glowing faces. No makeup, no eye shadow, just fresh faces aglow with sunshine and fresh air. After all they didn’t have pollution back then, nor did they have chemicals and other additives put in their food, and most people ate fresh foods!  In some centuries and locations this was true, but I was shocked to discover that in the 17th and 18th centuries, women did, in fact, wear makeup. At least women in the higher classes.

White or pale skin was very much in fashion. The whiter the better. White skin represented wealth and luxury while tanned skin meant you were a common laborer. How different from today!  In order to achieve the whitest look possible women put a paste on their faces made of a lead powder or chalk mixed with egg whites and vinegar.. The thicker the powder, the better. In fact the powder would often crack if the lady dared to smile too wide or raise her brows. Can you imagine attending a party where you couldn’t express yourself for fear of cracking your face??

The cheeks were reddened by adding a little cerise powder (white lead to which red coloring was added), or by using Spanish paper which was bought dyed red to rub on the skin. Lips were reddened with fruit juice or cochineal.

However, the lead in the makeup and the inability for the skin to breathe over long periods of time, did incredible damage to the skin. And to the lady!  Many women are believed to have died of blood poisoning from the lead. In addition the use of these powders containing lead and mercury resulted in scars and blemishes. Here’s an actual report from a man who didn’t find the same woman he married in bed with him the next morning.

An unfortunate husband writes to the Spectator in 1711; as for my dear, never man was so enamoured as I was of her fair forehead, neck, and arms, as well as the bright jet of her hair; but to my great astonishment, I find they were all the effect of art. Her skin is so tarnished with this practice, that when she first wakes in a morning, she scarce seems young enough to be the mother of her whom I carried to bed the night before. I shall take the liberty to part with her by the first opportunity, unless her father will make her portion suitable to her real, not her assumed countenance

Yet instead of ceasing to use the makeup, women began using patches to cover up the scars and blemishes caused by the makeup, as well other scars such as pock marks formed by the many outbreaks of small pox. Soon these patches became an integral part of the make-up of that time.
They were normally made of silk or leather and were cut to form pictures of things like hearts, stars, diamonds, crescent moons and even a tiny coach and horses, birds in flight, sailing ships, and anything one’s imagination could conceive of.
Small boxes were made so that the fashionable person could carry extra patches, in case one fell off or a new look was desired.

The placement of these patches meant different things. 

  • On right cheek means married. On left, engaged, near mouth, available
  • Close to the eye, she names herself provocative or fascinated.
  • On the corner mouth, this is the lover and kissable.
  • Above the lip, she is flirty.
  • Under the lip, she becomes mischievous or flirty.
  • On the nose, sassy, impudent or strapping.
  • On the forehead, the majestic or haughty
  • On the cheek, this is the gallant or flirty one.
  • On a wrinkle or laugh line, she is cheerful and playful
  • On the chest, this is the generous one.
  • On a button, the receiver.
  • Or well on the chin, would not at all this be the discreet one?

The earliest mention of the adoption of patching by the ladies of England, occurs in Bulwer's Artificial Changeling (1653). Our ladies, he complains, have lately entertained a vain custom of spotting their faces, out of an affectation of a mole, to set off their beauty, such as Venus had; and it is well if one black patch will serve to make their faces remarkable, for some fill their visages full of them, varied into all manner of shapes. He gives a cut (which we copy) of a lady's face patched in the then fashionable style, of which it might well be sung:

'Her patches are of every cut,
   For pimples and for scars;
Here’s all the wandering planets’ signs,
   And some of the fixed stars.'
 It is believed that the vaccination for smallpox, discovered in 1796, eventually led to the end of the fashion of wearing beauty patches.
Fascinating, huh?


  1. The things we learn...lol. thanks for sharing !
    Linda Finn

  2. Wow! I knew that the ladies used screens near a fireplace so the wax in their makeup would not melt. As someone with freckles and moles, I was always puzzled about their fascination with "beauty marks".

  3. MARYLU as always you have left me in awe of your detective work. lol You have a knack for finding out the most amazing things! I have always thought I would have loved to live in a different era, now I can cross this period off my list! :D THANKS!!

  4. What a fascinating post, MaryLu. Hmm, there's nothing new about women being obsessed with their appearance, but what is considered beautiful changes with the times. Powder white faces, what were they thinking?! Loved the letter from the man who was shocked to discover what his wife really looked like. I agree with Teresa. You are an awesome historical detective!

  5. MaryLu, I adore your stories!

  6. This is fascinating. I knew about the powder on the face, but not that it caused such terrible scarring. So sad...

  7. Thanks Ladies! I was simply doing research for my new WIP and came across this amazing information. Such a shame they scarred and poisoned themselves without knowing it.... but how interesting they used the patches to display a mood or possibly flirt with each other. It will make a great scene in a book!

    1. What a great article! Can't wait to read your next book, ML! Blessings!

  8. Well I'm glad these things didn't stick around!

  9. Oh wow the things women did and still do. if someone knew it would poison a person they could use it to murder and get away with it.
    thanks for the info I found it very interesting.

  10. I didn't know about the lead in the powder, either. Simply crazy! I wonder how many men knew the meaning of all the 'stickers' (and the meaning of flowers?)? Seems like too much to recall!

    Looking forward to seeing this information show up in one of your stories, MaryLu!

  11. This is fascinating, MaryLu! I knew about the lead, but I didn't know about the cochineal for the lips--that's a dye taken from the shell of a beetle, I think. You'll find it in some hard candies today, too! Have heard that Japanese geishas mixed pigeon "poop" in their white makeup too.

    I remember when a friend of mine and I would take eyebrow liner and dot our face with a well-placed "beauty mark" when we were in high school. (a long time ago! ;) ... And all this from the idea of the patch.

    I can see where they may have scarred and poisoned themselves, but I saw the word "pimples" mentioned, and wondered if patches and makeup weren't used to cover acne on some as well. Also, didn't "dandies" (men) wear a lot of this? Can't imagine wearing all that stuff.

    Am certainly looking forward to your next book, MaryLu--can't wait!

  12. Oh MaryLu, I loved this! I knew about the lead makeup and the cut-out shapes applied, but I didn't know that pasting them at various positions could mean something! Quite fascinating. :-)

  13. Oh my goodness! What crazy info you found, MaryLu! So glad this isn't a practice to day. :)

  14. This may be a "chicken and egg" issue. My research suggests the practice of whitening the face with thickly applied makeup began with the desire to cover the very ugly scars left behind by smallpox, which was rife during the period. Smallpox was no respecter of class and attacked the highborn and the low. The upper classes, however, could afford whitening pastes to cover the deep pits and scarring (hence the thick application). That the stuff was made from lead and only made a bad situation worse is just unfortunate.

    That said... I've never been able to wear makeup. Even the lightest tint has always made my skin feel tight and unpleasant, unlike my peers who, from their teen years onward, made a point of never going out without their "face on." I've spent most of my life not being overly careful about sun exposure (for a long time, like many of my generation, I spend a good deal of time attempting to acquire a lovely tanned glow) and yet compared to my peers who have worn foundation and makeup all these years I look markedly younger. It isn't a lack of wrinkling (although I do seem fairly blessed in that department) but the texture of my skin is smoother, not pitted or roughened by what I can only assume is a lifetime of smoothing the skin with cosmetics.

    It might take longer with modern cosmetics to do skin damage, but I'd argue that women still pay a steep price for the convention of a smooth and flawless complexion contrived through cosmetics.


Thanks for commenting, please check back for our replies!