May 25, 2012
Sir Peter Lely’s ‘Windsor Beauties’ show Stuart women with
translucent skin, appearing as ‘natural beauties’, free of
cosmetics. Was this a 17th-century equivalent of airbrushing or did
these women have sophisticated cosmetics at their disposal?
The 17th century saw a growing mass market for cosmetic recipes and in the home, women combined their understanding of cookery with their knowledge of herbal medicine to produce a myriad of skin treatments. Ingredients varied from the dangerous, like lead and mercury, to the unpalatable: urine, hog’s grease and animal fats. Household ingredients were also used: lemon juice and egg as well as rose water and almond oil — things that still appear in cosmetics today.