200th Anniversary of Pride and Prejudice! A Look at Regency Beauty!

Click Here for a virtual Regency Dress Up Doll.

Via hibiscus-sinensis


Fashion in make-up changes, often from one extreme to another, so after the Rococo era of white faces, red lips and heavily rouged cheeks the Regency, as a reaction, was one when natural beauty was highly praised. Skin care not cosmetics was the watchword of the day and manufacturers competed in fantastic lotion with equally fantastic names such as Olympian Dew a, Bloom of Ninon b, Milk of Roses c or, to inspire confidence, down to earth Gowland’s Lotion d, The Bath Lotion e and many others. Fancy lotions were very popular among upper class women although it’s doubtful whether they offered improved efficacy over home remedies such as crushed strawberries and cucumber. The complexion, that is the texture of the skin and the brilliance of the checks, where for once as important as mere prettiness. Women took exercise to brighten their complexion; after two centuries of hiding indoors with nary a draft of air ‘taking the air’ became a national pastime. Women walked, rode and went for spins in open carriages. Although freckles and tans were still frowned upon, a fresh and windblown face was no longer considered the province only of dairymaids.

In 1811 a woman’s beauty book saw the first light of day. ‘The Mirror of the Graces or The English Lady’s Costume’ f published anonymously by A Lady Of Distinction, assures us of its purpose to:

“Combining and harmonizing taste and judgment, elegance and grace, modesty simplicity,

economy with fashion in dress. And adapting the various articles of female embellishment t

o different ages, forms, and complexions; to the seasons of the year, rank and situation in life

 With useful advice on female accomplishments, politeness and manners; The cultivation of

the mind and the disposition and the carriage of the body: offering also the most efficacious

means of preserving health, beauty and loveliness. The whole according with the general

principles of nature and rules of nature.” Even though natural beauty was the yardstick it

was often achieved by helping nature along by judicious use of cosmetics. Let’s look at the

make-up product available to the Regency woman.


"No eye... can look on a face bedaubed with white paint, pearl powder or enamel and be deceived for a minute into belief that so inanimate a
 'white wall' is the human skin. ... Nothing but selfish vanity, and falsehood of mind, could prevail on a
 woman to enamel her skin with white paints... to draw the meandering vein through the fictious alabaster with as fictious a dye."
Ladies powder box, 1838 2 The white face of the earlier era was giving way to a more natura

l look, which meant less reliability on the white face paint. It was

still used to some extent, rather sparingly

, 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 [aromatic] water, oil, talk

and emulsifier (tragant or gum arabic) in which a pigment was

suspended. g The problem was the pigment used – lead! The lead was

responsible for the opaque quality of the white

paint, or enamel as it sometimes was called, but extremely toxic. A

coarsening of the skin was also observed, caused by both the poisonous

lead and the drying effect of the maquillant

itself. The lead based white paint was slowly replaced by zinc

oxide and chalk, which were less opaque and glossy but much healthier. h

At this time white face paint was also slowly replaced with tinted foundations more similar to what we are familiar with. One of the first preparations was the Pear’s Almond Bloom, touted by its

maker to “adhering firmly to the face, giving a light and delicate tint that cannot be distinguished from nature”

. i Others were to follow and fashion, rather than health, delivered the final death-knell to lead cosmetics.

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 powde

r made of finely ground bismuth, was used rather like the modern highlighters. j Pear’s White Imperial Powder k

was one such product. Again, this was more common for mature women and not so much for the debutante.


“A little vegetable rouge tinging the cheeks of a delicate woman..

. may be excusable.”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.

l The blush came in several shades and the pigment

was usually bright red carmine (cochineal dissolved in alum

water) m and the rose pink safflower (Carthamus tinctorius)

in varying combination. Sometimes muriate of tin was used, not

so healthy but producing a bright red color. n Talcum powder was

sometimes used to mute the color. Powder blushes were most

common although liquid or creme rouge could be found. Sometimes

rouge was sold in sheets – crepons- made of thin crepe fabric

dipped in the makeup. o The make-up was rich in pigment

and, for a natural result, a light hand needed for the application.


“Penciling eyebrows, staining them, & c, are too clumsy tricks of

attempted deception… But take this fair image, draw a black line

over her softly-tinctured eyes, stain their beamy fringes

with a somber hue”

The Egyptian craze produced some rather startling

side effects. Suddenly the European world discovered such

wonders as mascara and eyeliner. We can almost hear the

dismay echoing through the ages! The English exploration of

India and contacts with other Oriental areas such

as Turkey p, also contributed to the spreading of these cosmetics.

Mixing lamp-black (a fine black soot) with a little oil

produced a usable paste to apply to both eyebrows and eyelashes

. Burnt cork, we can imagine the stink!, was sometimes used as well.

q Of all the cosmetics available those for the eye were most frowned upon

, probably because of the difficulty in application, which made a natural

result rather unlikely, particularly when viewed in daylight.


Silver cachou box for lip rouge 1797Color samples:



“Nothing but selfish vanity, and falsehood of mind, could prevail on a woman… to lacker her lips with vermilion”

Although heartily condemned by moralists, it is probable that most women used some type of lip color in the Regency

. One popular cosmetic was Rose Lip Salve, available from any drug store near you, and chiefly containing white wax

, almond oil, alkanet (the root of Alkanna tinctoria) to color and scented by otto of roses. r Rigge’s Liquid Bloom s seems

to have been a popular brand. This type of lip rouge would give the lips a somewhat transparent rosy glow, rather like

modern lipglosses. For bright red lips vermilion (an opaque cochineal derivate) was used, which created a more

painted look, similar to that of our lipsticks, than the alkanet salve.


Perhaps we should here also make mention of the teeth, so much a part of a nice smile. Dentistry was still in its infancy and the general cure for cavaties and tooth ache was tooth extraction! However, together with general cleanliness people had become more dilligent at brushing their teeth. Commercial tooth powders became available, carrying suggestive names such as Essense of Pearl t and making round promises of fastening loose teeth, stopping decay and curing infections in the gums.

So although natural beauty was much praised, the majority of the women in Regency days would take cosmetics to fill in where nature proved deficient and in many cases what we see is the natural look, which differed from the previous century in

pretending to be natural, but was still helped along by a judicious amount of cosmetics.

1. Ackermann's Repository 1817 

2. French Guilloche enamel ladies powder box from around 1838. 2 3/4 inch wide.

Notes on the text: 

a-e:: For further information on the face lotions, she the special Complexion page 

f: Unless otherwise stated all quotes are from 'Mirror of the Graces', first published 
1811. Reprinted in facsimile edition 1997 as Regency Etiquette, not a very good title as
 it's a woman's beauty book. A review of the book can be found here. 

g: Johann Bartholomäus Trommdorff. Kallopistria, oder die Kunst der Toilette für
 die elegante Welt. Erfurt 1805. 

h: The druggist's general recipe book by Henry Beasley, published 1850 

i: "Companions for the toilette - Almond Bloom, or Vegetable Rouge 

A Pears, Prefumer, No. 55, Well's-street, Oxfrd-street, with all due
 respect to the Female World, embraces this opportunity of recommending his
 Almond Bloom, or Liquid Vegetable Rouge, to distinguished attentioon. 

This invaluable Preparation, although it may be said to be in its 
infancy , from the short time that has occurred since it was first introduced 
to public notice, has required a reputation almost unparalleled in the annals 
of personal improvement. Its principal excellencies are the softening the skin 
for a free perspiration, adhering firmly to the face, giving a light and delicate 
tint that cannot be distinguished from nature. Five shillings per bottle. - 
Advertisement, La Belle Ansemblée, October 1807. 

j: Chemistry for Beginners By Lincoln Phelps, 1850 

k: Pear's White Imperial Powder is an admirable Companion to the above, being the most 
simple and effective Cosmetic in fashionable use. It is produced from Vegetables only, and gives 
to the Skin a delicacy strictly consonant to true Beauty, nor can the most circumspective observer 
preceive the application of it on the Countenance. Price 2s. 6d. and 5s. per Bos. - Advertisement
, La Belle Ansemblée, October 1807. 

l: Pear's Liquid Blooms of Roses gives a most delightful tinge to the Female Countenance, 
and to such a degree of perfection, that it may with propriety be said that Art was never so 
successfully employed in improving the Charms of Nature. Price 5s. 6d. per Bottle. - Advertisement, La Belle Ansemblée, October 1807. 

m: A supplement to the Pharmacopoeia: being a Treatise on Pharmacology in General by Samuel Frederick Gray, 1821 

n: The London Magazine, 1826 

o: The druggist's general recipe book by Henry Beasley, published 1850 

p: The Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, 1834 

q: The London Magazine, 1826 

r: The druggist's general recipe book by Henry Beasley, published 1850 

s: "To Ladies who have occasion for Rouge, Rigge begs to recommend this Liquid Bloom, 
made from Damask Roses. This Rouge is so suitable to the complexion that it cannot when 
judiciously applied be distinguished from a natural Bloom. It is as innocent as simple Rose Water, 
and may be used to the lips, when required, with pleasing effect, price 3s. 6d. and 7 s. 
Those elegant and approved articles are prepared at D. Rigge's Plantation, Wandsworth, and sold in
 London, at his Warehouse only, No. 31, New Bond-street." -Advertisement in La Belle Ansemblée, January, 1808. 

t: The Essence of Pearl and Pearl Dentifrice, invented by the late Baron Hemet, dentist to the Royal Family, 
have been proven by long experience to greatly excel both in elegance and efficacy, every other preparandum for
 the teeth and gums: they effectually preserve the teeth in a sound state even to old age, render them white and beaut
iful without imparing the enamel, fasten such as are loose and keep such as are decayed from becoming worse. They likewise render 
the breath delicately sweet, prevent the tooth-ach, perfectly cure the scurvy in the gums, and make them grow firm and close to the teeth.
 The essence is particularly recommended to parents and persons who have the care of children as the greatest preservative of 
young and tender teeth. None are genuine but what have the words "J Hernet, Bayley and Brew, Cookspur street;" engraved on the stamp: price
 2 s 8d each. Bayley's true Essential Salt of Lemons to take ink spots and stains out of lace and linen. The resine is signed #J Bayley" on the box 
and wrapper: also Brs Scoors Drops, for taking grease out of silk, stud, woollen cloth &c, price 1s each. Perfumed Pommade Davie, price s 8d, Liar glass. 
Sold wholesale and retail, oy Bayleys and Brew, perfumers, Cockspur street, London. - Advertisement in The Times, March 9 1819.

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