Don't Try This at Home!
Why is it that all through history women have not been satisfied with their faces? If one’s skin is unblemished, we add beauty marks. If one’s skin is tan or dark, we want to lighten it. The message must be–whatever one looks like, it’s not “enough.”
I clearly recall the day my aunt Jean decided her sister Mary (my mother) and I weren’t beautiful enough. Off to the woods we trudged with pails and spoons to gather the smooth, grey-white mud from the creek bank. We smeared it all over our faces from forehead to neck and marched home to wait for the miraculous transformation.
We were transformed, all right. The facial mud dried brick-hard and would not come off! We had to chip it away, bit by bit, with a knife, and the splotchy red faces that emerged were clearly not beautiful. Our male relatives laughed until suppertime.
Not deterred, as a teenager I later tried a ghastly mixture of oatmeal and egg whites smeared over my face. I did this three times a week for about 2 weeks, until one day a friend of my mother’s peered at me and said, “Carolyn, what has happened to your face? It looks ‘starched.’”
Here are some “facial mask” recipes from history.
Assyrian (8th century B.C.) women ground bits of cypress wood, cedar and frankincense in a mortar, added a bit of water and smeared it all over their faces at night. The next morning, voila! Soft, beautiful skin and a most agreeable odor.
In the Roman era, Ovid touts the following recipe to give dazzling whiteness to the skin:
To 2 lb Libyan barley add an equal amount of bean flour. Mix up with 10 eggs and dry in the sun. Then add 1/6 lb of hartshorn and reduce to a powder. Add juice from 2 narcissi bulbs pounded in a mortar, along with 2 oz aromatic gums, 2 oz Tuscan seed, and 18 oz honey. “Every women who spreads this on to her face will render it smoother and more brilliant than her mirror.”
In Eastern harems, a complexion powder known as batikha was made by pounding in a mortar cowrie shell and borax, white marble, rice, eggs, lemons, and helbas seeds. Combine with equal parts meal of peas, beans, and lentils and place inside a melon to blend with the pulp. Dry several days in the sun and it will disintegrate into a fine white powder.
The royal Stuart ladies in England used a face wash of distilled rosemary, featherfew [feverfew?] fennel, violets, and nettle leaves diluted with milk.
Not satisfied with that “natural” concoction, some noble women also adopted a mixture of white lead and lime to whiten the skin.
And some never-satisfied females even used a mixture of white mercury, lemon juice, powdered white egg shells, and white wine; this often resulted in severe burning of the skin!
I think I prefer oatmeal or creekside mud.
Source: Roy Genders, Perfume Through the Ages