Beauty Secrets of the Regency Lady — Have Cheeks like Roses in Bloom

From The Art of Beauty; or, The Best Methods of Improving and Preserving the Shape, Carriage, and Complexion, 1825

Ought people to use paint? Why not? When a person is young, and fresh, and handsome, to paint would be perfectly ridiculous; it would be wantonly spoiling the fairest gifts of nature. But, on the contrary, when an antique and venerable dowager covers her brown and shriveled skin with a thick layer of white paint, heightened with a tint of vermilion, we are sincerely thankful to her; for then we can look at her at least without disgust. And are we not under obligations to her, for being at the pains to render herself in reality more ugly than she is, in order that she may appear less so.

These observations on paints are designed to allude more particularly to white. If ever paint were to be proscribed, we should plead for an exemption in favour of rouge, which may be rendered extremely innocent, and be applied with such art, as sometimes to give an expression to the countenance, which it would not have without that auxiliary. How many charms has the delicate colours of modesty! And, in an age when women blush so little, ought we not to value this innocent artifice, which is capable of now and then exhibiting to us at least the picture of modesty, and which, in the absence of virtue, contrives, at least, to preserve her portrait.

The professed enemies of paints will, perhaps, take it amiss, that we here declare in favour of rouge; but we think it would be very wrong to include it in the same proscription as white. The latter is never becoming; but rouge, on the contrary, almost always looks well. At the same time, we only state our own sentiments on this subject, leaving our readers at liberty to think as they please.

It is not the present fashion to make so much use of red, as was done some years ago; at least, it is applied with more art and taste. With very few exceptions, ladies have absolutely renounced that glaring, fiery red, with which our antiquated dames formerly masked their faces.

It were much to be wished that females would compose their rouge themselves. They would not, then, run the risk of using those dangerous reds, in which minerals are ingredients; of spoiling the skin, and exposing themselves to the inconveniences which, as we have observed, result from the use of metallic paints.

These dangerous reds are those compounded with red lead, or cinnabar, otherwise called vermilion, produced by sulphur and mercury. Vegetable reds, therefore, should alone be used, since they are attended with little danger, especially if they are used with moderation.

The vegetable substances which furnish rouge, are red sandal wood, root of orchanet, cochineal, Brazil wood, and especially the bastard saffron, which yields a very beautiful colour, when it is mixed with a sufficient quantity of talc. Some perfumers compose vegetable rouge, for which they take’ vinegar as the excipient. These reds are liable to injure the beauty of the skin; it is more adviseable to mix them with oily or unctuous matter, and to form salves. For this purpose, you may employ balm of Mecca, butter of cacao, spermaceti, oil of ben, &c.

Carmine is the highest and finest red colour we have. It comes chiefly from Germany, and is made from cochineal; it may, therefore, very safely be used. There are two or three sorts of this article. The finest, which is nearly double the price of the common kind, is, in the end, by far the cheapest. The difference between the two sorts will not easily be discerned by mere inspection; besides, it is painful for the eyes, on account of the intensity of its colour, to look upon it, even for a minute. Comparison will certainly point out a difference; but the most certain way of detecting adulteration, is to fill a very small silver thimble, successively, with each sort. The finest and best sort will not weigh above one-half, or two-thirds, of the worst, being commonly adulterated with vermilion and red lead, both very heavy powders.

Portuguese Rouge

Of  Portuguese dishes, containing rouge for the face, there are two sorts. One of these is made in Portugal, and is rather scarce; the paint contained in the Portuguese dishes being of a fine pale pink hue, and very beautiful in its application to the face. The other sort is made in London, and is of a dirty, muddy, red colour; it passes very well, however, with those who never saw the genuine Portuguese dishes, or who wish to be cheaply beautified.

The most marked difference between these two sorts, is, that the true one from Portugal is contained in dishes, which are rough on the outsides; whereas the dishes made here are glazed quite smooth.

Spanish Wool

Of this, also, there are several sorts; but that which is made here, in London, by some of the Jews, is far the best; that which comes from Spain being of a very dark red colour, whereas the former gives a bright pale red; and, when it is very good, the cakes, which ought to be of the size and thickness of a crown-piece, shine and glisten, between a green and a gold colour.

This sort of Spanish wool is always best, when made in dry and hot summer weather, for then it strikes the finest blooming colour; whereas, what is made in wet winter weather, is of a coarse dirty colour, like the wool from Spain. It is, therefore, best always to buy it in the summer season, when, besides having it at the best time, the retailer can likewise have it cheaper; for then the makers can work as fast as they please, whereas, in winter, they must choose and pick their time.

Spanish Papers

These papers are of two sorts: they differ in nothing from the above; but the red colour, which, in the latter, tinges the wool, is here laid on paper; chiefly for the convenience of carrying in a pocketbook.

This coloured wool comes from China, in large round loose cakes, of the diameter of three inches. The finest of these give a most lovely and agreeable blush to the cheek; but it is seldom possible to pick more than three or four out of a parcel, which have a truly fine colour; for, as the cakes are loose, like carded wool, the voyage by sea, and the exposure to air, even in opening them to shew to a friend, carries off their fine colour.

Chinese Boxes Of Colours

These boxes, which are beautifully painted and japanned, come from China. They contain each two dozen of papers, and in each paper are three smaller ones, viz. a small black paper for the eyebrows; a paper, of the same size, of a fine green colour, but which, when just arrived and fresh, makes a very fine red for the face; and, lastly, a paper containing about half an ounce of white powder, (prepared from real pearl,) for giving an alabaster colour to some parts of the face and neck.

These are not commonly to be bought, but the perfumer may easily procure them, bycommissioning some friend, who goes to China, to purchase them for him.

This ought, by no means, to be neglected, as these paints are exceedingly well adapted for his delicate customers, who pay less regard to price, than to the goodness of the article they purchase.

As to the carmine, the French red, the genuine Portuguese dishes, the Chinese wool, and the green papers in the boxes of all colours, they are all preparations of cochineal, which is allowed to be of such sovereign service, even in the art of medicine, that the least harm need not be dreaded from its use, nor from any of its preparations, by those ladies who are accustomed to paint their faces, either from custom, or from a desire to be thought beautiful and handsome.

The red powders, above described, are best put on by a fine camel-hair pencil. The colours in the dishes, wools, and green papers, are commonly laid on by the tip of the little finger, previously wetted. As all these have some gum used in their composition, they are apt to leave a shining appearance on the cheek, which too plainly shows that artificial beauty has been resorted to.

The Spanish wool, the papers, and the English made Portuguese dishes, are all made from a moss-like drug, from Turkey, called safflower, well known to scarlet dyers, &c. But whether this drug, with its preparation, be equally innocent with those of the cochineal, is a subject which deserves further inquiry. These paints are all wetted previous to being used, and leave a shining appearance on the face, like the colours described, and from the same cause.

From The Toilette of health, beauty, and fashion: including the comforts of dress, and the decoration of the neck with directions for the use of most safe and salutary cosmetics and a variety of select recipes for the dressing room of both sexes, 1832

Almost all nations have had a predilection in favour of the colour red. The Phoenicians owed their name to the red colour of their ships, and of the stuffs they conveyed to the barbarous nations inhabiting the coasts of the Mediterranean. The ancients at festivals, painted Jupiter with vermilion. At Rome, the bodies of triumphant warriors were painted with the same colour ; and Camillus, among the rest, is mentioned as having made his appearance in it on the day of his triumph. Lord Macartney, in his passage through Pekin, saw several Tartar women who, he says, where excessively painted, especially about the middle of the lower lip; and several tribes of Indians and Africans evince considerable partiality for red by means of rouge, were they to compose the articles themselves. They would not then run the risk of using those dangerous reds in which deleterious minerals are ingredients, of spoiling the skin, and of exposing themselves to the inconveniences which we have alluded to, as liable to result from the use of metallic paints.

The more dangerous reds are those compounded with minium, which is a calx of lead, or cinnabar, otherwise called vermilion, produced by sulphur and mercury. Vegetable red therefore should alone be used, These are attended with little danger, especially when used with moderation.

The vegetable substances which furnish rouge, are red saunders wood, root of orchanet, cochineal, Brazil wood, and especially the bastard saffron, which yields a very beautiful colour, that is, mixed with a sufficient quantity of French chalk or talc. Some perfumers compose vegetable rouges for which they take vinegar as the excipient. These reds are liable to injure the beauty of the skin. It is more advisable to compound them with oleaginous or unctuous substances, and to form salves. For this purpose, balm of Mecca, butter of cacao, oil of ben, &c. may, for instance, be employed.
There are females whose skin cannot be reconciled to unctuous bodies; such, therefore, may use the following :

1. Take Briangan chalk, and reduce it to a very fine powder add to it carmine in proportion to the vividness of the red which you intend to produce ; and carefully triturate this mixture, which may be applied to the skin without danger ; or

2. Take French chalk prepared, four ounces ; oil of almonds, two drachms ; carmine, one ounce.


The makers of rouge, from motives of economy, sometimes substitute cinnabar for carmine. It may be ascertained if carmine be genuine, as in this case it is not altered either by the mixture of oxalid acid, or volatile alkali. The rouge of which we have just given the composition, may likewise be made up with salves ; it then produces a superior effect, being a better imitation of the natural colours.

3. A liquid rouge to produce a perfect imitation of the colours of nature may be made as follows : Add to a pint of French brandy, half an ounce of benzoin, an ounce of red sandal wood, half an ounce of Brazil wood and the same quantity of rock alum. Cork the bottle with care, shake it well once a day, and at the end of twelve days it will be fit for use. The cheeks are to be lightly touched with it.

4. Take Brazil-wood and rock alum ; pound and add them to a bottle of red wine, and boil it till it is reduced to one fourth part. To use this, dip a piece of cotton wool into it, and rub the cheeks.

5. Take half an ounce of red sandal wood, half an ounce of cloves, and five pounds of sweet almonds. Pound the whole together. Upon this paste pour two ounces of white wine, and an ounce and a half of rose- water. Let the whole be stirred up well together. In about eight or nine days, strain this paste in the same manner as is done to extract the oil of sweet almonds, and a very good red oil will be obtained.

6. Alkanet root strikes a beautiful red when mixed with oils or pomatums. A scarlet or rose-coloured ribbon, wetted with water or brandy, gives the cheeks if rubbed with it, a beautiful bloom,that can scarcely be distinguished from the natural colour. Others only use a red sponge, which tinges the cheeks of a fine carnation colour.

Turkish method of preparing Carmine

Infuse during three or four days, in a large jar filled with white wine vinegar, a pound of Brazil-wood, shavings of Femambucca, having first beaten them to a coarse powder: boil them afterwards for half an hour; then strain off the liquor through a coarse linen cloth, set it again upon the fire, and, having dissolved half a pound of alum in white wine vinegar, mix both liquors together, and stir the mixture well with a spatula. The scum that rises is the carmine: skim it off carefully, and dry it for use.


Carmine may also be made with cochineal, or red sanders, instead of Brazil wood.

Check back later for ways to cover your grey,  brighten your complexion, and accent your eyes.


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7 Responses to Beauty Secrets of the Regency Lady — Have Cheeks like Roses in Bloom

  1. abigail says:

    Once you get past the first paragraph, highly entertaining.

  2. London Itself contains an essay from about 1850 which alludes to certain gentlemen whose job was to go from one fine house to another, applying rouge to the ladies on their way out for the evening. I would not have thought the Victorians would admit of a male make up artist plying his craft with the great ladies. but some of these fellows were much in demand.

  3. Gillian says:

    Really excellent, thanks so much for sharing. I feel the lure of your delicious research links tempting me away from any amount of word count this evening…your site is lovely.

  4. Susanna says:

    @Abigail — Okay, we talked about that 🙂

    @Grace — That’s so cool and so Victorian. Those wacky Victorians. They were an interesting bunch, saying one thing and doing the other.

    @Gillian — Those research links have lured me away from many hours of work and chores, as well 🙂

  5. Ella Quinn says:

    All very interesting. I had no idea there were so many different kinds of rouge. Thank you for doing the research.

  6. Susanna says:

    @Ella, Thanks. I have fun digging this stuff up.

  7. Pingback: ASSEMBLY ROOM – Round-up of Regency and historical posts – The Beau Monde RWA™ Chapter Website

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