History of Skincare Part 16: The Industrial Revolution, 1800-1849
The Face of the Industrial Revolution
When imagining the people who lived during the Industrial Revolution, it is easy to picture the characters from a Charles Dickens novel. It is easy to imagine cities filled with soot-faced Oliver Twists and David Copperfields. In some respects, this picture is accurate. The first half of the nineteenth century saw many major technological advances. The invention of the steam engine made manufacturing and transportation much easier and dozens of large factories sprung up within the span of a few years. New mining techniques were developed in order to produce the coal needed to power the new factories. Rural citizens, looking for work, began to migrate to major cities such as London and New York. The air was indeed filled with a Dickensian smog, but the Industrial Revolution also had a profound effect on skin care products and cosmetic use. As the average pay rose, an increasing number of ordinary citizens were finding themselves able to afford soaps and make-ups that had previously been far out of reach.
A Moral Dilemma
By the end of the eighteenth century, make-up had been deemed inappropriate for all but prostitutes and actors. While this attitude persisted throughout much of the nineteenth century, women were allowed a few cosmetic exceptions. Pale skin was still considered a mark of high birth and while the heavy lead powders of a century earlier were no longer used, they were replaced by a thin coating of zinc oxide. The zinc oxide offered the benefit of a lightened skin tone, but was more subtle and more natural looking than the caked on powder that had been so popular before. Subtle eyeshadow made from lampblack was also popular, although lip and cheek rouge remained taboo. While many women still mixed their own cosmetics, modern manufacturing techniques had made it much easier to mass produce these products. Although the use of manufactured cosmetics was extremely popular, however, it was not considered proper to buy or sell beauty products. Because of this, most stores sold them under the counter. **
In spite of the stigma that still surrounded skincare and cosmetic products, some women did speak out to promote their use. In 1833, Jacobine Weiler published a book titled, “Cosmetics of the Female Sex, or The Secret Art of Perfecting Beauty and Health and Retaining It into Old Age” that promoted cosmetic use as a beauty aid. While respectable women could not be seen buying lip or cheek rouge, numerous recipes were published describing methods for making lip pomade in the home. Recipes included common ingredients such as butter, wax and natural dies made from currants and the plant alkanna tictoria.***
For all the women who defended cosmetic use, however, there were many others who believed that wearing make-up was the first step toward a life of sin. Many books dedicated to the defamation of cosmetics were also published. “Godey’s Lady’s Book,” for example, was published around the middle of the century. It suggested that instead of trying to cover blemishes with make-up, women should rely solely on “moral cosmetics,” which included sleeping and avoiding sinful pastimes such as gambling and drinking.
Cleansing the Natural Way
As mass production methods were refined, the price of numerous hygiene products became less expensive and more readily available. While perfumed soaps had been considered a luxury item half a century earlier, soap was now commonplace in all but the poorest homes. Because women could no longer hide behind a thick layer of powder, there was a much stronger emphasis on naturally beautiful skin. Harsh cleansers were more easily produced as well, but they were often ignored in exchange for more natural skincare ingredients. Egg yolks, honey and oatmeal were all commonly used to soften the skin and help diminish blemishes. Lemon juice was sometimes used to naturally bleach the skin a few shades lighter. While naturally glowing health may have been the look of choice at the beginning of the nineteenth century, however, it would soon make way for the frail, sickly look of the Victorian Era.
** Read more about nineteenth century make-up here: http://www.localhistories.org/cosmetics.html
*** Read more about the Industrial defenders of cosmetics here: http://www.cosmetic-business.com/en/showartikel.php?art_id=1409
Article Writer: Jill Knowles