Edwardian Beauty Regimes: Was ‘beauty’ worth it?

Lyndsey Jones

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder…

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder… If only someone had time travelled back to the Edwardian period and explained this to the women of the era, it could have saved some women from pursuing the very dangerous beauty regimes they religiously followed. It could be suggested that the 21st century woman would go to any length to look good; Botox injections, sun beds, waxing and painful hair extensions to name a few, but would you risk your health or even your life for beauty? During the early 1900’s new beauty products became available. Lip stains, powders, eyelash dye and various creams were emerging as mass production began. Little did the women of the early 20th century know was that they were poisoning their skin daily in the hope to become beautiful. Substances such as arsenic were formed in to ‘edible wafers’ which women ate to rectify poor skin conditions, in addition arsenic soap was used for scrubbing pimples... yes…we are all pulling the same face reading this!
Edwardian Beauty Regimes: Was ‘beauty’ worth it?
A 1910 advertisement for face powder

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But what did a regular daily makeup routine look like for an Edwardian woman?

Firstly, women applied ‘moth and freckle’ lotion to achieve a lily white, paler than pale complexion. Why? It was a symbol of your wealth. If you had ruddy or tanned skin it was assumed you worked the land and were therefore from the lower ranking classes of society. Ingredients in ‘moth and freckle’ lotion included bleach and ammonia which were intended to blanch the skin and get rid of any blemishes. Next, women would add a powder to the face to set it. The powder of the time was composed using led, but perhaps even more shocking, the rouge applied to the cheek bones contained an ingredient called vermillion, a scarlet pigment found in mercury. The effects of these substances were devastating, causing madness or fatally- organ failure. Finally, the ladies of the Edwardian era dyed their eyelashes. To achieve the finished look the eyelashes would be smothered in a highly toxic dye which seeped in to the eye, causing the cornea to fall off! But fear not, Eugene Rimmel was soon to the rescue with his invention of a much kinder ‘mascara’ made of coal dust and petroleum jelly, a much safer option! The scariest aspect of all of this was that there was no legal obligation for companies to list ingredients on the bottles of the products, as a consequence women paid the price, at least women have the option to research their products in the 21st century today in a way that Edwardian women could only have wished to do.
Ancestry UK
Edwardian Beauty Regimes: Was ‘beauty’ worth it?

Lyndsey Jones

Hi reader, I'm Lyndsey. I'm a sub editor here at the Historians Magazine. In the day, I teach History to amazing young historians of the future and in my spare time I love to ride my horse, go to the gym and study! I'm completing a masters in History at the University of Birmingham- my research is based on US female slave holders in the antebellum south. Other areas of interest include British social history and cathedral architecture, but I also love to read the unusual parts of history that come my way in the form of articles for the magazine, keep them coming!
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