Colonial Beauty Secrets


(do not try this at home)

Ye olde beauty shoppe bug bit me last week when I was researching how to make freckle-remover to use in one of my colonial-era short stories. First I called our local Pioneer Museum to ask the receptionist/re-enactor for some answers. I must have stumped the experts because the vague replies included a recommendation for, “lemon verbena, lots of herbs, or maybe try some pig grease.” Now, mayhap if I’d been asking how to load a musket with powder and shot – I probably would have had more luck.

So it was back to the internet and yet another trusty article from Wikipedia. I searched for beauty tips and recipes used by women during the Revolutionary War. The recipe I found for anti-freckle cream called for ingredients that sounded oh so very out-of-date. But, with a little more inquiry, I discovered that yes, you, yourself can make this very product in your kitchen today. All you need is:

Two drams honey of roses

Two drams oil of tartar

Mix thoroughly with rye meal, smear on your face overnight, and then simply rinse off with lemon juice in the morning.

Sound simple, right? Well, don’t panic. Here are a few details you might need:

  • A dram is a unit of measure used primarily by pharmacists when mixing an injectable. Technically, a dram is about ¼ of a teaspoon or just a dash.
  • Honey of roses is made by brewing a tea made with rose petals and rosebuds with a dab of honey added.
  • Oil of tartar, however, is another matter. Cream of tartar, a byproduct of wine and grape juice processing, is an acidic salt that acts as a stabilizer in recipes. There isn’t really any oil in cream of tartar, but after you boil a bag of the powder in water until most of the liquid evaporates, voila! you have created a new version – which is now called oil of tartar. Oh, and here’s an interesting fact: you can put this O of T stuff on your face to remove freckles or use it to clean up those stubborn stains on cotton clothing or take dirt off old oil paintings. Anyone want to give that a try?
  • Lastly, the author of this ancient cookbook cautioned that the lemon rinse was best diluted one tablespoon in three cups warm water – to keep all your face from flaking off in the morning.

So – do you want to get down and dirty with your colonial ancestor beauties or maybe just go to the makeup counter at your local Macys after slathering on some 70 SPF sunblock before venturing into the great out-of-doors? You decide.


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