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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’s easy to imagine the characters in a Charles Dickens novel. It’s easy to imagine cities filled with Oliver Twists and soot-faced David Copperfield. In some ways, this picture is accurate. The first half of the 19th century saw many major technological advances. The invention of the steam engine made manufacturing and transportation much easier, and dozens of large factories sprang up within a few years. New mining techniques were developed to produce the coal needed to power the new factories. Rural citizens, in search of work, began to migrate to big cities like London and New York. The air was indeed filled with Dickensian smog, but the Industrial Revolution also had a profound effect on skin care products and the use of cosmetics. As the average wage rose, increasing numbers of ordinary citizens found themselves able to afford soaps and makeup that had previously been out of reach.
A moral dilemma
By the end of the 18th century, make-up was deemed inappropriate for everyone except prostitutes and actors. Although this attitude persisted for much of the 19th century, women were allowed some 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 layer of zinc oxide. Zinc oxide offered the benefit of a brightened complexion, but was more subtle and natural looking than the hardened powder that was so popular before. Subtle lampblack-based eyeshadow was also popular, although lipstick and blush 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, it was not considered appropriate to buy or sell beauty products. For this reason, most stores sold them under the counter. **
Despite the stigma that still surrounded skincare and cosmetics, some women spoke up to promote their use. In 1833, Jacobine Weiler published a book called “Cosmetics of the Female Sex, or The Secret Art of Perfecting Beauty and Health and Retaining It into Old Age” which encouraged the use of cosmetics as a beauty aid. Although respectable women cannot be seen buying lipstick or cheeks, many recipes have been published describing methods of making lip pomade at home. Recipes included common ingredients such as butter, wax, and natural matrices made from currants and the alcanna tictoria plant.***
For all the women who championed the use of cosmetics, however, there were many others who believed that putting on makeup was the first step to a life of sin. Many books devoted to the defamation of cosmetics have also been published. “Godey’s Lady’s Book”, for example, was published around the middle of the century. He suggested that instead of trying to cover blemishes with makeup, women should rely only on “moral cosmetics”, which included sleeping and avoiding sinful pastimes such as gambling and drinking.
Cleanse the natural way
As mass production methods have become more refined, the price of many hygiene products has become cheaper and more readily available. While scented soaps were considered a luxury half a century earlier, soap was now commonplace in all but the poorest households. Because women could no longer hide behind a thick layer of powder, the focus was much more on naturally beautiful skin. Harsh cleansers were also easier to produce, but 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 reduce blemishes. Lemon juice was sometimes used to naturally whiten the skin a few shades lighter. Although naturally radiant health may have been the appearance of choice in the early 19th century, it was soon to give way to the frail, sickly appearance of the Victorian era.
** Read more about 19th century makeup here: http://www.localhistories.org/cosmetics.html
*** Learn more about Cosmetics Industry Advocates here: http://www.cosmetic-business.com/en/showartikel.php?art_id=1409
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