Home-made Cosmetics

Anne here. When I was a child, I was fascinated by the idea of making my own perfumes and cosmetics. I'm sure I got the idea from some book or other that it was pretty easy and straightforward. So I collected fragrant flowers and leaves planning to make perfume from them. I would stuff rose petals and other beautiful smelling flowers into a bottle, top them with cold boiled water . . . and wait.

OldBlushChinaRose

The result was invariably a bottle of brown, slimy liquid containing clumped masses of glutinous matter that oozed ominously. Did it smell? Yes. Disgusting.

But did those many failed perfume experiments end my cosmetics-to-the-stars (well, to me) career? Not a bit of it. Next I tried for home-made lipstick. I pounded red geranium petals and rubbed the paste on my lips. They turned red all right, but the mix didn't go on evenly and even at seven or eight I knew I looked more like a clown than a glamorous lady.

Some years later my ambitions in that direction were fired again by some book, or possibly an article in a magazine, where you used everyday natural things to enhance my budding teenage beauty.

MelbBitterFirst there was the beer rinse, supposed to add lustre and body to hair. I washed my long hair, poured a small bottle of Dad's beer over it, and towel-dried it, as the instructions had said. Then I set out to walk to the station — I was catching a train into the city to meet up with friends. The walk to the station was about 45 minutes. After twenty minutes, I realized I was walking along in a miasmatic cloud and smelled like a brewery. I turned around, hurried home and scrubbed my hair with shampoo several times.

Then there was the egg shampoo. Possibly I didn't rinse the egg out of my long hair sufficiently, because after an hour or so in the sunshine, I smelled like scrambled egg. . . going slightly off. Off egg, such a charming fragrance, don't you think? I never tried an egg shampoo again.

Undaunted, I tried another one of the suggestions in the article — a vinegar rinse. It was supposed to make your hair shinier — white vinegar for blondes, brown vinegar for brunettes. I doused my hair with white vinegar. The sharp smell faded after an hour or two, but I could see no difference in the shininess.

RosemaryRinseNext I tried a rosemary rinse. I steeped some snippets of fresh rosemary in boiling water and let it cool, then poured it over my hair. It smelled lovely but I couldn't see or feel any difference in my hair. Still, the fragrance was lovely. Some days later when I went to repeat the process, I learned that rosemary steeped in boiling water and kept for a few days no longer smelled quite so delightful — it was, in fact, horrid. Shades of my early experiments with rose perfume. But freshly made rosemary — and lavender, I discovered — at least smelled nice. And if you'd like to try some yourself, there's a site here that will show you how.

I tried all kinds of things on my skin too — oatmeal packs (pretty good), egg white for tightening the skin (worked a treat for a short time) rubbing with cucumber peels (cooling and very nice.)

My experiments with home-made cosmetics died away, but proved useful when I started writing Regencies. I used rosemary in my first book, Gallant Waif, as the heroine was broke and made her own hair rinses. She also made her own kitchen soap and cold cream and other things, but this time I did some proper research — I'd collected a couple of old books of household management from the period, and they had all kinds of fascinating — and some quite horrifying — recipes.

CompleatHousewifeI remember one advised the reader to clear the eyes thus: "Take the white of hens-dung, dry it very well, and beat it to a powder. Sift it and blow it into the eyes when the party goes to bed."

But no hens-dung was used in my book. I just had my heroine making cold cream. Why, you ask? In the revisions for that book, the editor had asked for more history to be included. Since my hero and heroine were in a run-down house in the middle of the countryside, there weren't many (any?) historic events to incorporate in the story, so I mainly concentrated on domestic history, as my heroine was acting as the cook/housekeeper at the time. But of course every piece of research needs to earn its place in the story, so . . . 

In the book, my hero pokes his nose into the kitchen . . . 

    "What's this? Looks delicious."     
    Before Kate could say a word, Jack had scooped a fingerful of the creamy mixture and popped it into his mouth. She clapped a hand over her mouth, attempting unsuccessfully to repress her mirth. Giggles escaped her as his eyes filled first with disbelief and then with disgust. He rushed outside and she heard the sounds of vigorous spitting as he attempted to rid his mouth of the foul taste of her latest domestic effort.

Waif

       . . . snip . . . 

    Still chuckling, Kate wiped her eyes with a corner of her apron. He re-entered the kitchen wiping his mouth, which was still puckered at the lingering after-taste.     
    "Are you trying to poison me?" He grimaced again and scrubbed at his mouth with his handkerchief. "What the hell was that foul stuff anyway?"
    
"Spermacetti oil, white wax, almond oil," she said, between chuckles. 'I haven't yet added the lemon oil and lemon juice."
    
He choked. "Spermacetti oil? You were planning to feed me whale oil? That's for burning in lamps!"
    
Kate giggled again. It was a new recipe she was trying, guaranteed to remove freckles. "I do not usually feed my cold cream to gentlemen, no matter how hungry — or greedy — they are."
    
"Cold cream?"
    
"Cold cream." 
    
"Hrmph!" He turned away. His ears turned slightly pink.

Now, in the new book I've just started, my heroine makes her own cosmetics, but this time they're the sort that fine ladies would love to wear. No bottles of rotting vegetation here. So I'm heading down the research rabbit-hole again. Luckily there are all kinds of excellent websites showing how to make all kinds of perfumes and cosmetics, and since my heroine is an heiress and not short of a penny, obtaining expensive and exotic ingredients is not a problem. I'll probably write another cosmetic post when I get to that part of the book.

Have you ever tried your own home-made aids to beauty? What have you tried and how did it go?

60 thoughts on “Home-made Cosmetics”

  1. I had to chuckle at the “miasmatic cloud smelling like a brewery* …. probably attracted insects and other undesirables!
    As a youngster I was in to chemistry and had a small home laboratory which often exuded smells (ie pongs) and bangs. When I left home for university, my parents rapidly gave it all away to another aspiring young chemist! I didn’t mind though as my interests had then moved to physics. No pongs but occasional odd noises.
    Sounds as though you might have had a great career as a perfumer …. perhaps with slightly better guidance! 😊

    Reply
  2. I had to chuckle at the “miasmatic cloud smelling like a brewery* …. probably attracted insects and other undesirables!
    As a youngster I was in to chemistry and had a small home laboratory which often exuded smells (ie pongs) and bangs. When I left home for university, my parents rapidly gave it all away to another aspiring young chemist! I didn’t mind though as my interests had then moved to physics. No pongs but occasional odd noises.
    Sounds as though you might have had a great career as a perfumer …. perhaps with slightly better guidance! 😊

    Reply
  3. I had to chuckle at the “miasmatic cloud smelling like a brewery* …. probably attracted insects and other undesirables!
    As a youngster I was in to chemistry and had a small home laboratory which often exuded smells (ie pongs) and bangs. When I left home for university, my parents rapidly gave it all away to another aspiring young chemist! I didn’t mind though as my interests had then moved to physics. No pongs but occasional odd noises.
    Sounds as though you might have had a great career as a perfumer …. perhaps with slightly better guidance! 😊

    Reply
  4. I had to chuckle at the “miasmatic cloud smelling like a brewery* …. probably attracted insects and other undesirables!
    As a youngster I was in to chemistry and had a small home laboratory which often exuded smells (ie pongs) and bangs. When I left home for university, my parents rapidly gave it all away to another aspiring young chemist! I didn’t mind though as my interests had then moved to physics. No pongs but occasional odd noises.
    Sounds as though you might have had a great career as a perfumer …. perhaps with slightly better guidance! 😊

    Reply
  5. I had to chuckle at the “miasmatic cloud smelling like a brewery* …. probably attracted insects and other undesirables!
    As a youngster I was in to chemistry and had a small home laboratory which often exuded smells (ie pongs) and bangs. When I left home for university, my parents rapidly gave it all away to another aspiring young chemist! I didn’t mind though as my interests had then moved to physics. No pongs but occasional odd noises.
    Sounds as though you might have had a great career as a perfumer …. perhaps with slightly better guidance! 😊

    Reply
  6. I’m so impressed that you kept going after the first disaster. I have never wanted to make my own, I’ll leave that to the experts, or at least people who want to put some effort into it. I do love finding local made soaps and things at the farmer’s market I go to.

    Reply
  7. I’m so impressed that you kept going after the first disaster. I have never wanted to make my own, I’ll leave that to the experts, or at least people who want to put some effort into it. I do love finding local made soaps and things at the farmer’s market I go to.

    Reply
  8. I’m so impressed that you kept going after the first disaster. I have never wanted to make my own, I’ll leave that to the experts, or at least people who want to put some effort into it. I do love finding local made soaps and things at the farmer’s market I go to.

    Reply
  9. I’m so impressed that you kept going after the first disaster. I have never wanted to make my own, I’ll leave that to the experts, or at least people who want to put some effort into it. I do love finding local made soaps and things at the farmer’s market I go to.

    Reply
  10. I’m so impressed that you kept going after the first disaster. I have never wanted to make my own, I’ll leave that to the experts, or at least people who want to put some effort into it. I do love finding local made soaps and things at the farmer’s market I go to.

    Reply
  11. I was never into beauty aids. But I grew up with very long, wavy hair, which mother braided into pig tails. (Or tied up in kid curlers for holiday curls). Whe washed my hair weekly and always followed with a vinegar rinse. I found the smell of vinegar refreshing and my hair was always shiny.

    Reply
  12. I was never into beauty aids. But I grew up with very long, wavy hair, which mother braided into pig tails. (Or tied up in kid curlers for holiday curls). Whe washed my hair weekly and always followed with a vinegar rinse. I found the smell of vinegar refreshing and my hair was always shiny.

    Reply
  13. I was never into beauty aids. But I grew up with very long, wavy hair, which mother braided into pig tails. (Or tied up in kid curlers for holiday curls). Whe washed my hair weekly and always followed with a vinegar rinse. I found the smell of vinegar refreshing and my hair was always shiny.

    Reply
  14. I was never into beauty aids. But I grew up with very long, wavy hair, which mother braided into pig tails. (Or tied up in kid curlers for holiday curls). Whe washed my hair weekly and always followed with a vinegar rinse. I found the smell of vinegar refreshing and my hair was always shiny.

    Reply
  15. I was never into beauty aids. But I grew up with very long, wavy hair, which mother braided into pig tails. (Or tied up in kid curlers for holiday curls). Whe washed my hair weekly and always followed with a vinegar rinse. I found the smell of vinegar refreshing and my hair was always shiny.

    Reply
  16. LOL yes, walking with a trail of bugs following me. Not quite the effect I had hoped for.
    I always envied kids who had home chemistry sets — they were always boys though. Chemistry for girls was called another name — cooking. *g* But the boy next door and I did make “volcanos” down at the swamp. We built mud “mountains” with hollow cores which we filled with dried leaves and twigs and set fire to. Luckily we were surrounded by water so we didn’t start any bushfires. I was 9, he was 10.
    With the research I am doing for my character, I might end up being tempted to make some myself. We shall see.

    Reply
  17. LOL yes, walking with a trail of bugs following me. Not quite the effect I had hoped for.
    I always envied kids who had home chemistry sets — they were always boys though. Chemistry for girls was called another name — cooking. *g* But the boy next door and I did make “volcanos” down at the swamp. We built mud “mountains” with hollow cores which we filled with dried leaves and twigs and set fire to. Luckily we were surrounded by water so we didn’t start any bushfires. I was 9, he was 10.
    With the research I am doing for my character, I might end up being tempted to make some myself. We shall see.

    Reply
  18. LOL yes, walking with a trail of bugs following me. Not quite the effect I had hoped for.
    I always envied kids who had home chemistry sets — they were always boys though. Chemistry for girls was called another name — cooking. *g* But the boy next door and I did make “volcanos” down at the swamp. We built mud “mountains” with hollow cores which we filled with dried leaves and twigs and set fire to. Luckily we were surrounded by water so we didn’t start any bushfires. I was 9, he was 10.
    With the research I am doing for my character, I might end up being tempted to make some myself. We shall see.

    Reply
  19. LOL yes, walking with a trail of bugs following me. Not quite the effect I had hoped for.
    I always envied kids who had home chemistry sets — they were always boys though. Chemistry for girls was called another name — cooking. *g* But the boy next door and I did make “volcanos” down at the swamp. We built mud “mountains” with hollow cores which we filled with dried leaves and twigs and set fire to. Luckily we were surrounded by water so we didn’t start any bushfires. I was 9, he was 10.
    With the research I am doing for my character, I might end up being tempted to make some myself. We shall see.

    Reply
  20. LOL yes, walking with a trail of bugs following me. Not quite the effect I had hoped for.
    I always envied kids who had home chemistry sets — they were always boys though. Chemistry for girls was called another name — cooking. *g* But the boy next door and I did make “volcanos” down at the swamp. We built mud “mountains” with hollow cores which we filled with dried leaves and twigs and set fire to. Luckily we were surrounded by water so we didn’t start any bushfires. I was 9, he was 10.
    With the research I am doing for my character, I might end up being tempted to make some myself. We shall see.

    Reply
  21. Misti I’m nothing if not persistent. I believe it’s a requirement for being a writer. *g* Plus in general I’m an optimist, so I was usually confident that the next experiment would produce the results I wanted.
    These days I think that many of those “recipes” have simply been copied and passed on by people who have never actually tried them themselves.

    Reply
  22. Misti I’m nothing if not persistent. I believe it’s a requirement for being a writer. *g* Plus in general I’m an optimist, so I was usually confident that the next experiment would produce the results I wanted.
    These days I think that many of those “recipes” have simply been copied and passed on by people who have never actually tried them themselves.

    Reply
  23. Misti I’m nothing if not persistent. I believe it’s a requirement for being a writer. *g* Plus in general I’m an optimist, so I was usually confident that the next experiment would produce the results I wanted.
    These days I think that many of those “recipes” have simply been copied and passed on by people who have never actually tried them themselves.

    Reply
  24. Misti I’m nothing if not persistent. I believe it’s a requirement for being a writer. *g* Plus in general I’m an optimist, so I was usually confident that the next experiment would produce the results I wanted.
    These days I think that many of those “recipes” have simply been copied and passed on by people who have never actually tried them themselves.

    Reply
  25. Misti I’m nothing if not persistent. I believe it’s a requirement for being a writer. *g* Plus in general I’m an optimist, so I was usually confident that the next experiment would produce the results I wanted.
    These days I think that many of those “recipes” have simply been copied and passed on by people who have never actually tried them themselves.

    Reply
  26. Such persistence, Anne! Apart from making my own potpourri a time or two, I’ve avoided the dark feminine arts. It sounds good that I did. *G* But I do love the scents of fresh rosemary and lavender.

    Reply
  27. Such persistence, Anne! Apart from making my own potpourri a time or two, I’ve avoided the dark feminine arts. It sounds good that I did. *G* But I do love the scents of fresh rosemary and lavender.

    Reply
  28. Such persistence, Anne! Apart from making my own potpourri a time or two, I’ve avoided the dark feminine arts. It sounds good that I did. *G* But I do love the scents of fresh rosemary and lavender.

    Reply
  29. Such persistence, Anne! Apart from making my own potpourri a time or two, I’ve avoided the dark feminine arts. It sounds good that I did. *G* But I do love the scents of fresh rosemary and lavender.

    Reply
  30. Such persistence, Anne! Apart from making my own potpourri a time or two, I’ve avoided the dark feminine arts. It sounds good that I did. *G* But I do love the scents of fresh rosemary and lavender.

    Reply
  31. Thanks, Sue. Yes, I quite liked the sharp, clean smell of the vinegar too, and maybe it needs to be a regular thing to make the hair shinier.
    I have friends who still rinse their hair with apple cider vinegar — one of them is an American who was concerned she might not be able to get it when she came to Australia. But it’s common here too and I bought her a bottle.

    Reply
  32. Thanks, Sue. Yes, I quite liked the sharp, clean smell of the vinegar too, and maybe it needs to be a regular thing to make the hair shinier.
    I have friends who still rinse their hair with apple cider vinegar — one of them is an American who was concerned she might not be able to get it when she came to Australia. But it’s common here too and I bought her a bottle.

    Reply
  33. Thanks, Sue. Yes, I quite liked the sharp, clean smell of the vinegar too, and maybe it needs to be a regular thing to make the hair shinier.
    I have friends who still rinse their hair with apple cider vinegar — one of them is an American who was concerned she might not be able to get it when she came to Australia. But it’s common here too and I bought her a bottle.

    Reply
  34. Thanks, Sue. Yes, I quite liked the sharp, clean smell of the vinegar too, and maybe it needs to be a regular thing to make the hair shinier.
    I have friends who still rinse their hair with apple cider vinegar — one of them is an American who was concerned she might not be able to get it when she came to Australia. But it’s common here too and I bought her a bottle.

    Reply
  35. Thanks, Sue. Yes, I quite liked the sharp, clean smell of the vinegar too, and maybe it needs to be a regular thing to make the hair shinier.
    I have friends who still rinse their hair with apple cider vinegar — one of them is an American who was concerned she might not be able to get it when she came to Australia. But it’s common here too and I bought her a bottle.

    Reply
  36. Oh that’s another one I made, Mary Jo — pot pourri. That was fun. I also used to stud oranges with cloves and give them to people as Christmas presents to hang in the wardrobe.

    Reply
  37. Oh that’s another one I made, Mary Jo — pot pourri. That was fun. I also used to stud oranges with cloves and give them to people as Christmas presents to hang in the wardrobe.

    Reply
  38. Oh that’s another one I made, Mary Jo — pot pourri. That was fun. I also used to stud oranges with cloves and give them to people as Christmas presents to hang in the wardrobe.

    Reply
  39. Oh that’s another one I made, Mary Jo — pot pourri. That was fun. I also used to stud oranges with cloves and give them to people as Christmas presents to hang in the wardrobe.

    Reply
  40. Oh that’s another one I made, Mary Jo — pot pourri. That was fun. I also used to stud oranges with cloves and give them to people as Christmas presents to hang in the wardrobe.

    Reply
  41. What an entertaining post, Anne; thanks for sharing your various laboratory stories!
    I remember sun bathing with baby oil. I also recall putting lemon juice in my hair to lighten it; that might have worked better had I not been a brunette. All I needed to do was wait fifty years and it turned light after all — I guess those were delayed action lemons!

    Reply
  42. What an entertaining post, Anne; thanks for sharing your various laboratory stories!
    I remember sun bathing with baby oil. I also recall putting lemon juice in my hair to lighten it; that might have worked better had I not been a brunette. All I needed to do was wait fifty years and it turned light after all — I guess those were delayed action lemons!

    Reply
  43. What an entertaining post, Anne; thanks for sharing your various laboratory stories!
    I remember sun bathing with baby oil. I also recall putting lemon juice in my hair to lighten it; that might have worked better had I not been a brunette. All I needed to do was wait fifty years and it turned light after all — I guess those were delayed action lemons!

    Reply
  44. What an entertaining post, Anne; thanks for sharing your various laboratory stories!
    I remember sun bathing with baby oil. I also recall putting lemon juice in my hair to lighten it; that might have worked better had I not been a brunette. All I needed to do was wait fifty years and it turned light after all — I guess those were delayed action lemons!

    Reply
  45. What an entertaining post, Anne; thanks for sharing your various laboratory stories!
    I remember sun bathing with baby oil. I also recall putting lemon juice in my hair to lighten it; that might have worked better had I not been a brunette. All I needed to do was wait fifty years and it turned light after all — I guess those were delayed action lemons!

    Reply
  46. Thanks for the lovely post. My middle daughter, when very young, experimented making scents. Nothing as interesting as the yucky flowers. But, nearly as bad. One of her grandmothers gave her lots of bath powders. She mixed them together and got different scents…..and lots of powder everywhere. Then she added water. We lived with gunky and sticky good smelling things all over the house. She even had her laboratory in her closet.
    I would like to say she became a famous scientist….but nah….and that is good ’cause she never exploded anything.
    Hope everyone is well and safe and happy.

    Reply
  47. Thanks for the lovely post. My middle daughter, when very young, experimented making scents. Nothing as interesting as the yucky flowers. But, nearly as bad. One of her grandmothers gave her lots of bath powders. She mixed them together and got different scents…..and lots of powder everywhere. Then she added water. We lived with gunky and sticky good smelling things all over the house. She even had her laboratory in her closet.
    I would like to say she became a famous scientist….but nah….and that is good ’cause she never exploded anything.
    Hope everyone is well and safe and happy.

    Reply
  48. Thanks for the lovely post. My middle daughter, when very young, experimented making scents. Nothing as interesting as the yucky flowers. But, nearly as bad. One of her grandmothers gave her lots of bath powders. She mixed them together and got different scents…..and lots of powder everywhere. Then she added water. We lived with gunky and sticky good smelling things all over the house. She even had her laboratory in her closet.
    I would like to say she became a famous scientist….but nah….and that is good ’cause she never exploded anything.
    Hope everyone is well and safe and happy.

    Reply
  49. Thanks for the lovely post. My middle daughter, when very young, experimented making scents. Nothing as interesting as the yucky flowers. But, nearly as bad. One of her grandmothers gave her lots of bath powders. She mixed them together and got different scents…..and lots of powder everywhere. Then she added water. We lived with gunky and sticky good smelling things all over the house. She even had her laboratory in her closet.
    I would like to say she became a famous scientist….but nah….and that is good ’cause she never exploded anything.
    Hope everyone is well and safe and happy.

    Reply
  50. Thanks for the lovely post. My middle daughter, when very young, experimented making scents. Nothing as interesting as the yucky flowers. But, nearly as bad. One of her grandmothers gave her lots of bath powders. She mixed them together and got different scents…..and lots of powder everywhere. Then she added water. We lived with gunky and sticky good smelling things all over the house. She even had her laboratory in her closet.
    I would like to say she became a famous scientist….but nah….and that is good ’cause she never exploded anything.
    Hope everyone is well and safe and happy.

    Reply
  51. Oh, yes, I remember the days before sunscreen, when we wanted the darkest tans possible, and used baby oil. The only unusual thing I ever put on my hair was henna. It was a dark green powder, and it did give my hair a nice auburn tint, but it was very messy, and makes your hair dry and dull rather than shiny.

    Reply
  52. Oh, yes, I remember the days before sunscreen, when we wanted the darkest tans possible, and used baby oil. The only unusual thing I ever put on my hair was henna. It was a dark green powder, and it did give my hair a nice auburn tint, but it was very messy, and makes your hair dry and dull rather than shiny.

    Reply
  53. Oh, yes, I remember the days before sunscreen, when we wanted the darkest tans possible, and used baby oil. The only unusual thing I ever put on my hair was henna. It was a dark green powder, and it did give my hair a nice auburn tint, but it was very messy, and makes your hair dry and dull rather than shiny.

    Reply
  54. Oh, yes, I remember the days before sunscreen, when we wanted the darkest tans possible, and used baby oil. The only unusual thing I ever put on my hair was henna. It was a dark green powder, and it did give my hair a nice auburn tint, but it was very messy, and makes your hair dry and dull rather than shiny.

    Reply
  55. Oh, yes, I remember the days before sunscreen, when we wanted the darkest tans possible, and used baby oil. The only unusual thing I ever put on my hair was henna. It was a dark green powder, and it did give my hair a nice auburn tint, but it was very messy, and makes your hair dry and dull rather than shiny.

    Reply
  56. What a lovely post, Anne! It sounds like you had fun trying even if everything didn’t quite go to plan 😀 My aunt used to make a hair rinse that she claimed would keep my hair from going grey but I never tried making it myself. Hers certainly stayed very dark for the longest time – she’s now 94 and still not completely grey so maybe it works? Must get the recipe.

    Reply
  57. What a lovely post, Anne! It sounds like you had fun trying even if everything didn’t quite go to plan 😀 My aunt used to make a hair rinse that she claimed would keep my hair from going grey but I never tried making it myself. Hers certainly stayed very dark for the longest time – she’s now 94 and still not completely grey so maybe it works? Must get the recipe.

    Reply
  58. What a lovely post, Anne! It sounds like you had fun trying even if everything didn’t quite go to plan 😀 My aunt used to make a hair rinse that she claimed would keep my hair from going grey but I never tried making it myself. Hers certainly stayed very dark for the longest time – she’s now 94 and still not completely grey so maybe it works? Must get the recipe.

    Reply
  59. What a lovely post, Anne! It sounds like you had fun trying even if everything didn’t quite go to plan 😀 My aunt used to make a hair rinse that she claimed would keep my hair from going grey but I never tried making it myself. Hers certainly stayed very dark for the longest time – she’s now 94 and still not completely grey so maybe it works? Must get the recipe.

    Reply
  60. What a lovely post, Anne! It sounds like you had fun trying even if everything didn’t quite go to plan 😀 My aunt used to make a hair rinse that she claimed would keep my hair from going grey but I never tried making it myself. Hers certainly stayed very dark for the longest time – she’s now 94 and still not completely grey so maybe it works? Must get the recipe.

    Reply

Leave a Comment