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18th-Century Beauty Recipes to Try (or Avoid)

5 Beauty Recipes From the 1700s That Work (and 3 That Don't)

Eighteenth-century French women had a wealth of at-home beauty treatments and luckily many of them survive in the Toilet au Flora, a book of recipes compiled by French naturalist Pierre-Joseph Buc'hoz. Some of the treatments are still great DIYs . . . and some are absolutely horrifying. Here are five simple, effective recipes you should try, plus three treatments from the book that you definitely shouldn't.

The Good

1) A Cosmetic Juice

"Make a hole in a lemon, fill it with sugar candy, and close it nicely with leaf gold applied over the rind that was cut out. Then roast the lemon in hot ashes. When desirous of using the juice, squeeze out a little through the hole, and wash the face with a napkin wetted with it. This juice greatly cleanses the skin, and brightens the complexion."

Why it works:

The gold here isn't really necessary, but lemon juice has heaps of citric acid, which is a great exfoliator, and small sugar granules make for a nice natural scrub.

Keep reading . . .

2) Virgin's Milk

"Beat a quantity of houseleek in a marble mortar, squeeze out the juice and clarify it. When you want to use it, pour a few drops of reduced spirit on the juice, and it will instantly turn milky. It is a very efficacious remedy for a pimpled face, and preserves the skin soft and smooth."

Why it works:

Onions and leeks actually contain lots of the now-trendy antioxidant quercetin, which is an anti-inflammatory and free radical scavenger. Leek juice has also long been used to reduce scarring.

3) An Admirable Varnish For the Skin

"Take equal parts of lemon juice and whites of new laid eggs, beat them well together in a glazed earthen pan, which put on a slow fire and keep the mixture constantly stirring with a wooden spatula till it has acquired the confidence of soft butter. Keep it for use, and at the time of applying it, add a few drops of any essence you like best. Before the face is rubbed with this varnish, it will be proper to wash with the distilled water of rice."

Why it works:

The citric acid in lemon juice gets rid of dead skin cells, helping unclog pores and making skin look fresh and soft. Egg whites have a lot of protein and act as an astringent, and rice water is a great skin softener.

4) An Aromatic Bath For the Feet

"Take four handfuls of pennyroyal, sage and rosemary, three handfuls of angelica, and four ounces of juniper berries. Boil these ingredients in a sufficient quantity of water, and drain off the liquor for use."

Why it works:

Besides the fact that this herb bath smells nice, the angelica in it is an antifungal and antibacterial, so it helps with athlete's foot and the bacteria that make feet stink, too. Juniper berries are also astringent and make feet feel nice and tingly cool.

5) A Cosmetic Bath

"Take two pounds of barley or bean-meal, eight pounds of bran, and a few handfuls of borage leaves. Boil these ingredients in a sufficient quantity of spring water. Nothing cleanses and softens the skin like this bath."

Why it works:

Barley and beans, like oats, are great anti-inflammatories and emollients, and borage contains tons of fatty acids, so this would actually be great for soothing and moisturizing skin.

The Bad

1) An Excellent Preservative Balsam Against the Plague

"Scrape fine twelve scorzonera [a type of sunflower] and goatbeard roots, simmer them over a gentle fire in three quarts of Lisbon or French white wine, in a vessel closely covered, to prevent the too great evaporation of the vinous spirit. When the roots are sufficiently boiled, strain off the liquor through a linen strainer with a gentle pressure, then add to it the juice of twelve lemons, with cloves and ginger."

Why it doesn't work:

While this does sound like it would smell good, people eventually found out that the plague was caused not by foul odours or ill-tempered elves but by, you know, bacteria.

The Ugly

2) A Depilatory Liniment

"Take a quarter of a pound of gum ivy dissolved in vinegar, a dram of orpimerit [an arsenic sulfide], a dram of ant eggs, and two drams of gum Arabic dissolved in juice of henbane, in which half an ounce of quicklime has been boiled. Make the whole into a liniment with a sufficient quantity of fowl grease, and apply a little to the part where you would wish to destroy the hair after being clean shaved."

Why you should never do this:

Fun fact: the British naval fleet once actually won a battle by throwing quicklime into French soldiers' eyes. Why? Quicklime has a fascinating chemical reaction when it hits water — it heats up to about 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, the presence of arsenic, which is both a potent poison and a carcinogen, makes this recipe even more terrifying.

3) To Change the Hair or Beard Black

"Take oil of costus and myrtle, of each an ounce and a half. Mix them well in a leaden mortar, adding liquid pitch, clarified juice of walnut leaves and laudanum, of each half an ounce; gall nuts, black-lead, and frankincense, of each a dram, and a sufficient quantity of mucilage of gum Arabic made with a decoction of gall nuts."

Why you should never do this:

Two words: lead poisoning.

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