11 Really Terrible 19th-Century Beauty Tips

A lot of things have changed since the 19th century. When Barkham Burroughs  wrote his Encyclopaedia of Astounding Facts and Useful Information in  1889, he devoted a full chapter to the “secrets of beauty,” and for good reason.  To quote Burroughs, “If women are to govern, control, manage, influence and  retain the adoration of husbands, fathers, brothers, lovers or even cousins,  they must look their prettiest at all times.” Here are 11 of his tips for doing  just that.

1. Bathe often(ish)…

At least once a week, but if possible, a lady should “take a plunge or sponge  bath three times a week.”

2. … in a household cleaning solution.

What’s better than soap? Ammonia. “Any lady who has once learned its value  will never be without it.” Just a capful or so in the bath works as well as soap  and cleans the pores “as well as a bleach will do.”

3. Wash your eyes…

Nothing is as attractive as a sparkling eye.  The best way to achieve this is by “dashing soapsuds into them.” If that’s not  your style, perfume dropped into the eyes is a reasonable alternative. For the  same bright-eyed look without the burn, “half a dozen drops of whisky and the  same quantity of Eau de Cologne, eaten on a lump of sugar, is quite as  effective.”

4. … but don’t wash your hair.

Water is “injurious” to the hair. Instead, wipe “the dust of the previous  day” away on a towel. You can also brush your hair during any long, idle breaks  in the day. 30 minutes is a good hair-brushing session.

5. And never, ever wash your face.

Simply rub the skin with “an ointment of glycerine” and “dry with a  chamois-skin or cotton flannel.”  One “beautiful lady” is admired who had “not  washed her face for three years, yet it is always clean, rosy, sweet and  kissable.”

6. And try not to wash your hands, either.

A well kept hand is soft, pale, and really, really dirty. Red hands can be  relieved “by soaking the feet in hot water as often as possible,” but  don’t dare touch water with your hands. As with the face, a regimen of ointment  and cotton flannel should be used, and gloves worn for bathing. (Burroughs notes  here that “dozens of women” with gorgeous hands “do not put them in water once a  month.”)

7. Hang out naked by the window every day.

This is also called vapor-bathing, which is a different kind of vapor than  the aforementioned ammonia soak, and one more likely to bring the attention of  unwanted suitors. To take a proper vapor bath, “the lady denudes herself, takes  a seat near the window, and takes in the warm rays of the sun.” If you’re a lady  of the restless sort, dancing is advised. A good vapor bath is at least an hour  long.

8. Go heavy-metal on the eyes.

Nothing says “handsome lady” like a lined lid. The proper solution is “two  drachms of nitric oxid of mercury mixed with one of leaf  lard.” Lacking these components, a woman may just as easily produce a nice  effect with “a hairpin steeped in lampblack.”

9. Say goodbye to that fringe.

In your great-grandmother’s day, lashes had a tendency to become “unruly.” They were therefore “slightly trimmed every other day” with sharp, tiny  scissors, because who wants eyelashes, anyway.

10. Suction!

Nice lips are essential to a woman’s prettiness. As early as possible, a girl  should begin thinking about the shape of her lips and how it might be improved.  Thin lips “are easily modified by suction,” which “draws the blood to the  surfaces” and over time provides a “permanent inflation.” Thick lips “may be  reduced by compression.” There are no instructions for this procedure.

11. And try not to be single.

The author’s female acquaintance, after disclosing to her favorite suitor  that she had gone those three long years without using soap, found herself back  on the market. A note from the gentleman read, “I can not reconcile my heart and  my manhood to a woman who can get along without washing her face.”

So remember, ladies: Whatever methods are used, “it would be just as well to  keep the knowledge of it from the gentlemen.” Because being married is better  than ammonia-water for the complexion.

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