A blog post on Medievalists.net—Medieval Mean Girls: On Sexual Rivalry and the Uses of Cosmetics—reveals a treasure trove of diaries about the jealousies and beautification efforts of women in the late Middle Ages. It is fair to assume that such rivalry continues on through time.
- Lipstick: red dove feet mixed with brazil wood and alum
- Toothpaste: nutmeg
- Nail polish: henna
Here are some priceless quotes:
Is there here any lady among us who does not wear cosmetics or cream on her face, or uses depilatories, or cara de diable? How they sorrowfully take off that cream, and put on snake and lizard water. Oh, they sin greatly those who act so vainly, in order to please men.
Well, does she wear white powder on her face? Truly, up to her eyes! And, blush? In excess! Her eyebrows [are] well tweezed, high and arched, her eyes made up. Her forehead [is] scraped clean, and even her entire face –the big and tiny hairs– with pelador de pez, turpentine, and chamomile oil. Her lips [are] very red, not natural but from red dove feet mixed with brazil wood and alum. Her teeth were brushed with nutmeg or scrubbed with styrax, an herb from India. Her nails [are] stained with henna and grown long, longer than those of her pinkies, also stained white, and she even covers them with gold. Her face [is] shiny like a sword […]. She puts ten different foundation creams on her face, one after the other, once each day, and when she doesn’t have them on she looks like an Indian heathen.
All the year long she is mewed up at home … she anoints her face with gall and honey, with parched grape and figs crushed and pressed together … … she has such breasts, being a maid, as if she had been the mother of three children; and are for all the world, like nothing more than two great pompeans, or big bottled gourds. Her belly I have not seen, but judging it by the rest, I verily believe it, to be slack and as flaggy, as a woman of fifty year old. She had a room full of distillation vessels, wide mouthed and narrow necked flasks made of clay, glass, copper, or tin, made in a thousand different ways. She made sublimate, cooked-up make up, face-paints, lipsticks, llanillas, lotions, waters to make the face glisten, to cleanse the skin, alvalines, and other tonics, made of shavings of daffodil, wood bark, cittibush, tarragon, galls, sour grapes, [and] grape must, distilled and sweetened with sugar…
Whoever wishes one’s face to be beautiful should constrain the blood from flowing towards it. With wine and food both subtle and tasty, the fig in this case is wonderfully good, as is date water and honeyed foods. And if from chicken pox one’s face is marked, use an ointment from cheese, honey, and salt. And an ointment of cetrina [cerrusite, camphor, and oil mixed with citron] is very good for this. And if one has freckles or discolorations on one’s face, a myrrh wash is beneficial.