18th Century Lip Salve

The desire for women to make their lips moist and luscious has existed for centuries, so we thought we would take a quick look at a few of the recipes suggested for home-made lip salve in the 18th century.

Mary Preston (d.1724), Marchioness/Duchess of Powis, in Peeress's Robes; National Trust, Powis Castle. Michael Dahl
Mary Preston (d.1724), Marchioness/Duchess of Powis, in Peeress’s Robes; National Trust, Powis Castle. Michael Dahl

The earliest advert we came across for commercially produced lip salve was at the beginning of February 1712 in the Daily Courant newspaper where the product was being sold by Mrs Markham, was a

highly esteemed lip salve for ladies of a charming and delightful scene. Price one shilling for the box

which would be about £5 in today’s money.  Mrs Markham, who also sold tooth powder, informed potential buyers that the ingredients used in her lip salve made the product safe to eat. Does that imply that other lip salves weren’t?

The Compleat City and Country Cook of 1736 suggests the following recipe

Take half a pint of claret, boil it in one ounce of beeswax and as much fresh butter and two ounce of alkermes root, bruised.

When all these have boiled together for a pretty while, strain it, let is stand till it is cold, take the wax off the top, let it stand again and pour it clear from dregs into a gallipot and use it at pleasure.

If I’m being honest, that strikes me as a waste of a good claret!

Reynolds, Joshua; The Hon. Mrs John Barrington; Gainsborough's House. 1758
Reynolds, Joshua; The Hon. Mrs John Barrington; Gainsborough’s House. 1758

Now, The Accomplished Housewife, of 1745 recommends the following recipe

Take half an ounce of Virgin’s Wax, half a pound of butter, half an ounce of Benjamin, half an ounce of Ackmony root (today known as alkanet root), half and ounce of fine sugar and a bunch of white grapes. Put all of these over the fire till they are melted, then strain it through a sieve and make it into cakes.

That one doesn’t sound quite as tasty as the claret one, but perhaps the flavour of white grapes might help.

In 1754, The Family Jewel and Compleat Housewife’s Companion recipe sounds quite palatable

To make the incomparable lip salve take of the finest sweet-scented pomatum, one drachm; orange-butter, half that quantity. Add to this a few drops of honey and lavender waters. Rub all well together with a knife. Use it on the lips as occasion requires. This is the greatest esteemed among the nobility and most certainly causes the lips to be of a fine coral red, and the breath most delightfully sweet.

By 1759 The Lady’s Assistant in the Economy of the Table, was advocating the following recipe

Two ounces of pomatum, a quarter of an ounce of alkanet root, a drachm of balsam of Peru (often used in perfumes and toiletries as a flavouring), a little piece of Virgin’s wax and five or six raisins of the sun.

Ten years later the recipe of choice was Monsieur Rouille’s Incomparable Lip Salve.

Orange butter, one drachm, conserve of jessamin, spermaceti, tincture of coral, each half a drachm. Honey water, twenty drops. Grind these together well in a marble mortar and use it morning and evening.

Marie Antoinette en chemise, by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783.
Marie Antoinette en chemise, by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783.

This next one from 1772 was interesting as it used Litharge, which is also known today as lead oxide and is poisonous, so please don’t try this making this one!

Take an ounce of Myrrh, as much Litharge in fine powder, four ounces of honey, two ounces of bees-wax, six ounces of Oil of Roses.

Mix them over a slow fire.

Gentry may add a few drops of Oil of Rhodium and some gold leaf.

A safer alternative would be

 Yellow Lip Salve

Take yellow bees wax, two and a half ounces, Quarter of a pint of Oil of sweet almonds. Melt the wax in the oil and let the mixture stand to cool. Once cold it acquires a fairly stiff consistency. Scrape it lightly with a spatula and it will become softer. What you scrape off, put into  marble mortar and once you have scraped away the whole, rub it in the mortar with a wooden pestle, to make it perfectly smooth and remove the lumps. Keep it in a lidded gallipot.

It is good for chaps in the lips, hands or nipples, and to preserve the skin, soft and smooth.

Gainsborough, Thomas; Mary Heberden; Yale Center for British Art; 1777
Gainsborough, Thomas; Mary Heberden; Yale Center for British Art; 1777

By 1785, hog’s lard was the popular thing to use.

Put it into a pan with one and a half ounces of virgin’s wax. Let is stand on a slow fire till it is melted. Take a small tin-pot and fill it with water and add some alkanet root. Let it boil until it is of a fine red colour. Strain, then mix with ingredients according to your fancy, and scent it with essence of lemon. Pour it into small boxes and smooth the top with your finger.

Sarah Siddons by Thomas Gainsborough, 1785 1785. National Portrait Gallery
Sarah Siddons by Thomas Gainsborough, 1785
1785. National Portrait Gallery

Finally, in the Morning Post and Daily Advertiser of 1785, we found this lovely advertisement

A Caution on Walnuts

Harrison begs to remind those ladies who eat walnuts, of his much-admire Lip Salve, which totally prevents that roughness and peeling of the lips.

Featured Image

Princess Augusta (1768-1840) c.1794 by Edward Miles. Royal Collection Trust 

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5 thoughts on “18th Century Lip Salve

  1. hendel12

    I don’t know why I’m surprised tbh because cosmetics have been around for such a long time you know? Did these people use nail polish? idk cause I heard that was bad to wear back in those days.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Merkwaardig (week 39) | www.weyerman.nl

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