During the Renaissance women strove for pale skin so much that they risked their lives for it! Fashionable women of the Renaissance used whitening agents composed of sometimes dangerous compounds, lead oxide, mercury, carbonate, hydroxide and many other compounds. These agents often caused severe illness and even death.
The Paler the Better
During the Renaissance, alabaster skin was the look du jour. The paler your skin, the more beautiful and healthy-looking you were considered.
If a woman was not naturally blessed with pale skin, there were a variety of ways by which they could achieve this look - often making use of compounds quite dangerous to their health. These compounds included lead oxide, hydroxide, carbonate, mercury, and vermilion. Over time, these compounds often contributed to various health problems (like muscle paralysis) and even to early death.
One beauty routine developed to really enhance that pale effect was to first apply raw eggs to the face as a "primer." Next, lead and vinegar were mixed together to make a thick, ceruse-colored foundation which was applied liberally to the face and neck. If they really wanted to have that "dead" or "statue" look, ladies would use blue paint and a thin brush to apply thin "veins" to the forehead and breasts!
A Little Color in Your Cheeks
Even though an overall palor was desired, women of the Renaissance still used just a touch of color on their cheekbones. An often used rouge recipe was to mix mercury with a lead-based powder. This mixture would be applied lightly to the cheekbones, and - in some cases - to their chests in order to draw attention to the bust.
The Glazed Look
Women would brush their made-up faces all over with egg whites to create a healthy "glazed look.' This was done to make them appear more like marble statues.
Bring in the Leeches!
Another Renaissance beauty trick was to apply leeches to the ears. The leeches would drain the blood from the head, giving them that much desired paleness. This practice was actually healthier than most of the other methods used!
Beauty Marks and Beauty Patches
The use of artificial beauty marks and fabric beauty patches came into favor in the Renaissance. Beauty marks were most often drawn in order to hide pimples or other marks.
Beauty patches, small fabric patches cut into various shapes (stars, moons, and circles for example), to cover holes in the skin caused by the use of lead makeup!
The Strange Case of Signora Toffana
Late in the Italian Renaissance, around the time of the English Renaissance, an Italian woman named Signora Toffana took the concept of pale skin to a new high - or low. She developed a special face powder, made from arsenic, that she not only urged women to use to achieve that desired corpse-like complexion, but to especially wear it around their husbands. This arsenic powder is said to have resulted in the death of some 600 husbands! Eventually, Signora Toffana was arrested and executed for causing these deaths.
Royal Beauty Secrets
The royal women of the Renaissance were considered beauty icons and many women followed their beauty secrets to the letter. Two of the more unusual royal practices included Catherine de Medici's use of pigeon dung on her face to get that dewy, young complexion, and the habit of Mary Queen of Scots to bathe in wine to keep herself looking young.
Do You Want that Renaissance Look?
Would you like to see how you might have looked during the Renaissance had you followed the cosmetic tips of the time? Here's how to do it!
1. Apply the lightest color foundation that looks good on your skin.
2. To set the foundation, brush your face with a very white loose powder.
3. Being careful to apply color to your cheekbones only, brush your cheeks with a vivid red color.
4. Apply lipstick in a shade of dark, rich red. The darker and richer your lip color, the paler your skin will appear.
5. Using black liquid eyeliner, apply a thin line to both your eyelids.
6. Eyeshadow is not recommended, but if you must wear it make sure you use only colors which closely match your skin tone.
7. To finish, draw a beauty mark or apply a beauty patch somewhere on your face.