Best Clothes Store To Buy For 13 Year Old Girl History of Skincare Part 13: The Elizabethan Era, 1500-1599

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History of Skincare Part 13: The Elizabethan Era, 1500-1599

Northern Renaissance

It took nearly a hundred years for the Italian Renaissance to reach the British Isles, but when it did, the results were spectacular. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, England began a quest for expansion that led to the establishment of new colonies around the world. Large parts of India, Africa and North America were built under British rule. While the merits of British colonialism may be debatable, there is no doubt that the Elizabethan era represented an expansion of thought as well as an expansion of political power. Legendary playwrights and poets such as Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare based their works on the same classical material that had inspired the Italians a century earlier. Clothing became increasingly sophisticated, and makeup quickly followed suit. In a time when looks were much more important than health, hygiene and skin care were often neglected.

Elizabeth’s look

During this time, Queen Elizabeth’s appearance ruled the hearts and minds of British women. While clothing had become increasingly structured in the later Middle Ages, Elizabeth took this sense of structure to new heights. Tight corsets were worn to give the body a sleek, shapely appearance. While proper hooped skirts had yet to be invented, women tied large pieces of padding around their hips to push the skirts into wide, elongated hoops. Stiff ruffles were worn around the neck and hair was often pinned up in elaborate outfits. However, despite the extreme ornamentation of their clothing, the face remained the focal point of appearance, and cosmetics took on a far greater importance than in medieval England.

Queen Elizabeth is often credited with being the first to get the full make-up look. Although she may have been the first, British noblewomen quickly followed suit. Women painted their faces with a white powder called Venetian pencil. The best ceruse was made from lead, carbonate and hydroxide. Cheaper alternatives were made from talcum powder or boiled egg, although these were considered less effective. After the heavy powder was applied to the face, the women painted their cheeks with a red color called fucus and painted their lips with vermilion. During this time, the first lip sticks were made by placing sun-dried vermilion and polished plaster in a pen-like device. (Go here to learn more about the Elizabethan lipstick making process: http://www.cosmetic-business.com/en/showartikel.php?art_id=1409 ) To give their appearance a glazed look, women would cover their faces. , makeup and all, in a layer of egg white.

The Great Cover Up

In the Elizabethan era, elaborate make-up was considered a sign of nobility, as few could afford the lead powder and dried vermilion used to create the popular look. However, as the century progressed, cosmetics also began to be associated with diseases. Poor hygiene had caused several serious outbreaks of plague and smallpox, and many survivors still had terrible scars and poo marks on their faces. While disease ran rampant among rich and poor alike, only the rich had access to expensive cosmetics to cover their scars. Consolidating the link between make-up and ill health, doctors at this time began to discover that lead powder was not as safe as previously thought. Women rarely washed their faces, opting instead to apply new powder over the old, and it was discovered that over the years, this treatment turned the skin underneath a dull gray shade. Although many doctors recommended switching to alum or tin ash powder, lead dominated in popularity.

Many women did not wash the powder off their face for a long time. However, when they wanted to remove the makeup, they found that the thick, caked-on lead was not easily removed with just water. To remove the layers of makeup, they turned to a combination of skincare science and superstition, washing their faces with everything from gentle rainwater or donkey milk to more astringent red wine or urine. Mercury was also one of the most common skin care products used to treat acne, wrinkles, scars and discoloration. Although it effectively removed these blemishes, it did so by corroding the surface of the skin and often left scars far worse than the ones it removed. (Go here to learn more about Elizabethan cosmetics and hygiene: http://www.fragrancex.com/fragrance-information/elizabethan-makeup.aspx)

Despite the health concerns of the time, Elizabethan women were known for their excessive beauty and cosmetic practices. However, these excesses would, among other things, lead to the Puritan Rebellion in the following century and see Oliver Cromwell take control of the British throne.

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