Beauty History: Madame Rowley’s Toilet Mask

by Gio
toilet masks

Sheet masks are nothing new. They were all the rage already in Victorian times!

Ok, they had a different name then. They went by Toilet Masks, probably because they made you look like you were about to rob a bank. And who wants to leave their bedroom looking like that?

They weren’t washed off, either. Instead, women put them on before going to sleep and took them off in the morning.

But who came up with the idea of Toilet Masks in the first place?

Madame Rowley’s Toilet Mask

Madame Helen M Rowley, an Ohio milliner and dressmaker, created the first Toilet Mask. She was 51 when, in 1875, she patented her invention, a “Mask for Medical Purposes”.

The mask was soft and pliable, made of flexible india rubber and designed to be worn “during the hours of sleep” to beautify, bleach and preserve the complexion.

Madame Rowley went in more detail in her patent and explained her mask had two purposes: the first was to excite “perspiration with a view to soften and clarify the skin by relieving the pores and the superficial circulation”, while the second was to apply “unguents or other medical preparations to the skin of the face for the palliation or cure of cutaneous eruptions, blotches, pimples or other similar complexional defects”.

What was the reasoning behind this? Again, the answer is in the patent: “for freckles or fugitive discolorations and for clogged pores and capillary congestion, the perspiration excited by covering the face with a medium which prevents the escape by evaporation of the cutaneous transpiration acts as a bleaching agent, and to relieve the loaded pores and congested capillary vessels. But for affections requiring specific remedies the medical agent adapted to the particular ailment may be applied in the shape of an ointment or plastic preparation spread upon the interior surface of the mask.”

Improvements on the Toilet Mask

The mask was so successful, soon other women created their own version, too. The first to do so was Nanette Emerson-French. Her Toilet Mask consisted of two layers: the outer layer was made of pliable fabrics such as cotton, linen, silk, kid, leather or rubber, while the inner layer of “heating or medicated fabric” such as flannel.

Nettie E. Jenkins‘ mask instead was of a material made with sulphate of cinchonia, salicylic acid, Turkey myrrh, hydrastin, benzoic acid, caoutchouc and sulphur. In also featured tie-strings to securely attach the mask to the wearer’s head.

Isabel Cassidy, who believed that these rubber masks were bad for your skin because they wouldn’t allow it to breathe, created her own version to fix the problem.

The interior was made of chamois skin “thus providing a soft and pliable surface to contact with the skin”, while the outer layer was of satin. Between these two layers there was a third one made of “linen or other like substance which will readily absorb such moisture as may pass through the chamois lining thus preventing the same from dampening or discoloring the face of the mask”. Plus, the mask had holes all over it to allow “free ventilation”.

I don’t know about you, but I’m really glad that these masks have fallen out of use! Modern sheet masks are much more beneficial and practical, don’t you think?

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8 comments

La Bisbetica September 7, 2012 - 4:02 pm

I agree with you! These old-stile masks look really weird and not comfortable at all.

Reply
beautifulwithbrains September 7, 2012 - 5:50 pm

La Bisbetica, they must have been a nightmare to wear indeed.

Reply
Janessa September 8, 2012 - 5:31 am

Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and seeing your mask in the mirror or looking over to your roomie (or a hubby looking over to his wife) to see that creepy mask! Complete nightmare without a doubt!

Reply
beautifulwithbrains September 8, 2012 - 9:40 pm

Janessa, oh dear! They would get a big scare!

Reply
Makeup Morsels September 8, 2012 - 5:07 am

LOL these do not look fun to wear at all, but I’m fascinated by this post. Never knew this practice went so far back!

Reply
beautifulwithbrains September 8, 2012 - 9:42 pm

Makeup Morsels, I was surprised too. I didn’t know how far back it went until I started doing research for this post. And thank goodness things have changed and that masks these days aren’t these creepy and uncomfortable!

Reply
Janessa September 8, 2012 - 5:33 am

I feel the discomfort just looking at the pictures. They look creepy and like the mask from the guy in Friday the 13th. I never watched that movie nor will I ever (I don’t like scary movies!) but I saw that holey mask in a cartoon that said Friday the 12th haha and him sad as a cartoon.

Reply
beautifulwithbrains September 8, 2012 - 9:45 pm

Janessa, I haven’t seen them movie (like you I don’t like scary movies), but I thought the same too. haha. So creepy!

Reply

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