victorian era beauty secrets

You’d think an 18 year old girl becoming queen would give the beauty industry a boost. Surely, such a young girl loved to play with makeup, try the latest lotions and potions, and launch trends, no?

Wrong. Queen Victoria loved to party and dance into the wee hours of the morning – but sans makeup. After the profligacy of her predecessors, Victoria was determined to make the monarchy respectable again. And she didn’t think there was anything respectable about cosmetics.

She thought face paint vulgar, and makeup suitable only for prostitutes and actresses (there wasn’t much difference between them back then). But that doesn’t mean that her subjects stopped wearing makeup. They just became better at hiding it.

Rather than the heavy white paints and bright rouges of the past century, respectable well-off ladies went for the no-makeup makeup look. It perfectly suited the ideal of beauty of the era, which demanded a delicate and fragile look, with a pale complexion, and long curls. Here’s how they achieved it:


The Victorians loved pale skin. It was a sign of nobility. It meant women were well-off, and could afford not to spend hours working outdoors, which would inevitably result in a tan. The horror!

But while their ancestors achieved this ideal with deadly mixtures (some of which were still around in the Victorian age), the Victorians painted their faces with zinc oxide, a white mineral powder. It was much safer, and whitened skin well (it still does; it’s what makes your sunscreen leave a white cast on your skin, both in real life and photos).

Those who didn’t like Zinc, simply avoided the sun and fresh hair. When they ventured outdoors, they’d carry parasols to protect their skin from the sun. Some even drank vinegar. Apparently, they thought that, somehow, it’d prevent a tan!

Fashionistas would take the trend a step farther. They’d paint some very fine blue lines on their skin to make it look more translucent, as the veins underneath were showing. Some would even emphasize their dark circles! How? By applying red rouge on their cheeks and lips. Luckily, this trend didn’t last long!

And, whenever their faces got oily and shiny, they’d dust some powders on. But very sparingly! Just enough to keep shine at bay and add a healthy glow to the skin.


The Victorian Age saw a decline in cosmetics. Respectable women couldn’t be seen buying them! But they did, usually secretly. And they choose natural, my-skin-but-better shades.

Their eyeshadows were made with lead and antimony sulfide; lipsticks with mercuric sulfide; blushes were simply beet juice. But they were all very subtle and applied very gently. The idea was to look like you weren’t wearing any makeup at all.

Same for the eyebrows. They were plucked, but lightly, to give them a polished, but natural shape.


Makeup may have not been popular in the Victorian age, but DIY skincare certainly was. After all, if you can’t wear cosmetics to cover imperfections, you’d better make sure you don’t have any in the first place.

Easier said than done even today, let alone back then. Creams and lotions were made using natural ingredients found in the kitchen and garden, such as almond oil and waxes. Toners were mixtures of water and roses, lilies, or violets. Safer than those heavy metals-laden creams used in the past, but no miracle workers either.


In the Victorian age, a woman’s hair was considered her glory. So, women rarely cut their locks (usually only when they were ill), and often used false hair to give their mane more volume.

Hairstyles weren’t particularly creative. Chignons and buns were very popular, and so were long, gentle curls let loose at the back or sides. Oils were applied to make hair sleek and smooth. Ornate combs and clips would complete the look.

If women wore their hair long, men started chopping it off. The long hairstyles of the past were replaced by much shorter and simpler hairdos. But they would still wear long and full beards and moustaches. That was a sign of manhood!