Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Acne through the ages

Every teenager feels like they are the first person in history to get spots and acne, and that it is the end of the world. A multitude of cosmetic companies play on the insecurities of teenagers with spots to sell hundreds of products every year which claim to eradicate spots from their lives. 
This is not a modern phenomenon. For centuries young people have experienced spots on their faces and will try any treatment available to help them.

In the 16th century not only did people have the average amount of spots, but they also had scars from smallpox and plague outbreaks. Also, the make-up that was being worn at the time contained lead powder, which was terrible for the skin and often caused it to turn grey after extended use of the make-up. Queen Elizabeth I herself wore this lead based make-up on a daily basis. 
The most popular treatment at the time for scars, wrinkles, spots and discolouration of the skin was in fact mercury. Mercury did succeed in removing any skin complaint, however this was because it chemically corroded the layers of skin and by doing so in fact caused worse scarring than it had removed. Despite it's ill effects, mercury was used in this manner for many centuries. 

In 1609 Hugh Plat wrote a book entitled 'Delightes for Ladies' which contained a number of treatments for skin complaints.

To help a face that is red or pimpled
Dissolve common salte in the juice of Lemmons, and within a linnen cloth, pat the patients face that is full of heate or pimples. It cureth in a few dreſſings. 16. To help a face that is red or pimpled. Dissolve common salt in the juice of Lemons, and within a linen cloth, pat the patient's face that is full of heat or pimples. It cures in a few dressings.

To take away spots and freckles fro- the face or hands. 
The sappe that issueth out of a Birch tree in great aboundance, being opened in March or Aprill, with a receiuer of glasse ſet vnder the boring thereof to receiue the ſame, doth perform the ſame moſt excellently & maketh the skin very cleare. This ſap will disolue pearl, a ſecret not known vnot many. 

How to take away any pimple from the face. 

Brimstone ground with the oyl of Turpentine, and applied to any pimple on houre, maketh the flesh to rise spungeous, which being annointed with the thicke oyle of butter that ariseth in the morning from new milke sodden a little ouer night, will heale and scale away in a fewe daies, leauing a faire skinne behinde. This is a good skinning salue. 


Beauty patches- made against the law

"Our ladies have lately entertained a vain custom of spotting their faces, out of an affectation of a mole, to set off their beauty, such as Venus had; and it is well if one black patch serves to make their faces remarkable, for some fill their visages full of them, varied unto all manner of shapes and figures." - Artificial Changeling, John Bulwer, 1653

A few decades later into the seventeenth century and the invention of 'beauty patches' appeared. Beauty patches were small pieces of material, usually velvet or silk, and they were cut into shapes so as to not only be placed over skin blemishes to hide them but also to look pretty. Such shapes included stars, hearts, diamonds and crescent moons. These patches were worn by both women and men, on the face and body. Soon these patches became worn for fashionable reasons rather than purely concealment of blemishes. A secret language even developed about the wearing of these patches based upon where they were positioned. If it was placed near to the mouth, this meant that the person was flirtatious. One placed on the right cheek signified that the person was married, and on the left cheek signified an engaged person. And one placed at the corner of the eye suggested that the person was someone's mistress.
The shapes and meanings attached to the patches became increasingly complex, as described in the following passage which mentions patches in shapes of a coach and horses.

"And yet the figures emblematic are,               

Which our she wantons so delight to weare. 
The Coach and Horses with the hurrying wheels, 
Show both their giddy brains and gadding heels; 
The Cross and Crosslets in one face combined, 
Demonstrate the cross humours of their mind; 
The Bra's of the bowls doth let us see, 
They'll play at rubbers, and the mistresse bo; 
The Rings do in them the black art display, 
That spirits in their circles raise and lay; 
But, oh ! the sable Starrs that you descry 
Benights their day, and speaks the darkened sky. 
The several Moons that in their faces range, 
Eclipse proud Proteus in his various change; 
The long slash and the short denote the skars, 
Their skirmishes have gaind in Cupid's wars. 
For those, that into patches clip the Crown, 
"f is time to take such pride and treason down." - On painted and spotted faces, from 'A wonder of wonders: or, A metamorphosis of fair faces voluntarily transformed into foul visages. Or, an invective against black-spotted faces', by R Smith, 1662


Street peddlers of the seventeenth century had a rhyme they sang to sell the beauty patches;
"Heer patches are of ev'ry cut for pimples and for scarrs
Heer's all the wand'ring planett signs
And some of the fixed starrs.
Already gummed to make them stick
They need no other sky
Nor starrs, for Lilly for to view to tell your fortunes by.
Come lads and lasses, what do you lack
Here's weare of all prices
Here's long and short
Here's wide and straight
Heer are things of all sizes." - Bourse of Reformation, 1658

Beauty patches pedlar

The use of beauty patches continued to be worn right up until the end of the 19th century, used by both the rich and poor.
Elizabeth, the wife of Samuel Pepys wore them, and on the 22nd November 1660 he declared her the prettier for wearing them and now she was even prettier than Princess Henrietta (daughter of King Charles I).
During the reign of Queen Anne (1702-14), the wearing of patches were used to show political allegiance; Whigs wore patches on the right cheek, and Tories wore them on the left side, and those who were politically neutral wore them on both cheeks.

The 19th century saw a change in the treatment of skin blemishes away from beauty patches and the wearing of make-up. The Victorian age brought with it a new attitude to make-up in that a natural face was more desirable and therefore the focus shifted from concealing the blemishes to curing them.
A 19th century treatment for the removal of pimples;
1oz Sulphur water
1/4oz acetated liquor of ammonia
1gr Liquor of potassa
2oz white wine vinegar
2oz distilled water
To be applied twice a day.

2 comments:

  1. ElizaBeth Gilligan28 February 2015 at 19:48

    Excellent page. Very informative and just the information that I needed for my book. Thank you!

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