19th Century Beautifiers

Pioneer WomanWomen who crossed this great land by her husband’s side have never gotten due recognition. The men took the glory for taming the American Frontier. Yet, the women endured far more and with less complaint. Often, they arrived at their destination looking haggard, their faces burnt to the color of hazelnut by the sun, their hair cut short.

Whatever her looks or what she wore, she had endurance and she had courage. Sometimes she was wilder than the land she helped tame.

I’m so in awe of these women who braved the elements, the harsh landscape and even death at times. They’re the spirit that lives inside each of my heroines.

Once women arrived at their destination, they set to work to reverse the ravages of the trip. They had little beautifiers to work with though. Gunpowder was easier to come by than face powder. Most petticoat pioneers reached for ingredients in their kitchens.

Sour milk or buttermilk were applied at night as skin bleaches. Complexion salves were made of white wax, spermaceti—a substance they made candles from, and sweet oil scented with homemade rose or lavender water.


Honey was an old reliable cosmetic used by frontier women for everything from softening the teats of their milk cows to making beauty soap. A slight dusting of corn starch concealed a shiny nose, an entire weather-beaten face under a coating of flour paste then washed.

Beet juice or berries in season was widely used for lips and applied lightly to cheeks. They also pinched their cheeks to bring blood to the surface. A piece of burnt ember lined the eyes, although most didn’t use this because of the painted ladies who did. They did not want to be compared to working girls. No ma’am.


A popular homemade shampoo was made of a blend of castor oil and pure whiskey scented with lavender.

To cover gray hair, women touched up strands with sage tea, henna, or boiled walnut shells. For curls, they had an iron rod that they heated in a kerosene lamp chimney.

Women loved their baths but such were very hard to come by. When they did, they added rose petals or a bit of rosewater before stepping in. Most soaps were made from lye, but resourceful women added honey, flowers or juice from plants to make it sweet-smelling and less harsh.


Strong lavender bud tea applied to chapped lips made them smooth and moist. Wanted your breasts larger? There was a cream for it back then. Of course, it didn’t work, but the less endowed women tried it.


I’m sure there were lots more. Women were ingenious back then, especially if she was plain. And through it all, we survived. I’m sure a lot of those women would’ve loved the cosmetics and beauty products today.

Do you think you’d have tried any of these things? I think I would’ve covered my gray however I could. I don’t like looking old.

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19th Century Beautifiers — 7 Comments

  1. What a fabulous topic. These women were ingenious and had to truly endure a great deal in everyday living. Some of the rituals they used to stay soft, young, & beautiful are now coming back around in today’s “organic natural beauty products”, and to think our pioneer women discovered them and had to rely on them. Nowadays they are usually a spa experience, only. Yes they would have loved to have all the luxury of choosing what’s best from a whole array of products we have to choose from. We do take things for granted in our day & time. I believe I would of tried all sorts of things to stay beautiful. I live here on the Plains Of Kansas, so I can certainly understand the harshness of this dry climate land. It affects my skin now and I have all the beauty products I could ever need at my fingertips. You have a great writing day Linda.

    • Good morning, Tonya…….I think it’s awesome that these women had such a desire to be pretty. Men back then called it being vain but I totally disagree. It wasn’t that at all. In fact, I think it was having pride in yourself and trying to look the best they could with their limited resources. No woman wanted to be plain. They even added a ribbon to their hair to get some color into their world. And ribbons were hard to come by. I love how they used their minds to come up with things that could improve them. My skin has always been a problem. When I was young it was very, very oily. Now that I’m older, it’s become very dry. It’s hard to fight wrinkles. And I’ll probably dye my hair until I croak. I can’t stand gray hair on me.

      Love you, sister friend!

  2. Necessity has always been the mother of invention and these ladies certainly had to do some inventing to come up with beauty aids. I don’t know what all I would have tried, but knowing my personality, I’d have tried it all including the burnt ember to line my eyes. 🙂 Great blog and so interesting.

    • Hi Jan…….Glad you came! Thank you. Yep, those poor women had to do some serious thinking. They might be overworked and dead on their feet most of the time but, darn it, they didn’t want to be ugly! That was the last straw. Yes, I know you would’ve had to have something to fix your eyes up with. They just disappear when you don’t have eyeliner on. And I would’ve done something to keep my hair colored. We both have our priorities straight! I once read a time travel where a woman in present day went back to England to the time of Edward the 8th. She couldn’t stand leg hair so she took the guy’s knife and scraped her legs with it. It was the funniest scene. He walked in on her and thought she was trying to kill herself. So funny.

      Have a great week, sister! Love you!

  3. I loved these interesting home remedies the women on the Plains thought of. How resourceful. I especially liked the lavender tea for lips. Honey is a great ingredient in home remedies, especially sore throats. It’s a natural bacterial retardant…and it tastes good!
    Lovely blog, Linda.

    • Hi Sarah……Thanks for coming! I’m happy, happy. I’m glad you liked my blog. I’m sure you already knew a lot of this stuff. My mom made hot toddies when she had a sore throat. I always thought that was strange because she never touched whiskey otherwise. Get a sore throat and she was reaching for it. Mixed it with the honey.

      Thanks again for stopping by. Big hugs!

  4. Very interesting blog! I hate dry skin, so I would HAVE to find something to moisturize my face and hands!