5 Great Skincare Tips (From 100 Years Ago)

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Beautiful skin. It's not a vanity to desire it. In fact, doing whatever you can to get it may very well be God's will. Marie Montaigne explains in 1913's How to be Beautiful:

Almost while I was writing this, a learned Presbyterian minister reminded the sisters of his flock about the loveliness of flowers and admonished them that women were the flowers of the human family, and, therefore, that it was a woman's sacred duty to do everything she could to enhance her beauty and so confer upon the world the pleasure in the gift of a human blossom. [How to be Beautiful]

In 1913, many women were also the cows, pack-mules, kangaroos, and brood sows of the human family. Though it may be difficult to maintain your blossom while constantly pregnant, caring for six children, driving a plow, and hand-washing the clothing of an entire family while elbow-deep in lye, it is not impossible. A true woman can surely manage it!

Here, some helpful skin-care tips from 100 years ago.

1. Avoid the salad oil

To nourish the skin on your face, Dr. William A. Woodbury, dermatologist and author of 1910's Beauty Culture: A Practical Handbook on the Care of the Person, prescribes a mix of lard, lanolin, boric acid, and white wax. Ms. Montaigne, however, sees no need for such harsh ingredients. Furthermore, she cautions against what can happen if you use the wrong skin food.

An important thing to consider in the selection of skin foods is their tendency to darken the skin or make it hairy… Salad oil, unless made from pure olives, will make the skin hairy, while pure olive extracts will not. [How to be Beautiful]

Perhaps using salad oil on your skin never occurred to you in the first place. Good! It, like impure thoughts, causes unwanted hair growth. Avoid at all costs. However, dairy products may be just the thing!

Sour milk or that which has curdled, is very whitening to face and neck. Mixed with cornmeal it cannot be surpassed as a softening bleach for the skin. [How to be Beautiful]

You can be one of those rare human blossoms that smell like curdled milk. God's skunk cabbage.

2. Don't move

If you believe that wrinkles are an unavoidable part of aging, sister, you're just making excuses. You have wrinkles for two reasons. One, you didn't rub your face correctly, and two, you will not control your emotions. Why can't you be more like the Turks?

According to Beauty's Aids, a book written in 1901 by the anonymous Countess C__:

The most simple and most effective way to avoid the appearance of lines, is to try as far as possible to keep an immobile face — that immobility which amongst the Arabs and the Turks preserves for so long the purity of their skin. And it is the same even in our country. Many unimpressionable women are such mistresses of their nerves that nothing surprises them or troubles them, they remain always serene, never crying, never laughing, hardly smiling, until they reach that stage of force of will, that they prevent their passions from showing in their faces. [Beauty's Aids]

Faces aren't for feelings, dear. If they were, what would you bottle up inside, enabling you to build enough wrenching inner turmoil to keep your figure trim? Hmm?

But if you insist on being so gauche as to have visible emotions, you have the option of a facial "massage." From The Countess:

The cheek muscles… are manipulated with a clawing motion which must be light and quick; not pinching. This will fill out hollow cheeks, while it gives firmness to the tissues and banishes the tell-tale lines of worry. [Beauty's Aids]

Presumably to be replaced by the tell-tale signs of clawing your own face daily.

3. Be good for beauty's sake

According to Daniel Garrison Brinton and George Henry Napheys, who wrote Personal Beauty: How to Cultivate and Preserve it in Accordance with the Laws of Health in 1870, the placement of wrinkles reveal your inner soul. And you can prove this theory simply by electrocuting a corpse.

Connect the poles of an electric battery with these separate muscles on the face of a corpse, and you will see the ghastly spectacle of the passions of rage, of mirth, of lust, of hate, one after another brought into horrid relief on the countenance of death. The habitual use of one of these muscles above the other, enlarges it, and leaves on the countenance marks which observers ever associate with the passion. [Personal Beauty: How to Cultivate and Preserve it in Accordance with the Laws of Health]

4. Stock up on hog's lard

The anonymous Countess C__ gives serious consideration to many injurious skin conditions: carbuncles, blackheads, warts, and, of course, freckles.

These spots, which are ordinarily called freckles, and by the learned, ephelis, are the horror of blondes, red-haired, and dark people, with a fine white skin. How do they come? Medici certant — the doctors disagree, said one of my friends, a Latin scholar. Are they a sign of an excess of iron in the system? Do they denote an anaemic temperament, a feeble circulation? No one knows. However they come, they are very disagreeable for those who are afflicted with them. Fortunately it is possible to prevent them, and, as a rule, one can get rid of them. [Beauty's Aids]

Modern times tell us, of course, that freckles actually denote a lack of soul. Still, the Countess then offers a variety of recipes, principle ingredients including turpentine, hog's lard, and acetate of lead. It may seem drastic, but it's a small price to pay to be able to walk amongst the normals without having the blackness of your heart speckled all over your face.

5. Make your own dimples

The Skin: Its Care and Treatment by Emily Lloyd is a turn-of-the-century study manual for women considering becoming "beauty operators." Most of the book is dedicated to instruction on how to use what appears to be a car battery to electrically stimulate a client's face. (A live client this time, presumably).

The sections on cosmetic surgery, though detailed, do indicate that a professional surgeon should be called upon. However, an operator can make dimples for her client, all by herself. All you need is a very sharp knife, a hook and some scissors.

After the skin has been carefully cleansed the sharp point of a very fine knife is carried into the cellular and fatty tissue of the cheek, and then these tissues drawn up with a very sharp hook and snipped off. The amount of tissue excised is hard to describe as it will depend largely upon the location selected, also upon the style of a dimple preferred. [The Skin: Its Care and Treatment]

You don't think Shirley Temple was born with those dimples, do you? Only her beauty operator knows for sure.

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September 23, 2013 - 7:00pm
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