11 Tips From Marie Antoinette’s Beauty Regimen

You can find beauty and fashion tips almost anywhere, but few compare to those from the Queen of Style herself—Marie Antoinette. As a trendsetter and “It Girl” of her time, she deliberately deviated from the more traditional styles of the time as a way of exercising power over the masses. Since she had no real political authority to wield, she did so with her glamour, and the fashion trends followed. Many of her beauty secrets were so effective, they’re still used by women today.


The Queen of France began her beauty routine with a special facial cleanser called Eau Cosmetique de Pigeon (yes, it was made from pigeons). According to The Toilette Of Health, Beauty, And Fashion, the cleanser was first used by Danish women and is made according to this recipe:

“Take juice of water-lilies, of melons, of cucumbers, of lemons, each one ounce; briony, wild succory, lily-flowers, borage, beans, of each a handful: eight pigeons stewed. Put the whole mixture into an alembic, adding four ounces of lump sugar, well pounded, one drachma of borax, the same quantity of camphor, the crumb of three French rolls, and a pint of white wine. When the whole has remained in digestion for seventeen or eighteen days, proceed to distillation, and you will obtain pigeon-water, which is such an improvement of the complexion.”

DIY skincare routines like this one were commonplace in 18th century France, because people believed they would help ward off illness. While regular full-body bathing was not the norm, facial cleansing was done more often, because products could be made from simple, household ingredients (and pigeons, of course).


Once her face was sufficiently cleansed, Marie Antionette applied her astringent of choice, which was Eau des Charmes. Finally, she’d cover her face and neck in a whitener called Eau d’Ange. Pale skin was all the rage in the 18th century. It denoted someone of wealth and nobility, because it proved you didn’t have to work outside in the sun. Skin whitener also helped hide marks and blemishes, which were often remnants of diseases—something with which the upper class never wished to be associated.


In order to keep her hands soft, the Queen would wear gloves filled with wax, rose water, and sweet almond oil to bed every night. According to Melanie Clegg, author of Marie Antoinette: An Intimate History, she also applied saffron, turmeric, sandalwood, and rhubarb to her hair to maintain her strawberry blonde color. While she often wore wigs that would cover this color, she likely would’ve gone wig-free when she was receiving guests in her more relaxed salon in the afternoon. That meant that a pleasing natural hair color was essential.


Despite being a frequent bather, she, like many other wealthy women of her time, would wear a bathing chemise to protect her modesty while in the tub. While sitting on a large pad filled with pine nuts, linseed, and sweet almonds, she washed her skin with scented bar soap and exfoliated with small, bran-filled muslin pads.


Her signature face mask consisted of four simple ingredients: cognac, one egg, powdered milk, and a lemon. To make it, all you need to do is blend 2 teaspoons of cognac, one egg white, a third cup of powdered milk, and the juice of one lemon into a paste. She believed that the lactic acid in the milk and citric acid in the lemon dissolved dead skin cells, while the cognac stimulated circulation and tightened the pores, and the egg repaired skin tissue.


Because of its history as a rural hunting lodge, Versailles had a long history of sewage problems. (And it wasn’t just limited to Versailles. Rousseau once complained that there was nowhere to sit at the Palais Royal in summer without “inhaling the odor of stagnant urine.”) But the Queen did not stand for that. She had her chambers filled with fresh flowers, potpourri, sweet-smelling oils, and perfumes. On top of that, she doused herself in a variety of scents including violet, rose, vanilla, lavender, jasmine, lily, cloves, and her favorite, orange blossom.


The other reason alabaster skin was so popular during Marie Antoinette’s time was because of the smallpox epidemic. Those who survived it were often left with deep pockmarks on their faces. And the thick, white face powder was one of the only things that masked them. If that didn’t do the trick, ladies would apply little black beauty marks often in the shapes of hearts, stars, and moons.


To offset her extremely pale skin, Marie would often apply rouge to her cheeks and lips.  Marie’s coloring was usually procured from carmine, an insect-based pigment that was mixed with an acid, and then with alum. However, this combination was extremely expensive, so for everyone else, popular and cheaper alternatives included minium, also known as red lead, and cinnabar, the ore of mercury. Neither were known to be dangerous until the early 19th century.


Marie Antoinette is a big part of why women in the 18th century sported hair that resembled giant cumulonimbus clouds. She popularized the pouf—a hairstyle support device designed by French stylist Léonard Autié that allowed women’s hair to tower as high as 2 feet above their heads. The pouf gave women the opportunity to show off their personalities with their strands. Marie would often accent her hairstyles with animals, birds, flowers, and any number of other novelty items.

The styles took hours to complete, and involved starting with a thin wire frame and triangular pillow to hold the shape. The woman’s hair would then be incorporated along with false hair and wig pieces to achieve the desired look. Marie’s mother, Marie Theresa, was not a fan of her daughter’s bold style, and even wrote her to tell her so. But that didn’t stop the Queen from creating hairstyles so big they wouldn’t fit into her carriage.


Marie Antoinette’s clothing collection would have put Cher from Clueless (1995) to shame. It easily filled three rooms at Versailles. Marie had 120,000 livres a year (which would’ve equaled almost $4 million today) with which to buy clothes and accessories—a massive allowance for anyone of exorbitant wealth. However, she often managed to overspend. One year, she mounted up a bill that was more than twice her allotment. She’d have hoards of dresses designed by Rose Bertin (the premiere dress designer of the day), with names like “Indiscreet Pleasures,” “Heart’s Agitation,” and “Stifled Sighs,” each costing anywhere between 1000 and 6000 livres.


According to royal etiquette, the Queen was only allowed to wear a gown once, and was supposed to change her outfit three times a day. As you can imagine, this did not help her stick to her yearly allowance. She occasionally held onto some of her favorite dresses (for sentimental value only), and gave the others away to her ladies in waiting. Every morning, she’d be presented with swatches from her many new gowns, and she’d put pins in the ones she wanted to wear that day. They’d usually be a heavier dress for Mass, a lighter, muslin option for afternoon play, and a fancier choice for evening events. Needless to say, she spent a large percentage of her day changing.

Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

9 Scandals that Rocked the Figure Skating World

Don't let the ornate costumes and beautiful choreography fool you, figure skaters are no strangers to scandal. Here are nine notable ones.


Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding
Pascal Rondeau, ALLSPORT/Getty Images

In 1994, a little club-and-run thrust the sport of figure skating into the spotlight. The assault on reigning national champion Nancy Kerrigan (and her subsequent anguished cries) at the 1994 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in Detroit was heard round the world, as were the allegations that her main rival, Tonya Harding, may have been behind it all.

The story goes a little something like this: As America's sweetheart (Kerrigan) is preparing to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team bound for Lillehammer, Norway, she gets clubbed in the knee outside the locker room after practice. Kerrigan is forced to withdraw from competition and Harding gets the gold. Details soon emerge that Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, was behind the attack (he hired a hitman). Harding denies any knowledge or involvement, but tanks at the Olympics the following month. She then pleads guilty to hindering prosecution of Gillooly and his co-conspirators, bodyguard Shawn Eckhart and hitman Shane Stant. And then she's banned from figure skating for life.

Questions about Harding's guilt remain two decades later, and the event is still a topic of conversation today. Recently, both an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary and the Oscar-nominated film I, Tonya revisited the saga, proving we can't get enough of a little figure skating scandal.


Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner at the podium
Jared Wickerham, Getty Images

Usually it's the top three medalists at the U.S. Nationals that compete for America at the Winter Olympics every four years. But in 2014, gold medalist Gracie Gold (no pun intended), silver medalist Polina Edmunds, and ... "pewter" medalist Ashley Wagner were destined for Sochi.

What about the bronze medalist, you ask? Mirai Nagasu, despite out-skating Wagner by a landslide in Boston and despite being the only skater with prior Olympic experience (she placed fourth at Vancouver in 2010) had to watch it all on television. The decision by the country's governing body of figure skating (United States Figure Skating Association, or USFS) deeply divided the skating community as to whether it was the right choice to pass over Nagasu in favor of Wagner, who hadn't skated so great, and it put a global spotlight on the selection process.

In reality, the athletes that we send to the Olympics are not chosen solely on their performance at Nationals—it's one of many criteria taken into consideration, including performance in international competition over the previous year, difficulty of each skater's technical elements, and, to some degree, their marketability to a world audience. This has happened before to other skaters—most notably Michelle Kwan was relegated to being an alternate in 1994 after Nancy Kerrigan was granted a medical bye after the leg-clubbing heard round the world. Nagasu had the right to appeal the decision, and was encouraged to do so by mobs of angry skating fans, but she elected not to.

3. SALT LAKE CITY, 2002.

Pairs skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada and Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia perform in the figure skating exhibition during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games at the Salt Lake Ice Center in Salt Lake City, Utah
Brian Bahr, Getty Images

Objectively, this scandal rocked the skating world the hardest, because the end result was a shattering of the competitive sport's very structure. When Canadian pairs team Jamie Sale and David Pelletier found themselves in second place after a flawless freeskate at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake, something wasn't right. The Russian team of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze placed first, despite a technically flawed performance.

An investigation into the result revealed that judges had conspired to fix the results of the pairs and dance events—a French judge admitted to being pressured to vote for the Russian pair in exchange for a boost for the French dance team (who won that event). In the end, both pairs teams were awarded a gold medal, and the entire system of judging figure skating competition was thrown out and rebuilt.


Jackson Haines was an American figure skater in the mid-1800s who had some crazy ideas about the sport. He had this absolutely ludicrous notion of skating to music (music!), waltzing on ice, as well as incorporating balletic movements, athletic jumps, and spins into competition. His brand new style of skating was in complete contrast to the rigid, traditional, and formal (read: awkward) standard of tracing figure-eights into the ice. Needless to say, it was not well received by the skating world in America, so he was forced to take his talents to the Old World.

His new “international style” did eventually catch on around the globe, and Haines is now hailed as the father of modern figure skating. He also invented the sit spin, a technical element now required in almost every level and discipline of the sport.


In 1902, competitive figure skating was a gentlemen's pursuit. Ladies simply didn't compete by themselves on the world stage (though they did compete in pairs events). But a British skater named Madge Syers flouted that standard, entering the World Figure Skating Championships in 1902. She ruffled a lot of feathers, but was ultimately allowed to compete and beat the pants off every man save one, earning the silver medal.

Her actions sparked a controversy that spurred the International Skating Union to create a separate competitive world event for women in 1906. Madge went on to win that twice, and became Olympic champion at the 1908 summer games [PDF] in London—the first “winter” Olympics weren't held until 1924 in France, several years after Madge died in 1917.


A picture of Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie
Keystone/Getty Images

Norwegian skater Sonja Henie was the darling of the figure skating world in the first half of the 20th century. The flirtatious blonde was a three-time Olympic champion, a movie star, and the role model of countless aspiring skaters. She brought sexy back to skating—or rather, introduced it. She was the first skater to wear scandalously short skirts and white skates. Prior to her bold fashion choices, ladies wore black skates and long, conservative skirts. During WWII, a fabric shortage hiked up the skirts even further than Henie's typical length, and the ladies of figure skating have never looked back.


Katarina Witt displaying her gold medal

A buxom young beauty from the former Democratic German Republic dominated ladies figure skating in the mid- to late 1980s. A two-time Olympic champion, and one of the most decorated female skaters in history, Katarina Witt was just too sexy for her shirt—she tended to wear scandalously revealing costumes (one of which resulted in a wardrobe malfunction during a show), and was criticized for attempting to flirt with the judges to earn higher scores.

The ISU put the kibosh on the controversial outfits soon afterward, inserting a rule that all competitive female skaters “must not give the effect of excessive nudity inappropriate for an athletic sport.” The outrage forced Witt to add some fabric to her competitive outfits in the late '80s. But 10 years later she took it all off, posing naked for a 1998 issue of Playboy.


For the 2010 competitive year, the ISU's annual theme for the original dance segment (since defunct and replaced by the “short dance”) was “country/folk.” That meant competitors had to create a routine that explored some aspect of it, in both music and costume as well as in maneuvers. The top Russian pair chose to emulate Aboriginal tribal dancing in their program, decked in full bodysuits adorned with their interpretation of Aboriginal body paint (and a loincloth).

Their debut performance at the European Championships drew heavy criticism from Aboriginal groups in both Australia and Canada, who were greatly offended by the inaccuracy of the costumes and the routine. The Russian pair, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, were quick to dial down the costumes and dial up the accuracy in time for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but the judges were not impressed. They ended up with the bronze, ending decades of Russian dominance in the discipline. (With the glaring exception of 2002, of course.)


While not a scandal, this event bears mentioning because it has rocked the figure skating world arguably more than anything else. In February of 1961, the American figure skating team boarded a flight to Belgium from New York, en route to the World Championships in Prague. The plane went down mysteriously (cause still questioned today) as it tried to land in Brussels, killing all 72 passengers. America's top skaters and coaches had been aboard, including nine-time U.S. Champion and Olympic bronze medalist-turned-coach Maribel Vinson-Owen and her daughter Laurence Owen, a 16-year-old who had been heavily favored to win the ladies event that year.

The ISU canceled the competition upon the news of the crash and the United States lost its long-held dominance in the sport for almost a decade. The United States Figure Skating Association (USFS) soon after established a memorial fund that helped support the skating careers of competitors in need of financial assistance, including future Olympic champions like Scott Hamilton and Peggy Fleming.


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