Beauty in the Victorian age

The rise to the throne of Queen Victoria in 1837 marked the decline of the use of cosmetics. The Victorian Era was a time dominated by a strict moral code, religious values, modesty and sexual restraint. Therefore, during this period cosmetics were considered to be immoral, their use frowned upon and thought to be something that only women of dubious morals would wear. But that doesn’t mean that ladies stopped using them altogether.

While actresses and prostitutes, which at the time were considered to be pretty much the same thing, kept on wearing strong makeup, well-off ladies used very little and in very natural tones. In fact, at the time the ideal of beauty to achieve was that of a delicate, feminine and fragile woman, with a pale complexion and long curls. Here’s how they achieved it.


Like in past historical periods, even in the Victorian era a pale complexion was a sign of nobility. It meant that women were well-off and could afford not to spend hours working outdoors, which would inevitably result in a tan, something considered very vulgar. What changed though, was the way to achieve this fair complexion. Although some of the deadly mixtures of the past were still around, it was during this time that women started using Zinc Oxide, a white mineral powder, which was safer but still achieved the same effect.

However, in line with the decrease of the use of cosmetics, ladies would also preserve their skin pale by avoiding the sun and fresh hair, using parasols when outdoors to protect their skin from the sun rays and even by drinking vinegar. A white and translucent complexion was so desired that some women would even paint some very fine blue lines on their skin to make it look more translucent, as the veins underneath were showing.

But that’s not all. Some women would go to greater lenghts to achieve a pale, almost sickly look: they would emphasize their dark circles! One way of doing this was by applying a red rouge on cheeks and lips. Luckily, this trend didn’t last long! In addition, powders were used, but very sparingly, to prevent shine and give skin a glowy apperance.


Although, as previously mentioned, cosmetics were frowned upon, makeup was still used but very sparingly and in softer tones to achieve a very natural look. Eyeshadows were made with lead and antimony sulfide, lipsticks with mercuric sulfide and on the cheeks, beet juice was applied. All of these cosmetics were very pale-toned and applied carefully so they wouldn’t be too obvious. Eyebrows were also plucked.


Makeup may not have been very used, but DIY skincare recipes made at home with ingredients found in the kitchen were still very popular. Creams were made using mostly natural ingredients. Tonics were mixtures of water and scents of roses, lilies or violets, while creams were made with waxes, almond oil and scents.


During the Victoria’s period, a woman’s hair was considered her glory. That’s why women very rarely cut their locks (they usually only did it when they were ill) and would also apply false hair to their mane to make it fuller. Hair was usually pulled back in chignons and buns, and sometimes long, gentle curls were let loose at the back or at the sides of the face to emphasize it. In addition, ornate combs and clips were very used to decorated hair, while oils were applied to give hairstyles a sleek and smooth appearance. As for men, they started wearing their hair much shorter than they ever did in the past, but would still wear beards and moustaches.

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    • beautifulwithbrains says

      K, mm, I’m not sure but I guess they preferred to stay indoors than spending time outside.

      • Faye says

        They would wear masks when they went out side sun so they didn’t get freckles and they didn’t want any colour because if they were pale it made them look rich and it was so they looked rich enough to be able to stay in side and not work in the sun

  1. says

    Hi Gio,

    I love this post :D. Also interested in the Victorian era, but I have to say that I’m partial to the Regency era mainly because of Jane Austen. Wonder how later generations will think of our own beauty trends??

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Mary, the Regent Era was a very interesting time too. I admit I don’t know too much about it but I love Jane Austen’s novels too. I think I should write a post about makeup in that era too. :)

  2. victoria says

    how did they apply the makeup? like what tools did they use and how did they get the products ready to use

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Victorian, these products were usually prepared by a servant and I believe they used their fingers to apply them.

  3. says

    i love this era, it is interresting to me because of the Biblical standards i choose to hold, it proves we dont need alot of make up and chopping our hair off to be beautiful women.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Jeanie, that’s true. I love makeup because it can transform a face, but it’s more of an accessory for me. It can enhance one’s natural beauty, but women are already beautiful even without.

  4. Janessa says

    So hairless brows? And the makeup ingredients are so toxic! Congrats on having this post in the Sparknotes article. 😀 I thought I had to comment because I think it’s quite a deal.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Janessa, that was an awful trend, wasn’t it? And the ingredients… I’m so glad things have changed now. And thank you!

  5. Matt says

    Thank you 1000X!!! I’m a photographer and I’m planning a shoot using Victorian era dress but the model has dreadlocks I wanted see if they used cosmetics are the time. Thanks so much again!!!

  6. Natasha Cutts says

    Hello, I was just wondering where you found the sources for your article, im currently writing an essay on the role of skin in victorian beauty and im struggling to find and sources, any help would be very much appreciated!

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Natasha, I’m afraid I don’t remember what sources I’ve used. It’s been so long since I wrote this article. I will try to find them again, and if I do, I’ll let you know. And good luck with your essay!

  7. Hailey says

    This is so interesting, so they don’t use much makeup? I guess that’s a good thing:-) I’m very much obsessed with the victorian era, it’s such a fascinating time haha although I wouldn’t want to live in that time, I’ll have to wear dresses!!!!

    • Gio says

      Hailey, some women did, but they didn’t have a good reputation. Back then, natural was in. I agree, it’s one of my favourite historical eras. Very fascinating. But those dresses! They must have been so uncomfortable!

  8. Gwynhwyfar says

    I loved your detail about the ingredients used in the make-up. Someone asked about women going outside or not. It was very regimented in the middle and upper classes. They ALWAYS wore hats; it was considered improper to go outside without a bonnet. Also, veils were usually used. Then the parasols, so not much sun reached their faces. Women were also not supposed to go out alone, so that limited time outside the house, even in Edwardian times.

    I had never heard that about painting veins and dark circles! Sheesh. Mme. Gauthier, the subject of Singer Sargent’s infamous “Madame X” portrait, was known for mixing some metal (possibly lead!) with her powder to make her face look lavender-toned! He grew very frustrated with the unnatural color of her skin, but painted it anyway. The artist was not one to flatter his subjects.

    One of the most famous pale beauties of that era was Irene Forsyte, the heroine of Galsworthy’s trilogy, “The Forsyte Saga”. Every man who sees her goes into raptures about her pale (yet “warm”) skin, as well as her perfect face, figure and passive air that is so alluring to them. Her possessive and brutal husband Soames, who marries again later, objects to his second wife’s use of lip salve, even though it’s the 1920’s!

    • Gio says

      Gwynhwyfar, thank you for your comment. That’s true, women didn’t have many opportunities to get much sun on their faces. It’s sad, but I guess they did age a bit better for it, if that’s any consolation.

      I didn’t know that about the infamous Madame X. How fascinating! Thanks for sharing.


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