Beauty History: Madame Rowley’s Toilet Mask

Many women apply a facial mask before going to bed. They leave it on overnight to work its magic and in the morning, when they wake up, their skin is silky soft, smoother and brighter. This pampering ritual goes back centuries. Already in the Victorian era women would wear masks to sleep, even though they obviously were made with different materials, and made you look like you were about to rob a bank!

Called Toilet Masks, these beauty tools, which were endorsed by the celebrities of the time, were apparently very popular, but I can’t help but wonder how effective they really were… Not much probably and some may even have done more harm than good. But who got the idea of making such a mask in the first place?

Madame Rowley’s Toilet Mask

The first Toilet Mask was created by Madame Helen M Rowley. She was a milliner and dress maker in Van Wert, Ohio, and was 51 when, in 1875, she patented her invention, which she stated to be a “Mask for Medical Purposes”. The mask was soft and pliable, made of flexible india rubber and designed to be worn “during the hours of sleep” to beautify, bleach and preserve the complexion. Madame Rowley went in more detail in her patent and explained her mask had two purposes: the first was to excite “perspiration with a view to soften and clarify the skin by relieving the pores and the superficial circulation”, while the second was to apply “unguents or other medical preparations to the skin of the face for the palliation or cure of cutaneous eruptions, blotches, pimples or other similar complexional defects”.

What was the reasoning behind this? Again, the answer is in the patent: “for freckles or fugitive discolorations and for clogged pores and capillary congestion, the perspiration excited by covering the face with a medium which prevents the escape by evaporation of the cutaneous transpiration acts as a bleaching agent, and to relieve the loaded pores and congested capillary vessels. But for affections requiring specific remedies the medical agent adapted to the particular ailment may be applied in the shape of an ointment or plastic preparation spread upon the interior surface of the mask.”

Improvements on the Toilet Mask

The mask appeared to be successful and soon other women created their own version too. The first to do so was Nanette Emerson-French. Her Toilet Mask consisted of two layers: the outer layer was made of pliable fabrics such as cotton, linen, silk, kid, leather or rubber, while the inner layer of “heating or medicated fabric” such as flannel. Nettie E. Jenkins‘ mask instead was of a material made with sulphate of cinchonia, salicylic acid, Turkey myrrh, hydrastin, benzoic acid, caoutchouc and sulphur. In addition, it featured tie-strings to securely attach the mask to the wearer’s head.

Isabel Cassidy believed that these rubber masks were bad for the skin because they wouldn’t allow it to breathe and so decided to create her own mask. The interior was made of chamois skin “thus providing a soft and pliable surface to contact with the skin”, while the outer layer was of satin. Between these two layers there was a third one made of “linen or other like substance which will readily absorb such moisture as may pass through the chamois lining thus preventing the same from dampening or discoloring the face of the mask”. In addition, the mask had holes all over it to allow “free ventilation”.

I don’t know about you, but I’m really glad that these masks have fallen out of use! Modern sheet masks are much more beneficial and practical, don’t you think?

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      • Janessa says

        Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and seeing your mask in the mirror or looking over to your roomie (or a hubby looking over to his wife) to see that creepy mask! Complete nightmare without a doubt!

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Makeup Morsels, I was surprised too. I didn’t know how far back it went until I started doing research for this post. And thank goodness things have changed and that masks these days aren’t these creepy and uncomfortable!

  1. Janessa says

    I feel the discomfort just looking at the pictures. They look creepy and like the mask from the guy in Friday the 13th. I never watched that movie nor will I ever (I don’t like scary movies!) but I saw that holey mask in a cartoon that said Friday the 12th haha and him sad as a cartoon.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Janessa, I haven’t seen them movie (like you I don’t like scary movies), but I thought the same too. haha. So creepy!

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