Victorian Toilet Recipes


Last year, I posted an excerpt about “the etiquette of toilette” from a book of etiquette titled “Our Deportment”. It explained the importance of taking care of your appearance, and provided tips to achieve just that.

The book also features quite a lot of homemade recipes to deal with any beauty problems, from freckles to wrinkles, from sunburn to gray hair. I thought it’d be interested to learn what treatments they once thought would help in all these cases, but of course, you shouldn’t try to replicate them at home. I doubt they’d work that well anyway. :)


Bruise and squeeze the juice out of common chick-weed, and to this juice add three times its quantity of soft water. Bathe the skin with this for five or ten minutes morning and evening, and wash afterwards with clean water.
Elder flowers treated and applied exactly in the same manner as above. When the flowers are not to be had, the distilled water from them, which may be procured from any druggist, will answer the purpose.
A good freckle lotion is made of honey, one ounce, mixed with one pint of lukewarm water. Apply when cold.
Carbonate of potassa, twenty grains; milk of almonds, three ounces; oil of sassafras, three drops. Mix and apply two or three times a day.
One ounce of alcohol; half a dram salts tartar; one dram oil bitter almonds. Let stand for one day and apply every second day.


Wash the face in a solution composed of one teaspoonful of carbolic acid to a pint of water. This is an excellent purifying lotion, and may be used on the most delicate skin. Be careful not to get any of it in the eyes as it will weaken them.
One tablespoonful of borax to half a pint of water is an excellent remedy for cutaneous eruptions, canker, ringworm, etc.
Pulverize a piece of alum the size of a walnut, dissolve it in one ounce of lemon juice, and add one ounce of alcohol. Apply once or twice a day.
Mix two ounces of rose-water with one dram of sulphate of zinc. Wet the face gently and let it dry. Then touch the affected part with cream.


Take two drams of borax, one dram of alum, one dram of camphor, half an ounce of sugar-candy, and a pound of ox-gall. Mix and stir well for ten minutes, and stir it three or four times a fortnight. When clear and transparent, strain through a blotting paper and bottle for use.


Ammonia one ounce, rosemary one ounce, cantharides four drams, rose-water four ounces, glycerine one ounce. First wet the head with cold water, then apply the mixture, rubbing briskly.
Vinegar of cantharides half an ounce, eau-de-cologne one ounce, rose-water one ounce. The scalp should be brushed briskly until it becomes red, and the lotion should then be applied to the roots of the hair twice a day.


The women of Germany have remarkably fine and luxuriant hair. The following is their method of managing it: About once in two or three weeks, boil for half an hour or more a large handful of bran in a quart of soft water; strain into a basin, and when tepid, rub into the water a little white soap. With this wash the  head thoroughly, using a soft linen cloth or towel, thoroughly dividing the hair so as to reach the roots. Then take the yolk of an egg, slightly beaten in a saucer, and with the fingers rub it into the roots of the hair. Let it remain a few minutes, and then wash it off entirely with a cloth dipped in pure water. Rinse the head well till the yolk of the egg has disappeared from it, then wipe and rub it dry with a towel, and comb the hair from the head, parting it with the fingers, then apply some soft pomatum. In winter it is best to do all this in a warm room.


Take the hulls of butternuts, about four ounces, and infuse in a quart of water, and to this add half an ounce of copperas. Apply with a soft brush every two or three days. This preparation is harmless, and is far better than those dyes made of nitrate of silver.
Oxide of bismuth four drams, spermaceti four drams, pure hog’s lard four ounces. Melt the two last and add the first.


If the head be perfectly bald, nothing will ever cause the hair to grow again. If the scalp be glossy, and no small hairs are discernible, the roots or follicles are dead, and can not be resuscitated. However if small hairs are to be seen, there is hope. Brush well, and bathe the bald spot three or four times a week with cold, soft water; carbonate of ammonia one dram, tincture of cantharides four drams, bay rum four ounces, castor oil two ounces. Mix well and use it every day.


Take a pint of alcohol, half pint of bay rum, and half an ounce of spirits of ammonia, and one dram of salts tartar. Shake well together and it is ready for use. Pour a quantity on the head, rub well with the palm of the hand. It will produce a thick foam, and will cleanse the scalp. This is used generally by first-class barbers.


Melt one ounce of white wax, add two ounces of juice of lily-bulbs, two ounces of honey, two drams of rose-water, and a drop or two of ottar of roses. Use it twice a day.
Put powder of best myrrh upon an iron plate sufficiently hot to melt the gum gently, and when it liquefies, cover over your head with a napkin, and hold your face over the fumes at a distance that will cause you no inconvenience. If it produces headache, discontinue its use.
In washing, use warm instead of cold water.

If you’re interested in reading the book, you can download it for free at Project Gutenberg.

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  1. says

    Interesting .. some may work like the dry shampoo and the use of alcohol, but it may be overly drying.

    The one for wrinkles was interesting “If it produces headache, discontinue its use” .. ah, perhaps it’s not a good thing to do in general .. lol.

    Monica P´s last blog post ..Lilac blazer for springMy Profile

    • Gio says

      Monica. I suspect a lot of these recipes did more harm than good. Still, it’s interesting to know what they used to treat different problems, isn’t it? :)

  2. says

    Ha! These recipes are a hoot. Almost like, “eye of newt”… But a wonderful idea for a blog post! And I love the pre-Raphaelite illustration. May I ask you a non-related question: how did you get your hovel Pin It button? I tried downloading a plug-in for the hover button this week, and have had no luck getting it to work. Any ideas? tyvm
    Allison´s last blog post ..IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC Cream SPF 50+My Profile

  3. Janessa says

    Never! I wouldn’t ever try any of these recipes haha or even try to make them. Imagining how useless and scary some of these are is enough imagery for me.

    You know who I will be sharing this post with!

    • Gio says

      Janessa, some of these are very scary indeed. Thank goodness cosmetics are much safer now!

      And thank you! *hugs*

  4. says

    Well, carbolic acid would certainly clean your skin that’s for sure, although that solution is pretty weak. I’m impressed how many of these are the same or similar to natural skincare solutions used now!
    Katie´s last blog post ..Friday FavouritesMy Profile

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