Scientific American 10, 8.3.1862
Hunt's Merchant's Magazine for this month contains an article on this subject, from which we condense the following useful and interesting information. Under the title of cosmetics may be comprehended all substances or preparations for the purpose of preserving or restoring beauty. Their purpose is to change the appearance of the skin, the hair and the teeth. A countless number of preparations are used, yet they are mostly various mixtures of a comparatively small number of substances. Cosmetics were used by the daughters of ancient Judah and the classical dames of Greece and Rome, and now by the fair sex generally. The preparation of cosmetics was, at one time, a secret art of high repute, and some kinds were sold for almost fabulous prices. The preparation le blanc de perles and l'huile de perles, made in France in the last century were asserted to be formed by reducing pearls to powder in the first case, and dissolving them in vinegar in the second, making solution. These preparations were said to possess most marvellous properties in the restoration of youth and beauty, while from heir great costliness they were almost exclusively limited to the toilet of the royal household. But ere long it came to pass that these royal preparations had many counterfeits. The "pearl powders" of modern cosmetics, generally consist of white oxide of bismuth, or equal parts of this substance, with common chalk and oxide of zinc. Le blanc de perles has, indeed, long since ceased to indicate the origin of the substance so called. And "le blanc de Troyes," "le blanc de Mendon," "le blanc de Espagne," &c., now, like leblanc de perles &c., only indicate des blancs, that is to say, white cosmetics, substances and compounds of very different properties.
As nothing is more flattering than the art of preserving beauty and adorning the exterior of our persons, it is not surprising that the use of cosmetics is one of the most universal practices of civilized nations. Indeed, nearly allied to the use of cosmetics among civilized communities are the practices of uncivilized people, in scarifying and grotesquely painting their countenances for the same purpose. Perfumery, too, enters into the category, for the sense of smell seeks gratification scarcely less than the sense of sight. Although they may for a time soften the skin, give gloss to the hair, and tint to the cheek and the lip, the time is but hastened when the lily and the rose give place to a leaden hue, and the lips of carmine to a livid hue.
Many tuns weight of toilet powders are doubtless used annually in this country alone. These are generally composed of various starches, prepared from wheat, rice, arrow root, and various nuts mixed with different proportions of powdered talc, oxide of bismuth and oxide of zinx, sxented with various aromatics.
Pearl powder, according to the common acceptation of the term, consists of equal parts of oxide of bismuth and oxide of zinc, with sixteen parts of French chalk. French blanc is levigated talc passed through a silk sieve. This when well prepared is probably the best face powder made, inasmuch as it does not discolor from cutaneous exhalation or an impure atmosphere. Calcined talc is also extensively used under various names, and is unobjectionable; but it is less unctuous to the feel, and more likely to be seen than genuine French blanc.
Rouges are usually made by mixing coloring matter with either of the above-named powders. The finest kinds are made by mixing carmine with French blanc, in different proportions, say one part of carmine to from eight to twenty parts of blanc, in order to produce different shades of color, from different complexions. Rouges are sold in the form of powder, cake, and paste or pomade. Common pink saucers are made by washing safflowed (Carthamus tinctorius) in water until the coloring matter is removed, and then dissolving out the carthamine, or coloring principle, by a weak solution of carbonate of soda. The coloring is then precipitated into the saucers by the addition of sulphuric acid to the solution. They are applied to the cheeks with a piece of wool. Spanish wool and Crépon rouge are made by the same process. Preparations containing lead are very dangerous. In France, where the conservators of public health constitute an intelligent portion of every municipality, prosecutions for selling fatally deleterious cosmetics are common. And it has been clearly proven by some of the most scientific men of France, that the health and lives of many distinguished artistes and women of fashion have been sacrificed by the use of poisonous cosmetics.
Milks and emulsions are nearly allied to paints. Many seeds and nuts, when divested of their outside covering, reduced to a pulpy mass by being thoroughly rubbed up with water, may be made to resemble milk. This appearance is due to the minute mechanical division of the oil of the nuts thus treated. But all such substances are exceedingly liable to decomposition, and, unless fixed by the addition of other matter, they quickly spoil. They can generally be fixed for a short time by the addition of a small proportion of alcohol and aromatic oils; and these additions, if well proportioned, may serve to render such sompounds desirable and innocent cosmetics.
Pomades frequently contain the acetate and carbonate of lead, corrosive sublimate and cinnabar; in which case they possess injurious qualities.
Hair dyes and depilatories as class of cosmetics are perhaps far more ancient and extensive than that of any other. A recent traveler states, that, among other curiosities found in the Egyptian tombs of Sahara, was a piece of reed containing a quantity of powder such as is used even at this day by the Egyptian women to color the eyelashes. It is supposed to be the same custom as that referred to by the prophet Jeremiah, when he writes that, "Though thou rentest thy face (or thine eyes) with painting, in vain shalt thou make thyself fair." In Constantinople certain Armenians devote themselves to the preparation of cosmetics, and among the most celebrated of these is a black dye for the hair. The preparation of this dye is kept secret. It is in the form of paste, and is applied by rubbing it on the hair or beard with the hands. After a few days the hair assumes a beautiful glossy black. Most of the lotions and perfumes prepared by apothecaries and hair dressers in this country, as in France, consist of compounds holding in solution different proportions of litharge, lime and nitrate of silver. Some of the most popular of French dyes are sold under such names as "Eau de Perse, l'Eau d'Egypte, l'Eau de Chypre, l'Eau de Chene, &c. They contain from one-eleventh to one-seventh per cent of sulphuret of potassium, nitrate of silver, or quick lime with minute proportions of oxide of lead and carbonate of iron. What is sold by out own apothecaries as "vegetable dye," consists of one ounce of nitrate of silver to a pint of rose-water, put in colored bottles. The directions for the use of this preparation are, first, to free the hair from grease by washing it perfectly dry, apply the dye by means of a brush. It does not "strike" for several hours, but may be hastened by exposre to sunshine. Other preparations are accompanied with a mordant, which usually consists of a strong solution of sulphuret of potassium; still others, with ammonia, this substance being added to correct the otherwise bad odor of the sulphuret of potassium; it is commonly called inodorous dye. French "Brown dye" is composed of sulphate of copper, ammonia and prussiate of potassa; this is exceedingly poisonous, but said to be a very fine dye.
Depilatories are substances used to remove hairs from the surface. Ladies generally consider the growth of hair on the face, arms, and neck as prejudicial to beauty. Depilatories are always composed of strong alkalies, and usually those which are the most injurious, the sulphurets of arsenic and lime. Le Rusina des Orientaux, which is one of the most esteemed of these preparations, consists of a solution of quick lime and orpiment (sulphuret of arsenic), and a test of its good quality on preparation is, that it will remove the barbs of a feather. It is, indeed, a powerful caustic, and its use requires great circumspection. An analogous preparation is generally kept by out apothecaries, and is in common use by hair dressers. The formula for its preparation is: best lime, slakes, three pounds; orpiment, half a pound. Mix by means of drum sieve. Preserve the same for sale in well corked bottles. Directions for use: mix with a sufficient quantity of water to render it of creamy consistence, lay it over the hairs to be removed, for about five minutes, or until the smarting produced by the application renders its removal necessary.
Tooth powders, soaps and washes, when properly constituted, greatly assist in preserving a healthy condition of the teeth, and therefore contribute to the act of mastication, and so promote healty digestion. The ill effects resulting from the accumulation of "tartar" on the teeth is well known to most persons; and in certain states of the system, the secretions of the mouth are also well known to exercise an injurious effect upon the teeth. The daily employment of a cleansing dentrifice will not only remove the oftentimes injurious remains of food, but will also generally prevent the accumulation of tartar or other injurious secretions.
Cosmetic Soaps are usually made by remelting the common curd soap of commerce and mixing with it aromatic and coloring substances, according to the quality required. The favorite variety of toilet soap, supposed by many to be made of the oil of sweet almonds, and therefore called almond soap, is generally made according to the following formula: Finest curd soap, 1 cwt.; finest oil soap, 14 lbs.; otto of cloves, ¼ lbs. otto of carraway, ½ lb. First melt one-half of the curd soap, then add the marine soap; when this is well "crutched" (stirred in), add the oil soap; and finish with the remaining curd. When the whole is well melted and thoroughly mixed, add the perfumes, quickly mix them, and turn into the molds. The finer qualities of scented soap are made by adding the perfume after the melted soap has become nearly cold. Honey soap is made of yellow soap and fig soft soap, scented with the otto of citronella. It contains no honey.
Finally, in the choice of cosmetics, of whichsoever class, those known to be inert should always be preferred to those of doubtful properties, however agreeable to the senses. And it should constantly be borne in mind, what whatever is a foe to health is an enemy to beauty.