Victorian Makeup: Understanding The Background

The Victorian era brought lots of changes and new trends in Britain. During that time, women’s appearance determined their social status. Upper-class women always wore expensive clothes. Find out about more Victorian fashion. There was also a subtle use of various beauty products. Most Victorian women used cosmetics in secret to improve their looks. But their makeup style was not as apparent as modern-day. Victorian cosmetics used many natural ingredients and chemicals. Most of the chemicals were toxic. Ingredients like mercury, arsenic, lead, and ammonia was very common. There were not that many safety precautions. At that time, people did not know the harmful effect of these ingredients. Because of society’s negative view, women kept the use of makeup secrets. Victorian makeup gave women a much different look than modern makeup.

Thinking of having a Victorian-inspired look for your special day? We have a collection here!

Victorian Makeup
Victorian Makeup

Beauty Standard during Victorian Era

During the Victorian era, women’s beauty standard was different than now. But it can be said that Victorian makeup styles paved the way for Edwardian makeup styles and products. And this was later followed by the 1920s and 1930s makeup.

At that time, women try to achieve a tight waist with a large bottom. The preferred skin tone was pale. The upper-class women did not work outside. They also did not do any household chores either. So, pale skin indicated their sedentary lifestyle. Most upper-class and middle-class women stop doing household work after marriage.

But these women had to maintain a certain look all the time. The popular belief was, a woman should never let herself go. She should always maintain her beauty. This would make her husband happy. A pretty look would keep her husband’s spirit up during difficult times. Men also looked for more attractive, well-dressed women. A beautiful face was a welcoming sight for many men.

Because of this belief, wearing an expensive dress was not enough. Many Victorian women took the help of cosmetics. At that time, women went for pale acne, blemish, and freckle free look. They used some cosmetics for their skin, eyes, cheek, and lips. Many women used expensive hair oil. Some women used perfumes with natural scent. So the choice of cosmetics was not significantly different from today. But Victorian women would never admit the use of cosmetic enhancement as it would portray their character in a negative light.

Victorian Makeup and Women’s Beauty routine

During the Victorian era, there were two styles of makeup. One style was the “painted” style. In this style, women used a lot of cosmetics on their faces. So, the use of makeup was quite evident. People saw this style of makeup as provocative. Another style was the “natural” style. Most of the women went for a natural look. Men did not notice or know that much about this makeup style. So, it was safer than the painted type of makeup.
Victorian women used most of the cosmetics on their faces. This helped them to achieve their desired looks. Most of the upper-class women use cosmetics for their skin, eyes, lips, and cheeks. Some women used cosmetics and other solutions for long hairs.

As said earlier, people considered pale skin as the ideal skin tone. People considered a blemish, freckle, and mark-free skin as beautiful. As a result, women tried to have a translucent pale complexion. Fair and healthy skin was a marker of social status. Many rich women used umbrellas and gloves outside their home. This was to avoid direct sunlight. Most of the women used two types of cosmetics for their skin. One was cold cream. Another was some sort of face powder.

Cold cream was the centerpiece of their skincare. Women believed that cold cream was beneficial to their skin. These cold cream had water, oil, emulsifier, and thickening agents. Victorian cold creams were not as harmful as other cosmetics. Instead, they were quite useful. They moisturized women’s skin. It also helped women to maintain soft skin. The use of cold cream was not as controversial as face powder. Cold cream was safe to use in society. People did not look down cold cream as much as face powder.

On the other hand, face powder had a bad reputation. This was due to the painted look of some women. During that era, only performers and prostitute wore heavy makeup. So this type of makeup was a huge no-no for upper-class women. But, cold cream was not enough to hide acne, blemishes, and freckles. So they had to use face powder too.

To get a natural look, they used quite a few types of powder. They used pure white powder to lighten the complexion. They covered up their blemishes with color tinted powder. The pink-tinted powder acted as a blush. Some used blue-tinted powder to counteract the glow of candlelight. But these face powders fell off quite easily. So, they had to apply a cream to hold the powder. This applying method help women to conceal their oily skin.
The amount of face powder depended on the woman. A very few women tried the “painted” look. They used a thick layer of face powder over a thin layer of cream. The powder layers were so thick that it might crack with facial movements. So the women tried to avoid exaggerated facial expressions. The substance of the face powders was corrosive. On the other hand, the upper-class women went for the “natural” look. So they used a lot less of face powder. These women tried their best to hide the use of any makeup.

1990s Makeup
Victorian Makeup (Skin)

During the Victorian era, watery eyes were considered attractive. So, many women try to get glass-like watery eyes without any hesitation. Women used various ways to get watery eyes. Some used drops of perfume. Some used citrus or belladonna in their eyes. Belladonna has some toxic chemicals in it. It is not good for the human nervous system. These types of practice were painful. Long term use of these ingredients caused blindness in some women.

Some also used eyeshadow during that time. Eyeshadow was not that popular with young women. Some women past their teen used eyeshadows. Women tried to enhance their eyebrows and eyelashes with some cosmetics. Women plucked their eyebrow to give them a natural arch. Mercury was a popular ingredient for eyebrows and eyelashes. Mercury helped to make the eyebrow and eyelashes less sparse. Castor oil was another popular ingredient for eye enhancement. Women used a little bit of castor oil to make their eyelid glossy.

Victorian eye makeup
Victorian Eye Makeup

Victorian women used some rouges to add color to their cheeks. This rouge added some color to their complexion. Women who went for a “painted” look had slightly visible color on the cheek. On the other hand, upper-class women were cautious about it. They used the rouge in a way to complement their pale skin tone. Women used both natural, and brand made cheek rouge. The natural rogue used strawberries and other herbs—these added colors to the cheeks without any harm. The brand made rouge was a little harmful to the skin. The most popular brand made rouge was Circassian Bloom.

Vintage makeup
Victorian Flushed Cheeks

Most women avoided visible lip color during the Victorian era. It was very controversial and made it evident about the use of makeup. Some women with “painted” look used lip color. The ingredients for lip rouge was different from cheek rouge. The common ingredients were animal fat, ground beetles, almonds, herds, butter, and wax. Women applied these rouge on their fingers and rubbed it on their lips.
The upper-class women did not use any lip rouge. But that does not mean they did not enhance their lip with any cosmetics. They used face cream or wax on their lips. This added a little shine to their lips.

Vintage makeup
Victorian Makeup (Lipstick)

Victorian people considered women’s hair as an expression of their feminity. Women with long hair were deemed to be healthy by many people. It also indicated well-cared hair. Most upper-class women tried to keep long hair. Some portraits from the Victorian era had women with long tresses of hair. Victorian women used hair oil to nourish their hairs.
Aside from oil, there was one popular hair product. Its name was “Edwards Harlene hair restorer.” This product promised to restore the natural color of the hair. It is also advertised to grow long hair down to the knee. This product was popular with both men and women.
Victorian women styled their hair a lot. Sometimes, they braided their long hair. Sometimes, they wear wigs. They even tighten their curls with heat. Excessive styling cause hair loss and even baldness in some Victorian women.

Victorian Hairstyles
Victorian Hairstyle

Victorian Cosmetics and Beauty Products

The social view of cosmetics did not stop women from using beauty products. Some of these cosmetics, like face cream and perfume, were available in the market. The other controversial products, like face powder and rouge, are sold as medicine. One way or another, the rich women got their hands on these cosmetics. Most of the cosmetics were expensive and hard to get. So, lower and middle-class women made some of these cosmetics in their homes.

Victorian Cosmetics
Victorian Era Cosmetics

Face Cream
Face cream was not as controversial as other cosmetic products. There were a lot of directions on making homemade creams on the ladies’ magazines. Some favorite ingredients were water, rose, sugar, almond, elderflower, lavender, lemons, and oatmeal. This homemade cream was quite safe to use. The branded cold creams were made of almond oil, spermaceti, and white wax. Some branded face cream contained harmful ingredients like mercury and arsenic.

Face Wash and Scrubs
There is no information about any branded face wash and scrubs of the Victorian era. But some sources suggest the use of homemade face wash and scrubs. Women soaked flowers in water to make a face wash. And to clean skin and open clogged pores, they used sugar as scrubs.

Face Powder
Face powder used different types of ingredients based on their colors. Some face powder was lightly scented starch. Others used powdered milk of magnesia, rice powder, French chalk, and Venetian talc. During the 1870s, dried ground zinc oxide became popular as face powder. It had a pure white color. The powder did not oxidize in exposure to gas, candle, and fumes.

Cheek and Lip Rouge
During the Victorian era, cheek and lip rouge had pink and reddish color. Women used both homemade and branded rouge. The shade of the branded rouge was an obvious sign of makeup use. So many women made cheek rouge from strawberries and beetroot. Lip rouges were made from almonds, beetles, animal fats, and other herbs.

Perfumes were very popular with Victorian women. Even Queen Victoria considered floral scent perfume were appropriate for women. So, many women used perfumes with a natural floral scent. People considered the overwhelming use of perfume promiscuous. The regular perfume had the smell of lavender, violets, rose, and citrus. Among them, violet was most popular.
Women applied perfume over their clothes, hair, and handkerchiefs. They did not use perfume directly on their skin. Branded perfume become quite popular in the latter part of the Victorian era. Many companies started to produce a single fragrance and sold them in a bottle.

Society’s view on makeup during the Victorian Era

During the Victorian era, people had a very negative view on makeup. People thought wearing makeup was an improper and lousy character trait of women. In their mind, only performers and prostitutes wore makeup. But the reality was different. The prostitute did not have the money for expensive cosmetics. Most of the time, the upper and middle-class women used makeups secretly.
Victorian men expected women to have dark eyelashes and eyebrows, pale skin naturally. As a result, most rich women did not have other choices than using makeup. But the women did not like talking or any publication about the use of makeup. For most parts, Victorian women’s makeup use remained secret from their men.


The Victorian era fascinates many people to this day. It changed the whole looks of the British kingdom. The Victorian era ended in 1901 but left a lot of history behind. Many of us are very interested in Victorian culture, clothing, makeup, and history. Victorian makeup has quite a controversial history. Most people will feel bad for the women who had to use makeup in secret.