The 1910s were a turning point in cosmetic use for women. The Edwardian period, which lasted from 1900 until 1910, idealized pale skin and the appearance of youth, but also held onto the notion that makeup was for the stage and women of ill repute. Ordinary women definitely wore makeup, but denied that they were doing so, utilizing home remedies to achieve wrinkle-free faces, tiny waists, and firm skin. “The aim was not to attract attention,” says Ashley Miller of Flea Market Insiders, “but to enhance natural beauty and to make women look young and healthy.”

The look of the 1910s was quiet sophistication: powder for the much desired pale skin, eyeshadow (which came in a paste), and a lip stain, which was supposed to appear as spare as possible. As the decade progressed, the obvious use makeup became more acceptable, as new products were developed and marketed, but women continued to use cosmetics with questionable elements, both because they were available, and because the side effects were not yet known.

The makeup used 100 years ago might surprise you, but you also will likely recognize some names and ingredients.

Throughout the Elizabethan era, the Victorian age and onto into 1900s, pale skin was an indication of a life of wealth and leisure, whereas tan skin was associated with being of a lower class (totally not racist at all), so women went to intense measures to make sure their skin was as pale as possible.

Lemon juice was wildly popularly, according to Shara Strand, a New York City makeup artist with her own line of mineral-based cosmetics. Women used it, in conjunction with other tonics such as rum, vinegar, and glycerin, to lighten their skin, and also to remove sunburns.

Lemon is still used to lighten and brighten skin today, and it’s definitely not as insane an ingredient as some of the other things on this list, but at the time it was a big departure from the makeup women had been using until the early 1900s, which contained elements like lead and could literally kill you.


What problem does Vaseline not solve? You can use petroleum jelly (or “wonder jelly,” as it was called when first patented in 1865) to get smooth skin, relieve chapped lips, remove your makeup, protect cuts and burns, and even get makeup stains off clothing.

In 1917, chemist T.L. Williams developed Maybelline mascara after watching his sister, Mabel, blend Vaseline with coal dust as a means of dyeing her lashes. “Maybelline” comes from combining “Vaseline” with the name Mabel.

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