The Ceruse or white lead which women use to better their complexion is made of lead and vinegar which mixture is naturally a great drier; and is used by chirurgions [surgeons] to drie up moiste sores.15
Giovanni Lomazzo goes on to describe the women who use ceruse as quickly becoming withered and gray-headed. Not a desirable look, or the one intended. And there may have been other side effects: The fashion for high foreheads around this time could very well have been due to the fact that lead paint caused hair loss and bald patches. Women may have been forced to shave or pluck the remaining unsightly patches with the result that their hairline gradually moved backward. Despite the numerous drawbacks, by 1685, most aristocratic European women (and men) were layering on the white face paint.
The fashion for a painted, porcelain complexion continued until the English Restoration and the French Revolution, after which makeup was toned down. Yet pale skin continued to be the ultimate beauty goal, for reasons of class and social standing. Chaste, respectable women were expected to protect their fine skin from the sun’s rays with parasols: Exercise was a no-no and seen as too much exertion for delicate ladies. It was a faux pas to appear to be wearing any makeup, so the more garish (and poisonous) topical skin whiteners were less popular, as they looked too obvious on the skin. Instead, white zinc oxide powder was used, as it gave the necessary whiteness but looked more natural on the skin. Lavender and blue-tinted face powders also became popular for evening use, as they gave the face an incandescent paleness and counteracted the yellow glow of candlelight and oil lamps. Undetectable makeup was the in style during the Victorian era. The prevalence of tuberculosis during this period and its hold on the imagination of writers and artists also led to a (what now might seem rather strange) reverence for consumptive beauty.
As women sought to appear to have perfect skin while using less makeup, skin-lightening skin-care and ingestibles became popular. Lotions and potions containing hydrochloric acid (muriatic acid), ammonium, hydrogen peroxide, arsenic, and mercury compounds were all the rage for their freckle-and pigmentation-fading properties. A famous beauty of the time, Lola Montez, a self-styled authority on skincare and cosmetics, began a personal crusade to steer women away from artificial cosmetics. In her secret, The Arts of Beauty, which was published not long before her early death, Montez shared tips and tricks, along with recipes gathered from across Europe, many of which promoted the virtues of skin whitening. Accredited to the court of Spain, this recipe promised a polished whiteness to the neck and arms:
Infuse wheat-bran, well sifted, for four hours in white wine vinegar; add to it five yolks of eggs and two grains of ambergris, and distill the whole.