In Europe, in the 1500’s, it was mainly the aristocracy who used cosmetics. Pale skin was a sign of wealth and status, as this indicated that you were rich enough not to have to work in the sun and get a tan. So many women (and men!) used a concoction of white lead and egg whites to create a pale ‘mask.’
Queen Elizabeth I was well known for creating the look known as “The Mask of Youth.” That’s why she looks the same in most of her paintings. Some people would fill in the creases of their skin and cover their faces with a glaze of Shellac (who needs Botox!) to give the appearance of a smooth and youthful complexion.
Noble woman made up their faces heavily, colouring their eyes, lips, cheeks and sometimes even their teeth. Women used drops of the poisonous Nightshade plant to make their pupils larger and to make their eyes appear brighter. Fashionable women continued this practice for centuries.
Blond hair was also quite popular as it was considered angelic. Mixtures of black sulphur, alum, and honey were painted onto the hair and left to do its work in the sun.
Wigs were also popular in the 1500’s. Queen Elizabeth is said to have had over sixty of them! The men had fancy beards that they would press into wooden devices at night to hold their shape. Lovelocks (fat curls on either side of the face), often decorated with ribbons and beads, were also favoured by men. They would also use wire frames at the temples to support curls and fancy hair arrangements.
Men would also blacken and pluck their eyebrows so it’s no wonder Barber Shops were quite popular at this time. In the 1500’s, Barber Shops provided entertainment, social stimulus, music, and even personal care including services such as blood-letting and teeth pulling!
DID YOU KNOW?
Mild lead poisoning (due to the use of lead in their makeup) caused the skin to flake and scar, it also caused headaches, nausea, stomach cramps and hair loss. The worst cases ended in insanity or death.
It is doubtful that people changed their facial expressions for fear of their facial masks cracking. In fact, it is doubtful that they could have even changed their expression even if they wanted to!