Roman Cosmetics & Perfumes




Cosmetics were as important to the Roman woman as they are to women today. Like the modern woman, a Roman woman had her dressing table, which, in this case, was covered with rows of decorative little boxes, scent bottles and myriad other cosmetic aids.

Pale complexions were fashionable; face powders were made from powdered chalk or white lead. Eye shadowing was done, as was thickening or lengthening the arch of the eyebrows. Eyeliner was made from soot or antimony powder. Saffron was also used to achieve other effects. Some women used black patches or beauty spots on their faces, particularly if they wanted to hide some sort of blemish. Red for coloring the lips was obtained from ocher, ficus (a lichen-like plant), or from molluscs. Ocher was also used to add color to the cheeks.

Make-up for the face was mixed in small plates. Face creams were sometimes made of milk and flour; and lanolin (from unwashed sheep's wool) was used as a skin lotion. Face powders, make-up, and perfumes tended to be applied liberally.

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Perfume (comes from Perfumum--"through smoke")

By the first century BCE, aromatics were used everywhere in the form of oils, incense, and salves. Perfume makers (unguentarii) were as respected as doctors and apothecaries. Scented oils were sometimes used to rub down favorite statues. Verbena (lemony) was sometimes hung over a doorway to keep away evil.

Women washed with perfumed water. Some of the more popular scents were balsam and cinnamon. Other scents--cardamon, rose, myrrh, frankincense, ginger, lily, majoram, lavender, lemon, lime and orange--were used. Scent blends were also common. One such, susinum, was an ointment made from lily, honey, cinnamon, saffron, myrrh, and balsam.

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Ligulae (leather straps, I think) were used for extracting cosmetics from narrow scent bottles. Mirrors were made of polished bronze or silver. Small boxes were used for storing instruments, perfumes, and cosmetics. 

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Sunday, January 20, 2008