Friday, December 10, 2021

Put Some Color in Your Cheeks - 1910

 By Suzanne Norquist

As I prepare for holiday parties, I appreciate how fortunate I am to have modern cosmetics.

Even in antiquity, people altered their appearance through the use of crude makeup. They put various substances on their cheeks to give them a healthy, pink glow. Many of the chemicals were non-toxic, but some turned out to be poisonous.

Those without access to cosmetics tried to obtain the look naturally. When a gentleman came to call, a young woman might pinch her cheeks to bring out the color.

I recently ran across a 1910 book of health and beauty tips—some of which my great-grandmother would have used.

The book provides several ways to produce pink cheeks. They varied in complexity and materials required. Alternating hot and cold compresses until the skin had a nice glow was one of the more straightforward methods. Then cold cream would be applied to the skin to prevent chapping. I can’t imagine this method producing lasting results. It seems like a variation on cheek pinching.

Grandmothers of the ladies in 1910 mixed beet juice with starch or rice powder. It was dried in the sun and sifted through muslin before use.

A harsher method was to make a paste of glycerin, English mustard, and flour. It was supposed to bring the blood to the surface, coloring the cheeks.

“As soon as there is a sensation of smarting, the paste is washed off, and a few drops of glycerin rubbed into the flesh to prevent irritation.”

If this concoction was left on too long, it could cause blistering. Yikes!

The book contains a recipe for Harmless Rouge. Here are the ingredients:

Carmine, one-quarter dram

Sweet almond oil, one-half dram

Powdered magnesia, one ounce

I wouldn’t begin to know how to make this. Curious, I started by looking up the word dram. It seems to have been used by bartenders to measure whiskey and by apothecaries to measure chemicals. One dram is about 1/8th of an ounce.

Sweet almond oil is available today as a skin moisturizer. But what about carmine and powdered magnesia?

Carmine is a bright red substance extracted from an insect (the cochineal). It has been used as a dye for clothing or paints for centuries. To my surprise, it is still used today, even in foods. You can buy it on e-bay.

Powdered magnesia is another name for magnesium carbonate. Its uses vary from dietary supplements, drying salt, and keeping rock climbers’ hands dry.

Nothing harmful there. Here are the instructions:

To mix, mingle the carmine and powder, and then slowly work into the oil. The preparation should be forced through coarse muslin several times, pressing out the lumps. It will be in powder form, the oil being absorbed.

One could also whip up a rouge with rice powder, carmine, ocher (an orange clay pigment), and maybe some cold cream.

I’m glad I can pick up a pre-made container of blush at any retailer. However, I wonder what people of the future will think when they look back at our methods of keeping our cheeks pink.


”Mending Sarah’s Heart” in the Thimbles and Threads Collection

Four historical romances celebrating the arts of sewing and quilting.

Mending Sarah’s Heart by Suzanne Norquist

Rockledge, Colorado, 1884

Sarah seeks a quiet life as a seamstress. She doesn’t need anyone, especially her dead husband’s partner. If only the Emporium of Fashion would stop stealing her customers, and the local hoodlums would leave her sons alone. When she rejects her husband’s share of the mine, his partner Jack seeks to serve her through other means. But will his efforts only push her further away?

For a Free Preview, click here:

Suzanne Norquist is the author of two novellas, “A Song for Rose” in A Bouquet of Brides Collection and “Mending Sarah’s Heart” in the Thimbles and Threads Collection. Everything fascinates her. She has worked as a chemist, professor, financial analyst, and even earned a doctorate in economics. Research feeds her curiosity, and she shares the adventure with her readers. She lives in New Mexico with her mining engineer husband and has two grown children. When not writing, she explores the mountains, hikes, and attends kickboxing class.

She authors a blog entitled, Ponderings of a BBQ Ph.D.



  1. Thanks for the fun post! The concoction for rouge doesn't sound too bad. Have a Merry Christmas, hope your festivities are enough to keep your cheeks pink without the makeup!!

  2. Thanks. This one seems relatively harmless. Merry Christmas.