Vintage Natural Beauty- Hand Care

Although I wouldn’t like to think that my mitts were in too bad shape, I don’t really give hand care a thought apart from making sure my nails are neat, and perhaps putting a drop of oil on my hands when they are feeling dry. My cavalier attitude to hand care, however, would have horrified a Victorian lady. It’s hard to overestimate how important beautiful hands were thought to be in the nineteenth century. The writer of Personal Beauty: How to Cultivate and Preserve It (1870) observed that “Many a fine lady takes more pride in a beautiful hand than in any other feature of her person”.   Another beauty manual, The Toilette of Health, Beauty and Fashion, had this to say in 1833:

…a hand white and smooth, diversified with bluish veins, presenting to the touch the softness of satin, and to the eye the grateful colour of milk, is the ne plus ultra of beauty, perfection, and attraction. What care then ought not ladies to take of this inestimable appendage…

Just think- I have an “inestimable appendage” at the end of each of my arms. Who knew? Victorian ladies had a few tips and tricks up their sleeves for keeping their hands “ne plus ultra of beauty”, and many of these offer natural and affordable solutions for hand care.

Almond oil was used by nineteenth-century ladies to soften cuticles and prevent dry hands. The writer of Personal Beauty: How to Cultivate and Preserve It noted that  “The paste of sweet almonds, which contains an oil fit for keeping the skin soft and elastic, and removing indurations, may be beneficially applied to the hands and arms”. As an alternative, they recommended pure glycerine. This is sound advice- vegetable glycerine is a perfectly good moisturiser for hands, and is often cheaper than almond oil. Many beauty manuals also advised using soft gloves overnight to encourage hand creams to penetrate deep into the skin- this doesn’t sound like a bad idea to me.

Victorian dancer Lola Montez recommended for chapped hands either lemon juice or white wine vinegar. Historian Ruth Goodman in her book How to be a Victorian observes that “Daily scrubbing of the face and hands, as well as the nails, with a slice of lemon was thought to be an essential part of the morning beauty regime”.  As a sensitive (skinned) soul, I’d find the use of undiluted lemon juice a bit worrisome. Instead, I’d suggest diluting one part vinegar or lemon juice to three parts warm water. Soak your hands in this solution for five minutes, and then dry with a soft towel. Once your hands are dry, add some almond oil to your hands to moisturise. If you want to give your hand treatment a boost, you could always use the oil as a carrier for some lemon essential oil.

Goodman has also described hand creams being used to soothe red and chapped hands containing rosewater and oatmeal. In his Dictionary of Practical Recipes and Every-Day Information (1871), Samuel Beeton recommended a “rose-cream” for “hands beautifully smooth and soft”. Perhaps this was a tip that he had picked up from his famous wife, Mrs Beeton. Adding a few drops of rosewater to your normal hand cream would be a lovely thing to do, or you could use oatmeal and rosewater to make a gentle hand scrub. Just add enough warm water to the oatmeal to make a thick paste, and then add a few drops of rosewater. Scrub your hands using the paste, and rinse off (I’d recommend gently scraping off the majority of the paste into a bowl to avoid blocking your sink!).

Over the next seven days my hands are going to get some serious TLC using these Victorian recipes. Check back next week to see if the Victorians have worked their magic on my (currently less than stellar-looking) mitts.

Love, Becky x

p.s. As with all natural beauty treatments, don't use if allergic to any of the ingredients. Also, if any irritation occurs, stop use immediately. 

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