Send in the clowns (Roman makeup research, part 3.)

So I was able to get some calcium carbonate (natural chalk) from a brewing supply store, and decided to, you know, put it on my face with the other questionable materials I’ve been using.



Okay, so…the article I’m using as a basis for this starter kit said that the chalk was mixed with vinegar. So, I raided my kitchen for white wine vinegar that I typically use to make sekanjabin or oxymel, and combined the two in a plastic cup. This immediately caused the fizzies due to the reaction of the acetic acid releasing the carbon, much like what would happen with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) but not nearly as explosive. This intrigued me and worried me, but it seemed too thin, so I added more chalk to get a paste that was more reminiscent of a modern liquid foundation. I slathered it on my arm for a patch test, and let it dry. It didn’t look so bad or cause a reaction, so…

IMAG2161 IMAG2162


…I slathered it on my face…IMAG2163 As you can see, it was a bit…paste-like, and didn’t blend well. It clung to every wrinkle and scar or zit on my face, and I immediately remembered I was in my 30s. So I washed it off with soap and water and it came off quite easily. (Note, it’s not in my hair, that’s my Rogue stripe.)

So I thinned the paste with more vinegar, and got a more powdery, fast drying finish. It was still lightening my skin, but not the consistency of glue.

IMAG2164 IMAG2165

Quickly, it was evident that thin layers would do the trick. It’s not an emulsion like a modern foundation, and therefore the mineral can be displaced and clump easily, as you can see on my eyebrow and cheek. I did apply it with a modern cosmetics brush as well, so I need to do more research into period applicators, that should also help.


Well, there was only thing left to do: PUT THE WHOLE FACE ON. I went lighter on the red ochre this time, since I haven’t yet made my balm for it as planned. I should do that, oh, tonight.

I applied the lamp black to my eyebrows and as eyeliner using the olive oil mixture from my first post. (I also patch tested this. ALWAYS PATCH TEST!) I went a bit crazy with it on the eyebrows, I need better brushes to tone it down. Eyeliner was done by toothpick.


This side was a bit heavier, and I look even less glamorous:


Of course, now I had to take this stuff OFF. Modern soap and water worked fine for the chalk and the ochre, but the carbon?



. Not so much. (I had to.)


I was able to remove it using the olive oil mixture it was applied with, to a point, and then with a non-oil based modern makeup remover, which helped but wasn’t great. The oil is needed to break up the black. It’s very staining, and I wasn’t able to remove it completely, so I think a modern oil-based remover would do the job nicely.

So, I now have the beginnings of a basic Roman makeup kit which should make my A&S display this weekend at Palio di Stonemarche an interesting one. I hope to have something more to show come Pennsic.



6 thoughts on “Send in the clowns (Roman makeup research, part 3.)

  1. I’m benefitting so much from your tutorials and videos. I’ve read that bear fat was sometimes used as a makeup base in your time period and area. I know some bear hunting guides and outfitters and may be able to get my hands on some bear fat. I also live in the East Kingdom, so could probably find a way to have it delivered at no cost. So I guess I’m offering to get some bear fat to you if you feel like that’s something you’d like to have? I just wanted to share my thanks, with fat? I would render it first. I might not be able to get my hands on any until the fall bear hunt, but do let me know if you’re interested.

  2. WOW.

    So, do you happen to know if there’s any sunscreen-type benefit from this? I am ginger and have a lot of freckles and skin that burns at the drop of a neckline. It would be really useful if I could skip the goo! Also, what do you know about cosmetic use in other areas? I’m 8th c Frank, and while I know that Charlemagne’s daughters wore makeup, I have not been able to ascertain what they may or may not have worn. So I limit myself to a light base, a bit of blush, some lip tint, and liner not unlike yours (though water-resistant to resist the effects of my allergies). I’d love to know what I can do to have a more accurate ‘look’ to go with the clothes and headdress…

    1. You should try titanium dioxide for sunscreen benefits. A friend of mine here in the East discovered that it may have been used by the Irish as a skin whitening foundation, but they probably didn’t know it has sunblock properties.

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