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…

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…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.

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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.



I’m feeling a bit rusty.

A pigment used for blush and lip stain from Egypt through Byzantium was red ochre. This is a very safe, non-toxic pigment that is derived naturally from iron oxide (rust) and hematite. It’s been used in artwork since the cave paintings in France, so we know it’s been around for a very long time, so use in cosmetics would make sense.

Like I mentioned, it was used as a blush, and a lip gloss. The Roman women were known for going a bit…overboard with their rouge, so sayeth Martial, who was convinced their faces would melt. Well, here’s my face, complete with annoying duck face (I HAD TO) slathered in rust. Really. Note my bathroom light for whatever reason makes my black hair look purple. It is not. It is black, but other than the the pigment looks correct.

This is 100% natural red ochre pigment that I use for my icons from Earth Pigments. I applied it to my face using  a modern angled blush brush.



My right cheek I applied the pigment straight on with knocking the brush a couple times to remove excess. The resulted in…OH MY GOD. ORANGE CHEEK, with next to no fall out.



My left cheek I used the brush after I had used it on my right, and it gave a nice bronzing effect. This would have been a lovely healthy glow that I think the Egyptians prized, but Roman ladies apparently were a bit more bold with their color usage.


I applied the pigment to my lips using a Q-tip soaked in olive oil. The pigment still dried my lips out quickly, but it did not burn.

I assume once I get the chalk and vinegar face paste on there, it will look even more ridiculous. I will be making that up once I find powdered calcium carbonate, which is true chalk, versus the gypsum chalkboard “chalk” used today. I should be able to locate it in a vitamin store or a brew store.


Until then…rouge it up, ladies! *_*

My Crush with Eyeliner

I’ve decided that since my Kingdom thought I was good enough to get a Maunche (and I got to write OM after my name on a class handout coming up. WEIRD!) I needed to step up my game and get down and dirty. Since I’m really good at making a mess, I decided to jump into the dangerous, but interesting world of  ROMAN COSMETICS.

Here it is, my disclaimer:
What I do here is at my own risk. Please, for the love of Hades and all that is holy, do not try this at home if you feel that you may react to any of these cosmetics or their contents make you feel unsafe. Although I am working with non-toxic ingredients, some of them can be a bit scary.

The Romans (in this case, we are including the Byzantines, as they SHOULD be included) were fond of personal hygiene and their appearance, so there’s a great deal of information on what they used for makeup, face creams, depilatories, and the like, so it’s something I’ve been kicking around for a bit. After talking a bit with Mistress Aife who has done similar things with Irish cosmetics, I decided, “Oh hell, why not? As long as it’s not lead and mercury I should be fiiiiiiiine.”

So I decided to start with the famous kohl eyeliner that was all the rage in the Levantine civilizations, and the early 1990’s. I’m a pretty heavy eyeliner wearer when I DO wear makeup (see also, 1990’s) so I always have some on when I have court garb on, but if I want to be authentic, I should take the next step.

For the most part, kohl was made (and is still made in some countries) with galena, which is lead sulfide. This is baaaaaad. So, I looked for alternatives. Immediately, I found that both in period and in modern preparations, lamp black is used with some sort of medium to spread it on the eyes. In Roman times, this is a scented oil or water, and in modern times, it’s ghee, a clarified butter. So, here I was getting all excited about this fun new exciting way to make sexy eyeliner when my med school friend Margaret down in Meridies nearly beheaded me on my Facebook page. Come to find out, soot and lamp black have something called  polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and these such things are a carcinogen. Who knew? She did, and then I got a bummer, but I was determined to make some anyway for science and display purposes. I have no intention of putting this stuff on my face, but I needed to find an alternative. So, in some skimming today of a couple of articles, I found that they also used charcoals and ashes, basically anything that could smear black. Saffron was suggested, and I happened to have some I could, well, reasonably part with. So I made 3 batches of kohl, lamp black, willow charcoal, and saffron ash, and a scented oil carrier that’s simply olive oil with a few drops of frankinscense and myrrh.  Here are my observations:

Lamp black: This stuff is great. If it wasn’t for the fact it could give me cancerface (that’s a thing now, I just made it up) I would rock this. Why? It’s smooth and already somewhat creamy from the oil content from my burning lamp. It made a beautifully dark line on my wrist that didn’t wash off easily. I’m really tempted to use it on my eyes, just once, but my better judgement is getting the best of me. As you can see, I used my Roman lamp from Claybaby Pottery, with a wick I braided myself out of fustian and olive oil, and collected the soot in a lead-free pewter mortar.



Willow charcoal: I have lots of charcoal sticks around the house, so I picked one from a natural source and got to smash it up in a mortar and pestle. This was great fun and a great mess. I wish I could grind it a bit better, but it did give me a decent line once I got the balance between kohl and oil down. Easy, readily available ingredients that are affordable, and charcoal eyeliners are already prevalent in the modern market. And one stick of charcoal filled my tin. I’ll have eyeliner forever! I want to try to apply this using  modern eyeliner brush and water.

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Saffron ashes: I was hoping this would be better, I really did. I need to figure out a better way to carbonize the saffron, because at first I tried to burn it on an incense burner/oil warmer. That didn’t work well, though my house smelled lovely. So I resorted to just getting impatient and setting it on fire with my lighter in a metal jar lid. This burned it, and I was able to get ash from it, but it does not carry well as a liner at all. It was suggested by both Geoffrey and a friend on the Romans of the SCA page to treat it as if I was making charcloth. So basically, I need to put it in a metal container and bake it until it turns to ashes. Yes, I’m basically cremating saffron…I’m going to need to buy more I’m not afraid to waste for this project to do this. The bit I burned did not yield much.


Here’s a picture of my filthy arm, top to bottom is lamp black, saffron, and charcoal:



I will be re-trying the saffron kohl sometime this week, as well as making my face whitener and blush. Once I conclude this project I’ll provide a list of sources I’ve compiled.