Renaissance Beauty Secrets Workshop

Creating Natural Cosmetics at Hampton Court Palace

Golden Arch – Gateway to Learning
Adult Learning Centre at Hampton Court Palace

It was a bright  day on August 21st and a merry band of 12 students had gathered to learn the art of cosmetic making inspired by the lush complexions of the Stuart beauties.

Little did they know that much toiling over less than desirable potions containing toxic ingredients were the order of the day in their primping and grooming regimes,  which you can read more of on a previous post here.

However, our ingredients, although inspired by the spirit of beauty displayed by the Stuart lovelies, are non-toxic, natural and plant based – so no fear of losing your teeth of developing pocked skin!

We had lots of fun creating and sampling  beautifying masks and a very soft balm combining shea butter and coconut.

budding beauty alchemists!
photo credit: Historic Royal Palaces

I chose white clay and red clay not only for their amazing cleansing and refining properties and their  safety, but also for their visual resemblance to the white lead and cerise the ladies of 17c, who would have used these undesirable items to tint and whiten their complexion and to apply a blush to  their lips and cheeks.

White Argiletz Clay (also known as kaolin or China clay)

I love white clay, it is incredibly fine-textured and easy to use.  The main action of any clay is to draw out toxins and absorb excess impurities and oils, however,  this is most gentle of the French argiletz clays and is suitable for all skin types, especially dry skin conditions.

It is not too drying, is soothing and rich in silica and magnesium helping to not only gently exfoliate and clarify the skin but also to replenish it.

White clay can also be used as a body powder and is particularly useful as a foot powder to absorb excess moisture.

White clay absorbs water very quickly, so when making your mask, add a few drops at a time. Use a teaspoon of clay initially to 1 teaspoon of water.  Allow the liquid  to absorb before stirring with a wooden/glass or ceramic utensil, adding more clay or water accordingly to achieve your desired texture.

Red Argiletz Clay

Iron oxide rich Red Clay

This clay is rich in iron oxide – hence its copper red colour – and is rich in trace minerals.  It is fine to the touch, but a little grainier in texture when water is added, than the White clay.  It revitalises the appearance and brightens dull and congested skin, it is strengthening to capillaries and can help improve condition of dry, sensitive and irritated skin.

If using this clay on its own, I would only leave on for between 5-8 minutes, it can leave a faint colour, so wash off well with warm water.

The beauty of using these clays is that they can be used alone or mixed together to form a basic ‘dry mix’ thereby creating a therapeutic and bespoke mask to suit your specific skin needs.

Making the mask:

For practical sampling, our group created a few samples of white, red and the two mixed together for a pink clay:

1. Take one teaspoon of clay and add to a small shallow bowl

2. Add a little water and allow the clay to absorb all the water before stirring to combine – this helps to avoid air bubbles and lumps; add clay a little at a time if the mixture is too thin and water incrementally until you achieve your desired consistency.  Remember to stir once most of the water has been absorbed.

This is your basic mask mix; the water phase can be replaced with a cooled herbal infusion or tea, such as green tea, chamomile etc or a floral water to suit your skin type (rosewater, neroli, lavender etc).

The most popular mix of the day was the white on its own for the more sensitive and dry skins and the mix of red and white for those who desired a more clarifying and brightening effect.

We practised on the back of our hands, and lo and behold, the skin was brighter, more even and softer – what wouldn’t the Stuart beauties have given for that instead of the mercury and lead based powders and paints they used instead!

Sampling red clay on the hand – prepare for lily-like hands!
photo credit: Historic Royal Palaces

The clays  can be further tailored to suit your skin needs by adding other ingredients to boost their effect, such as oatmeal, banana, strawberries etc.

We practised with adding honey to the clay+water mix,  which has humectant properties and is very nourishing and hydrating, or double cream – pour in a little at first and stir slowly without over-mixing, this is incredibly softening and gives a smooth, cooling mask.

Adding other agents from your fridge or larder can really help to adapt your basic dry clay mask  mix for every season and skin ‘mood’!

Making our Body Balm

With our skin clean, refreshed and silky-smooth, we turned our attention to the Body Balm.

Inspired by the hogs-grease and animal-based pomades of the Renaissance, I turned to the modern day, plant-based butters we now have available to us in order to create a soft paste-like balm to soften and hydrate the skin.

Shea butter and shea nuts
skin softening heaven

We combined shea butter and coconut oil (sweet almond could also be used) and a choice of essentials oils, inspired by the plants and herbs Apothecaries of the day may have used.

Everyone was diligently combining the shea butter with the coconut oil until they achieved their desired consistency and then we added the scent!

A choice of the following organic essentials were available:

  • Lavender – Lavandula angustifolia (High altitude)
  • Orange – Citrus sinensis
  • Rose otto – Rosa damascena
  • Geranium – Perlargonium graveolens
  • Clove bud – Eugenia caryophyllata
  • Benzoin – Styrax benzoin
  • Grapefruit – Citrus paradisi
  • Rosemary – Rosemarinus officinalis

The most popular combinations were:

  • A delicate and soft combination of Rose + Benzoin
  • An ‘Elizabethan-type pot pourri’  of Rose, Lavender, Geranium + Clove
  • Reminiscent of liqueurs:  Benzoin + Orange
  • Warm and spicy mix of Orange + Clove

A sample of our scented Shea butter and Coconut oil balm
a silky skin marvel!

The shea butter balm is a super multi-tasker and can also be used in the following ways:

  • Add a tablespoon to a warm bath, for a fragrant and softening soak
  • Add a tablespoon of balm to either brown/white sugar or fine sea salt to use as a rich exfoliating scrub for legs, feet, arms and elbows.  Apply to dry skin and rinse off to leave skin buffed and smooth.
  • As an overnight treatment: apply a layer to feet (or hands) and put on some cotton or natural fibre socks (or gloves) and leave overnight, et voila, no more alligator feet (although you might need a few treatments depending on state of said feet!).



The shea butter and essential oils were purchased from one of the wonderful suppliers I use, their shea butter is truly special, as they are fair traded and unrefined and is one of a select few varieties that I purchase.   Their webshop is:

With many thanks to Rachel Crossley at Hampton Court Palace for helping the day to run so smoothly.



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Filed under History, Recipes, Renaissance beauty, Uncategorized

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