16th Century Make-up (for Film and TV) Practice

Hello! Okay so something a little bit different now, recently I have been working on a 16th Century historical look for one of my portfolio images. I have been practicing all aspects of the look and thought to share the results with you guys! I have done some historical research into the 16th century hair and make-up trends to help me determine a correct historical look. I have also included this research in this post as I found it extremely interesting and somewhat extreme!

As this look is aimed to appeal to clients in the TV and film industry the make-up needs to be historically accurate. To do this I need to make sure my research is solid and relevant. For this task I have made good use of my historical ear file I had created last semester. I was able to recap on my research and try to recreate the make-up by using my products.

Cleanliness- In the summertime people occasionally bathed in the local river however the majority of the time people used to have a ‘strip wash’ which consisted of heating up water in a cauldron which was then splashed over the body, or they would have a ‘dry wash’ by simply rubbing themselves with a clean linen cloth.

Paints and Washes-Pale skin was seen as a sign of wealth – encouraging women to go to extreme lengths to achieve that perfectly pale complexion. Some women were known for swallowing ashes, dust, gravel and coal in order to ‘spoil their stomachs’ to give them a ghostly white face. Most women used a mixture of white lead and vinegar (Ceruse) to achieve the desired pale complexion although that was not without health risks as it was poisonous and could even cause premature death of the wearer. Many people that bathing in their own urine or rosewater mixed with wine was a way to keep the desired complexion where as others such as Diane de Poitier believed that nothing but rain water was the best when it comes to skin care.

Queen Elizabeth I was a huge fan of the bold white lead face paint as it created a high contrast between her red wigs and rouge lips. It was said that Elizabeth applied more paint to her skin as she got older to try and disguise the look of ageing this resulted in her skin being a very rough and unattractive texture due to the toxic white lead.

Egg washes-Egg washes were a way in which women could get a fashionable glaze on the skin then added to the two whites of the eggs along with white sugar and white poppy seeds to create a milky looking liquid. Finally the liquid was then strained through linen to smooth out the texture of the liquid so it could be easily applied to the face.

Rouge– Ochre and Mercuric Sulphide were used to create rouge to be added to the cheeks in various shades. A combination of Cochineal blended with gum Arabic (also used in Egyptian cosmetics) egg whites and fig milk was used to create rouge for the lips.

Eyes – 16th Century eye make-up was not as popular however other materials were used to make the eyes appear more desirable to others for example: Belladonna (also called deadly nightshade) – A poisonous herb was used as eye drops to make the pupils dilate giving a very doe eyed dreamy look. Although popular it was extremely dangerous as Belladonna can cause headaches, migraines and extreme seizures. Overdosing on belladonna could also lead to death.

Patches- Patches were usually made from velvet or taffeta and were used for medicinal purposes as it was thought that applying patches to the temples cured tooth ache. Later patches were seen as a fashionable and became more popular as the contrast between the black dot and the paleness of skin created a high contrast which they thought made their skin appear even paler. Although made fashionable during the end of the 16th century Ancient Romans first invented the use of patches.



Base- I first wanted to make sure that I was able to get a good base tone mixed up to create the sort after pale skin. I began by applying a satin primer to try and simulate the egg wash glaze they applied. Starting with a dewy base I was then able to begin adding a white foundation. I chose to use a liquid foundation as they used a white liquid made from egg whites, poppy seeds and white sugar. This was then strained through linen and applied directly onto the face. I used a white foundation from Illamasqua – I began by gradually building up the colour onto the skin using a buffing brush to ensure I didn’t get any brush strokes.


Cheeks-I then experimented with different blush shapes to determine which was more suited to the era – using my reference images as a guide. On the left the blush is more circular and deliberate. However I prefer the other side as it looks more natural and suited to the character as I feel the left side is nearing towards the 18th century make-up trends. From looking at the research imagery I have gathered. Elizabeth is often depicted with completely pale skin with little or no rouge on her cheeks.

Eyebrows – From looking at my research Elizabeth is often depicted with very fair thin eyebrows.  As I was only experimenting at this point I wanted to try and cover the eye brow to see what effect if give however it was clear that I will need to add more coverage to the brow area if my model has eyebrows similar or thicker than my own. Perhaps cover the brow first using one of the methods the class experimented with at the beginning of the semester. This would also add another skill to the image which I would be able to sell when presenting my final image in my portfolio. However I want to find out what my models natural brows are like as they may not need that much coverage if any at all. Although this would add another skill to the image I think it would be difficult to blend the eye brow into the white foundation as the product would cling to the glue giving the illusion away. Bleaching the eyebrows may be required if my model is willing. This may require further experimentation.


Eyes – I also experimented with a light brown eye shadow to help define the eye area. Although eye make-up was not popular in the 16th century I thought it would be best to define the eyes ever so slightly to create a contrast between the pale skin and eyes. In the 16th century Belladonna was used to make the eyes appear glistening and innocent. To recreate this I will be using ‘Blink’ eye drops to make the eyes appear twinkly as if affected by Belladonna. I may also be able to simulate some sort of irritation around the eyes as Belladonna was highly poisonous and could lead to severe seizures and possible death if over used. I think this would be a subtle way to make the eyes stand out but for the accurate anatomical reasons.



(Source of image – http://www.amo-inc.com)

Thanks for reading, I hope you found the reaserach as interesting as I did!

Katy x

Overall I pleased how I was able to use my modern day products to recreate a historical look. I would like to experiment with other products and push this look even further. However I am also working on a wig and costume to complete the look which I think will aid the final look. I will be posting more on this project later today.


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