I will be the first to admit this is a total passion piece for me. I find old beauty recipes fascinating and we use a surprising amount now as you’ll see if you read through.
Today we’re focusing on Empress Sisi. I adore the Romy Schneider movies and the new series on Netflix isn’t as good but it shows a very different, likely much more realistic depiction of the Empress’ personality than the Romy Schneider series.
Women of the 1800s truly had a natural beauty routine. The modern industrial era hadn’t been established although wonderous works of engineering existed. Beauty houses we know today like Pond’s (England), Guerlain (Paris), and Shiseido (Japan) all date back to this era. Its the very beginning of the modern skin care industry.
In some ways we’re returning to some of those more natural ideas. With the rise of the no-poo method of hair washing, oiling, brushing, etc. we’re using more gentle products for our beauty routine. If you want to read my take on the No-poo movement check it out here.
Women of the era were also famed for their hair throughout Western and Eastern Cultures. Be it in mainland China, Japan, Europe, or the US wealthy women had the luxury of being able to treat their tresses and skin to prevent or possibly cure certain types of damage like avoiding the sun/not working outdoors and developing a tan or freckles.
Eggs and Cognac Shampoo
Using egg in shampoo is a very very common practice in the 1800s. It’s gentle and easily assessable, especially as a kitchen maid. The idea of using an egg yolk specifically to make an emulsion with oil dates by to the mid-1700s to the early 1800s and the invention of mayonnaise in France or Spain, there’s lots of hypothesis.
Beaten whole egg but most likely egg yolks only were used to wash the hair. If you’ve read my previous posts about oil cleansers you’ll know that egg yolks contain a chemical that creates an emulsion, trapping oil and dirt so it washes away easily with water. Books specifically recommend copious amounts of hot water were used to rinse the hair but I haven’t figured that out since hot water would scramble the yolk and you’d be left with solid egg residue. But then again it would make it more easily removed using a boar bristle brush, especially once dried.
From a pharmacy standpoint, using egg yolks had been used possibly in ancient times for salves and to thicken ointments. I’m sure they smelt great after a little while.
Egg yolks also contain a very large amount of cholesterol which is known to help repair dry and damaged hair.
The Cognac was most likely rubbed into the base of the neck but specifically NOT to the scalp as it can add dirt and oils to the hair and give it a stale odor. It was advised that women use this method if she were sensitive to catching colds on wash day (The Fountain of Youth, 1905).
This process was completed every 3 weeks.
There was also an elaborate brushing routine that went with the washing. Anytime Empress Sisi’s hair was brushed her hairdresser had to save all the strands of hair for inspection. Too man hairs meant her hairdresser was being too rough. Too many broken hairs, too rough as well. It isn’t clear if the shampoo was brushed into the hair or it was used as a drench.
Brushing was performed with a course (likely boar bristle) brush and concentrated around the scalp to shift dandruff and distribute natural oils throughout the hair.
This process was likely performed daily without any shampoo in order to remove dirt, dandruff, and invorate the scalp.
Sisi would bath in warm water mixed with olive oil to keep her skin soft and supple. I can 100% say this method works especially in the winter in keep my skin soft and glowy during those dry months. I’ve used Sweet Almond Oil, Apricot Kernal Oil, and Kukui Nut Oil. I must say I prefer Kukui Nut Oil but it is much more expensive and harder to get than Olive Oil.
It does do a number on your plumbing though. Only 1-2 Tablespoon is all that’s necessary to get those benefits.
Hair would be dried with towels through wrapping the hair. After a thorough drying with the towel hair was then allowed to dry naturally or she’d sit near a fire and allow the heat to aide in the drying process.
Another process which may have occurred includes sprinkling benzoin powder over lit charcoal. The hair is draped over a arm of a lounge or sofa and the smoke quickly dries the hair while perfuming it. I couldn’t find anything listing a rudimentary hair dryer. Although they did exist, that might have been a bit too much for the Austrian court.
I don’t know who would have time to do this, especially with floor length hair. This is when Sisi would practice her Hungarian and became fluent in it. She would then go onto be a leading voice for the Hungarian people within the Hapsburg Empire.
The Fountain of Youth is freely available by clicking here. It is a fascinating read published just after Sisi’s death in 1898 at the age of 60.
If you want to go about the Victorian hair style, the brushing tends to be the most important aspect of the hair care regiment. Using natural and wood brushes is necessary to maintain oil distribution. Remember there was no such thing as a synthetic hairbrush. Like Empress Sisi, just make sure there aren’t too many hairs in the brush after brushing.
Happy hair that hopefully will get as long as this painting depicting The Tale of Genji. it isn’t just floor length, she has a small train of hair behind her.