History of Makeup

The history of Makeup: Tudors Makeup

Makeup has changed a lot over the years.

As styles and looks change, makeup must change and evolve too. In living memory, makeup has changed a lot, but when we return to the Tudor period, we'll see a completely different makeup style.
Source: The Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I | Royal Museums Greenwich
There was no contouring or colourful eyeshadow palettes.

Instead, Tudor makeup was risky, dangerous, and poisonous but absolutely vital.

You see, your makeup in the Tudor period determined your social standing; the better it was, the higher up the ranks you were.

Tudor make-up - Did Tudor women wear makeup?

Tudor women certainly did wear makeup. However, during this period, it was almost exclusively reserved for the higher classes.

This is because almost all of the elements of Tudor's makeup were really expensive. Many of the components even had to be imported into England.

This put makeup out of reach for most women in the Tudor period. Women of the poorer classes in Tudor England would have worn some form of makeup, but the style of the time was very much set by the queen, and this simply wasn't a style of makeup that the lower classes could afford to replicate.

There was a very interesting reason why many Tudor women of the upper classes wore makeup, though, including Elizabeth I.

tudors makeup history
When the queen of England was 25, she contracted smallpox, leaving small scars all over her face. At the time, smallpox was a big problem in England, with most of the population contracting it or knowing someone that contracted it.

Elizabeth I used makeup to hide the scars on her face, and many other women followed suit.

During this time, the monarch of the country was very much a trendsetter. So, if the queen started wearing makeup, all of the women in England wanted to wear makeup as well. Working-class women couldn't wear the same makeup as the upper classes, as it was far too rare and expensive.

Sadly, not much information survives about what working-class women did wear, but we know a lot about what the queen of England and her higher-class friends wore on their faces.

Facts about Tudor Make-Up

To understand the makeup of the Tudors, we must first look at the beauty standards of the time. Pure beauty was considered to be light hair, a very pale complexion and red cheeks and lips.

Any painting of Queen Elizabeth I shows where these beauty standards came from. Her complexion is almost like snow, her cheeks and lips a brilliant red, and her hair a fair ginger colour.

Every single woman in England at this time wanted to look and be like Queen Elizabeth.

Interestingly, though, Queen Elizabeth I used makeup to achieve her iconic look just as those trying to replicate it did.

Pale skin tone

The pale white make-up that Tudor women used on their faces served a few purposes. Firstly, it covered up any scars from smallpox, a very common disease in the Tudor period.

It also showed that they had spent a lot of their time indoors. During this period, working-class women would have spent much of their time outside harvesting crops or tending to animals.

Poisonous ingredients were used to make makeup products.

The white makeup was made from some extremely dangerous and poisonous ingredients, though. The pale complexion was made using borax and lead. These weren't the only poisonous ingredients used in makeup at this time, though. Mercury, tin, poppy seeds, vermillion, cinnabar and more were all used to create the perfect Tudor face.

Not all of the makeup products used during this time were dangerous, though.

Egg whites and fig juice were used as bonding agents. Fig juice was often combined with cinnabar to create the red blusher the Tudor women loved.

Queen Elizabeth's make-up

Queen Elizabeth's makeup is what every other woman in Tudor England was trying to replicate, so it is a great source to understand what makeup was like in the Tudor period. The queen used tin, lead, mercury and egg whites to create her white complexion and to cover her smallpox scars.

She then used cinnabar and vermillion mixed with fig juice or egg whites to create her bright red lipstick and her blusher.

These ingredients were ground together in a pestle and mortar, and it is very unlikely that the queen did this herself. Instead, one of her maids would have held the secrets to the queen's makeup, and many women around the country would have paid a pretty penny to learn these secrets.

It wasn't just the queen's makeup that the women of England tried to recreate; it was also her fair hair.

Many women tried to dry their hair red to look like the queen. Yellow hair dye was used, which resulted in lighter hair, a very popular style of the time. This was made with saffron, cumin seeds, fig juice, oil and a few other ingredients.

The Differences in Makeup Between Social Classes

Almost all of the components of Tudor makeup that we've learned about so far were extremely hard to come by and very expensive. This meant that poor women simply couldn't get the same makeup as the queen and her higher-class friends.

Poorer women could use lead and tin if they could afford it and mix this with egg white. There wasn't really a red colour that the lower classes could use, so some would make do with pinching their cheeks during the day to create the redness naturally.

Tudors eye makeup

Tudor women didn't tend to wear eye makeup. Instead, they aimed for a snow-white complexion as this was the image of the beauty of the day.

Rich women would have almost completely white faces and would use heavy make-up applications to cover up any marks on their faces.

With bright red lips and blusher on their cheeks.

Very much like a porcelain doll.

What ingredients did the women use for make-up during the Tudor times?

The ideal woman in the Tudor period was rather different today. It was considered a woman of pale complexion with red lips and cheeks with fair hair was the most beautiful.

Hair pieces and hair dyes were used by wealthy women to achieve the right hairstyle.

To achieve the right complexion, many women in the Tudor period used extremely dangerous makeup ingredients, including:
Mortar and pestle
Used for grinding up all of the ingredients into a fine paste that was then applied to the face.
Egg white
Egg whites were used as a bonding agent to combine all of the other ingredients together.
Borax is a highly toxic substance used for its white colouring. This would be ground up and applied on the face.
Mercury, another highly toxic substance, was ground up to form blusher and lipstick! Having mercury on your lips is certainly not advised nowadays!
Poppy seeds
Poppy seeds were used in various ways in Tudor makeup, most often as a bonding agent for more colourful ingredients.
Vermillion has a beautifully bright red colouring and was used to create blusher and red lipstick. It was often combined with egg whites to bond it together.


The beauty practices in Tudor, England are a fascinating study of what it took to create the image of the ideal woman of the period.

The dangerous, harmful and toxic ingredients show the lengths that women were prepared to go to to create the Tudor image of beauty.
Written by Lera Peslyak
I am a professional makeup artist and makeup teacher based in London. She offers a wealth of experience in the industry, having worked with an extensive range of clients from all over the world. Lera strives to create an individual makeup look for each and every one of her clients, unique to them and their features.
Other articles
This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience