Primary Source Excerpts On Beauty


From Giambattista della Porta's Magiae Naturalis (Natural Magick), 1558

in The Ninth Book of Natural Magick: How to Adorn Women and Make Them Beautiful

(from the 1658 English Edition as webbed by Scott Lincoln Davis)


To Bleach/Dye hair Blonde:

WARNING: Many of these preparations are actually lye which, I have been told, will burn on contact. I urge you to be very careful should you wish to experiment, and by no means apply them to the skin or hair until such time as you are familiar with how to use a Ph tester, and have used it to test the solution to ensure it is safe to use.


"Since it is the singular care of women to adorn their hair, and next their faces, First, I will show you how to adorn the hair, and next the countenance.  For women hold the hair to be the greatest ornament of the body, that if that be taken away, all the beauty is gone.  And they think it the more beautiful, the more yellow, shining and radiant it is.  We shall consider what things are fit for that purpose.  What are the most yellow things, and will not hurt the head, as there are many that will.  But we shall choose such things as will do it good.  But before you dye them,

"Preparing of the hair,"

Must be used, to make them fit to receive a Tincture.  Add to the Lees of white Wine as much Honey that they may be soft, and some thin matter.  Smear your hair with this, let it be wet all night.  Then Bruise the roots of Celendine, and of the greater Clivers Madder, of each a like quality.  Mingle them, being Bruised, very well with Oil, wherein Cumin seed,  shavings of Box, and a little Saffron, are mingled, anoint your head, and let it abide so for twenty hours.  Then wash it with Lye made of Cabbage stalks, ashes, and Barley Straw.  But Rye Straw is the best.  For this, as women have often proved, will make the hair a bright yellow.  But you shall make,

"A Lye to dye the hair."

Thus, put Barley Straw into an earthen pot with a great mouth, Feny-Graec. and wild Cumin, mingle between them, Quicklime and Tobacco, made into powder.  Then put them upon the Straw before mentioned, and pour on the powders again, I mean by course, one under, the other over, till the whole vessel be full.  And when they are thrust close, pour on cold water, and let them stand a whole day.  Then open a hole at the bottom, and let the Lye run forth, and with Soap use it for your hair.  I shall teach you,


To five glasses of Fountain water, add Alome-Foeces, one ounce, Soap, three ounces, Barley Straw, one handful.  Let them boil in earthen pots, till two thirds be boiled away.  Then let it settle.  Strain the water with the ashes, adding to every glass of water, pure Honey one ounce.  Set it up for your use.  You shall prepare for your hair,

"An Ointment,"

Thus, burn the Foeces of Wine, heaped up in a pit, as the manner is, so that the fire may go round the pit.  When it is burnt, pound it, and seirce it.  Mingle it well with Oil.  Let the woman anoint her hair with it when she goes to bed, and in the morning, let her wash it off with a Lye, wherein the most bitter Lupines were boiled.  Other women endeavour,

"To make their hair yellow,"

Thus, they put into a common Lye, the Citron Pills, Oranges, Quinces, Barley Straw, dried Lupines,  Feny-Graec, Broom flowers, and Tartar coloured, a good quantity.  And they let them there lie and Steep, to wash their hair with.  Others mingle two parts of Soap, to one part honey, adding Ox-gall one half part.  To which they mingle a twelfth part garden Cumin, and wild Saffron.  And setting them in the sun for six weeks, they stir it daily with a wooden staff.  And this they use.  Also of Vinegar and Gold Litharge, there is made a Decoction very good to dye the hair yellow as Gold.  Some there are, that draw out a strong water with fire, out of Saltpeter, Vitriol, Salt Ammoniac, and Cinnaber, whereas the hairs dyed, will be presently yellow.  But this is often found to burn the hair.  Thos that know how to mingle it, will have good effects of it.  But these are but ordinary, the most famous way is,

"To Make the Hairs Yellow,"

Draw Oil from Honey by the art of Distillation, as we shall show.  First, there will come forth a clear water, then a Saffron colored. Use this to anoint the hair with a Sponge, but let it touch the skin.  For it will dye it Saffron color, and it is not easily washed off.  This is the principal above others, because the Tincture will last many days.  And it will dye gray hairs, which few others will.  Or make a Lye of Oak ashes, put in the quantity of a Bean of Rhubarb, as much as Tobacco, a handful of Barley Straw and Feny-Graec.  Shells of Oranges, the Raspings of Guaiacum, a good deal of wild Saffron and Liquorish.  Put all these in an earthen pot, and boil them, till the water sinks three fingers.  The hairs will wash excellently with this.  Hold them in the sun, then cast Brimstone on the coals, and Fume the hairs, and while it burns, receive the smoke with a little tunnel at the bottom, and cover your head over with a cloth, that the smoke will fly not away."





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