Pure white skin, a demarcation of the leisure class, was the most important feature of Roman beauty. Native Roman women weren’t naturally fair-skinned and spent their time outside with oils on their faces, requiring whitening makeup to fit their model of beauty.
Women would often prepare their faces with beauty masks prior to applying makeup. One recipe called for the application of sweat from sheep’s wool (lanolin) to the face before bedtime, emitting a stench often criticized by men. Other ingredients included juice, seeds, horns, excrement, honey, plants, placenta, marrow, vinegar, bile, animal urine, sulfur, vinegar, eggs, myrrh, incense, frankincense, ground oyster shells,onions with poultry fat, white lead, and barley with vetch. Bathing in asses’ milk was an expensive treatment that worked like a chemical peel and was used by wealthy women such as Cleopatra VII and Poppaea Sabina.
After their baths, they would then apply face whitener, such as chalk powder, white marl, crocodile dung and white lead. The Roman recognition thatlead was poisonous underscored their point of view on how important white skin was. Other ingredients used in whiteners included beeswax, olive oil, rosewater, saffron, animal fat, tin oxide, starch, rocket (arugula), cucumber, anise, mushrooms, honey, rose leaves, poppies, myrrh, frankincense, almond oil, rosewater, lily root, water parsnip and eggs.
The Romans disliked wrinkles, freckles, sunspots, skin flakes and blemishes. To soften wrinkles, they used swans’ fat, asses’ milk, gum Arabic and bean-meal. Sores and freckles were treated with the ashes of snails. The Romans pasted soft leather patches of alum directly over blemishes to pretend that they were beauty marks. Criminals and freedmen used these leather patches, which came in both round and crescent shapes, to conceal brand marks.
With the exception of hair on her head, hair was considered to be unattractive on a Roman woman. Consequently, women removed hair by either shaving, plucking, stripping using a resin paste, or scraping with a pumice stone. Older women faced ridicule for their depilation because it was viewed primarily as preparation for sex