Cosmetics of the East
Recreating cosmetics from the sixth-century Chinese farm manual Qimin Yaoshu (齊民要術)
I have started with a partial translation of Qimin Yaoshu when I was preparing my first Chinese cosmetics back in 2016. Since then, I discovered (thanks to Alec Story) the online repository of original Chinese texts (https://ctext.org/).
I decided at some point to redo most of the cosmetics since the first versions were marred by poorly translated sources.
Display of color cosmetics from early medieval China
Purple powder 紫粉 (zi fen)
Zi fen contained three parts of starch and one part of lead white (essential element), dyed with extract from red malabar spinach seeds (Basella rubra). Because of presence of the white pigment, the color will be always on the pastel side.
The final color is more on pinkish lavender side. I can apply several layers to achieve a more deep color. If this face powder is used on the semi-transparent lead white base used on darker skin, it would make the skin appear lighter. And this was the ideal look of elites of medieval China. We can say it was the first known corrector powder.
Making zi fen: color extraction from red malabar spinach seeds, mixing with starch and titanium dioxide, drying to powder.
Powdered and sieved zi fen finally was moved to a prettier container (replica of 三彩 sancai or tri-colored glazed pottery from Tang Dynasty)
Application of zi fen over skin prepared with lead white replacement base and on bare skin.
Face cream 面脂 mian zhi (with vermillion)
For this recipe, I first prepared beef suet. First, I soaked cloves and Korean mint in warmed yellow wine (it was the the cheapest cooking wine with around 10% alcohol which was available in local Asian grocery store) for around five hours. Then I added the wine with aromatics, crushed Eupatorium fortunei and sweet wormwood to the melted beef suet. Doing it in a double boiler was the best option. I cooked until wine evaporated, and then removed the aromatics. The suet base is slightly green, pleasantly scented and keeps well in a fridge (at least for a year). It did not go rancid when kept outside for three months.
Then I took a small aliquot, melted it on low heat, and mixed with powdered vermillion into smooth paste. To avoid cleaning tools contaminated with toxic ingredients, I use only single-use ones (craft sticks served as mixing tools and tin foil muffin forms, precut into individual pieces, serve as mixing containers resistant to heat). The color is amazing though it is too toxic to be used on skin. This is one of the cosmetics created as reference sample and for display-only purpose.
Scenting the beef suet: soaking cloves and crushed Korean mint in yellow wine, and solidify suet after cooking with aromatics and filtering. The brown dots are most likely oils from plants.
Preparing the lip stain: melting an aliquot of prepared fat over low fire, mixing in the vermillion powder, and solidify lip stain ready for its trip to Singapore as reference sample.
Lip rouge from Arcane Medical Essentials from the Imperial Library (外台秘要方四十卷) by Wang Tao
The original recipe calls for mutton fat which I substituted with lamb tallow. The fat was prepared by cooking with Eupatorium fortunei and yellow wine.
I did not have on hand enough opercula from Pacific Murex spp. (jia jian xiang) so I used the prepared Turbo cornutus opercula instead. The powdered opercula were mixed with ground agarwood and ambrette seeds (as deer musk substitute). I steamed the mixed powder with rosewater mixed with magnolia flowers. The original ratio of equal amounts of fat and beeswax resulted in a very hard mass so I adjusted recipe to 3 parts of fat and 1 part of beeswax. The resulting paste was softer and easier to apply.
Regardless of colorant used (toxic vermillion for reference sample or cosmetic pigments safe version), the protocol remained the same. Because of the cooking process, it required constant mixing once placed over heat.
Making the lip rouge: melting the lamb fat, melting added beeswax, cooking with ground gromwell roots
Making the lip rouge in the vermillion version: cooking with gromwell, mixing in the vermillion powder, ready lip stain.
Making the safe version of lip rouge: cooking with DC40 lake powder, solidify lip stain, and effect when applied to skin.
Making the safe version of lip rouge: Mayan red pigment, cooking with added colorant, and effect when applied to skin.
Display of beauty care products from China