Beauty History: Madame Rowleys Toilet Mask

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Ok, they had a different name then. They went by Toilet Masks, probably because they made you look like you were about to rob a bank. And who wants to leave their bedroom looking like that?

They weren’t washed off, either. Instead, women put them on before going to sleep and took them off in the morning.

But who came up with the idea of Toilet Masks in the first place?

Madame Rowley’s Toilet Mask

Madame Helen M Rowley, an Ohio milliner and dressmaker, created the first Toilet Mask. She was 51 when, in 1875, she patented her invention, a “Mask for Medical Purposes”.

The mask was soft and pliable, made of flexible india rubber and designed to be worn “during the hours of sleep” to beautify, bleach and preserve the complexion.

Madame Rowley went in more detail in her patent and explained her mask had two purposes: the first was to excite “perspiration with a view to soften and clarify the skin by relieving the pores and the superficial circulation”, while the second was to apply “unguents or other medical preparations to the skin of the face for the palliation or cure of cutaneous eruptions, blotches, pimples or other similar complexional defects”.

What was the reasoning behind this? Again, the answer is in the patent: “for freckles or fugitive discolorations and for clogged pores and capillary congestion, the perspiration excited by covering the face with a medium which prevents the escape by evaporation of the cutaneous transpiration acts as a bleaching agent, and to relieve the loaded pores and congested capillary vessels. But for affections requiring specific remedies the medical agent adapted to the particular ailment may be applied in the shape of an ointment or plastic preparation spread upon the interior surface of the mask.”

Improvements on the Toilet Mask

The mask was so successful, soon other women created their own version, too. The first to do so was Nanette Emerson-French. Her Toilet Mask consisted of two layers: the outer layer was made of pliable fabrics such as cotton, linen, silk, kid, leather or rubber, while the inner layer of “heating or medicated fabric” such as flannel.

Nettie E. Jenkins‘ mask instead was of a material made with sulphate of cinchonia, salicylic acid, Turkey myrrh, hydrastin, benzoic acid, caoutchouc and sulphur. In also featured tie-strings to securely attach the mask to the wearer’s head.

Isabel Cassidy, who believed that these rubber masks were bad for your skin because they wouldn’t allow it to breathe, created her own version to fix the problem.

The interior was made of chamois skin “thus providing a soft and pliable surface to contact with the skin”, while the outer layer was of satin. Between these two layers there was a third one made of “linen or other like substance which will readily absorb such moisture as may pass through the chamois lining thus preventing the same from dampening or discoloring the face of the mask”. Plus, the mask had holes all over it to allow “free ventilation”.

I don’t know about you, but I’m really glad that these masks have fallen out of use! Modern sheet masks are much more beneficial and practical, don’t you think?

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