16th Century Handwash

I posted before about the Book of Secrets written by Isabella Cortese. This is my redaction of one of the beauty recipes found within that book.

My Materials                                      Renaissance Materials

1 cup Organic Lemon Juice               Lemon Juice

1 cup Homemade Rosewater            Perfumed Water

Skins from 1 cup Almonds                Powdered Almond Skins


I do not know what type of perfumed water Isabella would have used, as she does not indicate the name. So, I used rosewater, a perfumed water known and in use since the time of the Egyptians. This can be found at most international markets, but you can also make your own easily:

Rose Water

 Some do put rose water in a glass and they put roses with their dew thereto and they make it to boile in water, then they set it in the sune tyll it be readde and this water is beste. – from Askham’s Herbal, 1550

I enjoyed the company of a bouquet of organic roses for four days before I plucked the petals to make the rosewater. I put the petals into a colander and rinsed them to get rid of seeds and dirt. Then I placed the petals in a large pot and covered the petals with water. On high heat (with the cover on), I brought the water to a boil and then allowed the roses to cool gradually for the next hour. I strained out the petals, placed the water in a large jar to use for this project, and stored the rosewater in the fridge until needed.

I blanched almonds, drained them, and slipped off the skins by squeezing the almonds. After that I dried them by toasting them in the oven for 5 minutes. I then took the skins, put them into my mortar and pulverized them. A friend suggested that perhaps the “skin” meant the shell, but I chose to use the actual almond skins as they are known to have great antioxidant properties. 



Handwash Recipe, Translation, and Methods:

 Per far belle le mani (Libro Quarto)

Prendi del fugo di limone, e altratanta acqua odoriferia e metti a bollir alfuoco, e come bolle mette ui dentro della polvere delle fugaccie dell’amandole e fa che diventi come unfapone, e lavati con quelfo le mani che fara belle and bianche.


To make your hands beautiful (My Translation)

Take some lemon juice and the same quantity of perfumed water and place it on the fire to boil. When this boils, add in some powdered almond skins and mix, turning it into a soap. Wash your hands with it, and it will make your hands beautiful and white.

  1. I poured a cup of organic, fresh-squeezed lemon juice and a cup of homemade rosewater into a Teflon pot.
  2. When the mixture was just beginning to boil I added the finely ground almonds and stirred it, making a paste.
  3. After it cooled I used it like a sugar scrub, washing it over my hands. I then lightly rinsed my hands with spring water and patted them dry.



The sensation was similar to using a warm exfoliant. The properties of the lemon (citric acid) and the roughness of the almond powder was exactly like modern apricot scrubs or sugar scrubs to exfoliate your skin during a warm bath or shower. Immediately after my hands felt very soft and the lingering smell of rosewater was great. I absolutely loved the way it made my hands feel and smell for hours afterwards.

Success! This recipe is not too difficult to make, nor does it contain ingredients that are harmful to your body. I would recommend this one for anyone who wants to pamper themselves or their guests with a recipe from the Renaissance.


3 thoughts on “16th Century Handwash

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