With today’s advanced technology in skin care, words such as skin rejuvenation, facial scrubs and peels, laser and other modern skin care treatments have become part of our vocabulary.
But when you take a step back and think about how skin care, beauty and hygiene have evolved throughout history, the findings are amazing. Recorded as far back as Ancient Egypt and Greece, it is evident that humans across the world throughout history used incredible methods to obtain the skin quality they perceived as beautiful.
Egyptians - The Royalty of Ancient Egypt, 3000 BC-1070 BC:
The ancient Egyptians were well known for their knowledge of beauty. The hot, dry desert air took its toll on the skin and combating the climate was one of the main concerns of many Egyptian beauty regimens to keep the skin soft and supple.
Cleopatra had always been considered to be one of the most beautiful women that ever lived, but did you know she was an avid student of beauty and authored one of the first books of beauty secrets about anti-aging methods and skin care regimes? Her methods included bathing in sour milk, high in lactic acid, which turns out to be quite favourable for skin exfoliation and rubbing her skin with aloe vera. Queen Thutu, another pioneer of make-up and skin care used pumice stones to exfoliate her skin, she also mixed herbs and plant compounds into beauty ointments and eye shadows. Plant oils were used as moisturisers and were liberally applied to the whole body. Exfoliating scrubs were made from sand and aloe vera.
Even today, many Egyptian ingredients such as aloe, sodium bicarbonate, myrrh and frankincense are used in the finest natural skin care products.
Ancient Chinese Secrets, 1200 BC-500 BC
The Chinese believed health and beauty were inextricably linked. Beauty was connected to vitality and was seen as the result of a perfect balance between nutrition, herbal medication and good blood circulation.
Desiring Pale Skin
From Pre-Imperial times, Chinese women desired pale, whiter skin to show that they did not have to work outdoors as tanned skin was associated with a working class made up of farmers and fishermen. During the Tang dynasty, courtesans took extreme measures to lighten the skin on their faces by using white powders made from lead which is toxic to many organs and tissues. They also used special gels and lotions derived from natural ingredients to remove pigment and permanently bleach their skin. One of the most popular gels was made from songyi mushrooms, an ingredient that is still used in many skin lighteners today.
Empresses cleansed their faces with natural cleansers made from seaweed and jelly fish and their diet included eating black beans, sesame seeds and Chinese yam to improve the skin. Furthermore, special massage techniques and facial exercises were part of this regime to improve the circulation in her cheeks and forehead.
Greece, 750 BC-500 BC:
The Greeks developed many of their own treatments using local, natural ingredients. Men and women of this time also used honey to moisturise along with olive oil to protect their health and appearances. They would also make their own skin-softening lotions from a combination of oils and herbs. Grecian women may have even invented the concept of the facial mask. One of the most popular treatments involved mashing up a paste of fresh berries and mixing it with milk. This paste was massaged into the face and left to soak in for several hours before being wiped clean.
Athletes of that time would bath in olive oil and dust their bodies in fine sand, which in turn would regulate body temperatures and also make the skin more resistant to heat, the suns rays and essentially slowed down the aging process.
The Middle Ages, 500-1399:
During the Middle Ages, science was combined with superstition in the development of new lotions and skin care treatments. A number of skin care products were also made at home out of wine and vinegar, infused with herbs. Many women made their own lotions and potions at home which involved making a poultice, or tea bag-like packet of spices and herbs, and soaking the poultice in wine, vinegar or milk before smearing it on the skin. Some potions were expected to produce almost magical results such as erasing deformities of the face whilst others incorporated gem stones, such as amethyst, which were believed to have magical properties.
Women plucked their hair lines and eyebrows to emphasize the forehead, and fair skin was an indicator of wealth and beauty. Some women even went so far as to bleed their faces in order to keep their complexion as pale as possible.
The astringent alum was introduced as a treatment for blemishes and abrasions. Frankincense and myrrh were rediscovered for their moisturising and skin healing properties. Anise and walnut bark were also incorporated in many new treatments.
Bathing, sadly was unheard of and poor sanitary habits created medical issues within this era and many suffered from a number of hygiene related diseases and illnesses. Women would find themselves bathing, in wine in order to achieve the effect of smooth, silky skin, but again, not to keep themselves clean.
In the end, many cosmetic practices that began in the Middle Ages would be used throughout the Renaissance and for centuries to come.
Traditional Skincare from the Outback
Australian Aborigines date back around 60,000 years and are considered to be one of the most ancient races in the world. Throughout their time, the Aboriginal people managed to survive an Ice Age (around 20, 000 years ago), and nomadically lived off the land utilising the resources of their local native plants for food, medicine, healing, shelter and ceremonies.
While many of us are familiar today with common essentials oils such as Lavender, Chamomile and Rose Oil, some essential oils and their benefits indigenous to Australia have been experienced amongst the Aboriginal culture for thousands of years.
Australian Blue Cypress oil had been used by Australian Aborigines for thousands of years for its powerful skin moisturising properties and to protect, relax and soothe their skin from the harsh desert climate. The Lilly Pilly has good astringent properties that improve firmness of the skin, while its high vitamin C and fruit acid content create great anti-ageing effects to keep skin looking radiant and youthful.
Last but not least, one of the most bizarre beauty treatments that occurred in the 1500’s is Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed, a hungarian countess had girls butchered so she could try out her beauty treatment of bathing in the blood of her young victims for eternal youth. The most enduring legend is Elizabeth had slapped a servant girl one day, got blood on her hand, and after washing it off found that it made her skin look younger so to restore her waning beauty, she made a practice of bathing in virginal blood.
In conclusion, it’s easy see how lucky we are to be living in today’s technologically advanced times. We can now enjoy effective skin treatments such as 3D Lipo, coupled with award winning laser equipment like Cynosure Laser there are far more enjoyable, effective and pain-free options compared to ancient remedies like bathing in blood!