• The history of skin care – a few raw beauty facts


    The truth is that our ancestors might have known more about skin care than we do now. Their raw, natural ingredients worked to maintain a healthy, hydrated skin and never failed to improve the appearance of aging signs and alleviate various problems. They once had what is merely a rarity for us today: 100% natural products. Any problem had its natural scavenger – though treatments were not all very complex, their efficiency is renowned and therefore many modern formulas incorporate those old solutions.
    The Ancient times – ancient problems

    Ancient knowledge of skin care is probably at the heart of many of today’s solutions. The ancient Egyptians had a broad knowledge about everything in the universe, including skin care. It is a fact that they have developed many treatments for various skin conditions and beauty procedures. Sweet almond oil and fruit juices were used to maintain healthy skin and fight the facial signs of aging. The oil was rubbed into skin to maintain moisture. Why did this work? Almond oil is an excellent hydrator -you might have seen it on a few labels- with a high concentration of proteins, and fruit juice is a non-processed source of vitamins and enzymes that clean and brighten the skin instantly.

    Queen Cleopatra maintained her skin silky smooth with milk baths. Sour milk and fresh milk baths were quite popular for maintaining youthful skin at the time. The secret lies in the amount of Lactic Acid contained by sour milk. Lactic Acid is used nowadays in professional and over-the-counter exfoliators and is generally recommended for all types of skin.
    Olive oil was very much appreciated by the ancient civilizations; Greeks and Egyptians made good use of it in skin care and the treatment of conditions like sunburns, rough skin and wounds. Olive oil was also used in combination with diverse powders for mud masks and body wraps.

    Clay and mud treatments (nowadays – those expensive masks you’re requesting at the spa!) have been used since the remote antiquity as well, when Nile mud, Kaolin and Dead Sea mud were recognized for their therapeutic powers. Dead Sea mud has been continuously revered for its healing and beautifying properties for thousands of years – the mineral rich cosmetics were popular in the whole world, and they still are. On the remains of Cleopatra’s pharmaceutical and cosmetic establishments, built near the Dead Sea, modern plants have risen and now manufacture the skin care products based on Dead Sea minerals.

    Middle Ages – trial and error

    We continue our journey in time and reach the mysterious Medieval Ages which, in the context of the development of medical sciences, brought even more diversified skin care solutions. Some of them lethal – as scary as it may seem, knowledge is built on errors.
    Skin care advice was offered by doctors, healers and witches alike. Not all of them had a healthy mind or a sane understanding of the human body. Witches were the ones who advised Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory to keep her skin eternally young by bathing in virgin girls’ blood. After years of such a bloody regimen, Mother Nature still showed her will.
    Apart from such misfortunes, real beauty solutions were founded on the ancient wisdom; plant based elixirs were prepared at home. Common ingredients included herbs that are quite familiar to us nowadays: chamomile, peppermint, witch hazel, aloe, to name a few. They were frequently mixed with oils, honey or beeswax.

    Vegetable oils like olives and sesame oil have been first used for soaps in the Medieval Arabian world – these are the direct ancestors of the soaps we know today – perfumed and colored; although forms of soap had been existing for a long time (used as skin cleansers or as detergents), this is the version that is most related to actual skin care.

    The medieval remedies against problem skin included Sulfur but not in the advanced formula of today’s creams. Sulfur was widely used topically to cure acne and dry out skin. However, for treating acne and breakouts, the remedy had to be taken internally too – this involved eating a bit of sulfur powder with a cup of warm water every morning before the first meal of the day.

    Renaissance –time to bravely fight free radicals?

    Renaissance chronicles reveal beauty recipes that probably seem farfetched for the modern lotion users: at the court of Louis IV of France, skin’s appearance was improved with wine and honey. And before you say this is extreme, look around and discover the same treatments available at the spas around you. Exquisite salons offer vinotherapy: you get the full benefits of grape in wine and other derived products; this helps fight free radicals damage, improves blood circulation in the skin layers, tones and protects with powerful antioxidants.

    Late Renaissance ages also made pale skin famous; it was a mark of nobility and wealth – which meant the lady was not working outdoors, exposed to sun and harsh weather conditions. This must have been the best UV protection strategy, long before ingredients with sunscreen qualities were discovered. Away from environmental damage and the free radicals threat, skin remained young and firm for a long time. Make-up was not in fashion anymore and natural skin was the new trend – the whiter and smoother, the better. In their attempt to keep skin as pale as possible, ladies literally locked themselves indoors – windows covered, sun light avoided at any cost –; outside, strict rules applied: women protected their face and hands with bonnets, gloves and umbrellas.
    What were the cosmetic solutions for whitening the complexion? Home-made special cleansers containing chickweed, sulfur flour and lime essences. Best results came after night treatments. Skin also had to stay soft and supple especially around the neckline and the décolleté – as this area was often the only one exposed at social events, under the complex evening gowns. Wrinkle removal recipes of the 1800s were based on honey, rose and lily essential oils.

    Victorian Era – beauty scents

    Early Modern times saw the development of superior skin care solutions and the use of new ingredients that were just being discovered. Throughout the 19th century, white pale skin was still a “must” for any aristocrat and a lot of effort was put into keeping skin pale – that included skin lighteners. Sulfur based treatments for acne were still popular, alongside advanced face creams, body lotions and better hygiene products. However, home made recipes did stand the test of time.
    For example, the Victorian era women had their own solutions for healthy youthful skin: they used scented vinegars for cleansing and applied facial mask treatments consisting of egg yolk and honey. Castor oil was used for smoothening rough skin, for healthy, long lashes and shiny hair.

    Essential oils were highly appreciated and mixed in the classic skin care recipes – but also used in perfumes. The aristocratic Victorian women loved perfumes, herbal lotions or bath oils; sometimes, preparing these products was a day long ritual, from getting the fresh herbs and flowers to their processing – distillation, essence extract etc. Rose water was one the most frequent ingredients – a base for moisturizers (because of its emollient, restoring properties) and for fragrances as well (it is based on essential rose oil). Victorian perfumes were generally floral – rose, violet, jasmine were among the most popular scents. Perfume bottles were posh and made great decorative objects.
    Modern times – synthetic generation

    La Belle Epoque redefined the meaning of “belle” – with a growing upper class and more money to be spent, the offer had to match the demand. The now very diverse skin care products addressed many concerns. Real makeup products were being invented in the 1910s and extensively used by women to enhance beauty, after a century of loathing.

    The 20th century brought the most diversified skin care offer; from cosmetic creams to professional exfoliations, resurfacing, SPF lotions and facial massage. Back in the day we had herbs, roots, essential oils and …pure water. Dangers in the Middle Ages? Mercury and lead in skin care products. Or maybe lack of knowledge. Dangers today? Parabens, artificial preservatives and other chemical compounds, industrially created at low costs. And maybe ignorance. This is the age when we look back and we can learn the old tricks for eternal problems; ‘synthetic’ is still an option, but it doesn’t have to replace ‘natural’ entirely.

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