Cosmetics and skincare products today are as much a science as medicine. Discoveries and trends over the years have created a sort of checklist for manufacturers to go through and confirm that their foundation, lipstick or bath oils are high quality. Fresh and hydrated complexion, floral and earthy scents, and palettes of bright and warm colours embody the goals of 2019’s best beauty products. But many modern standards and recipes may never have come to be without ancient civilizations’ beauty tricks and rituals that survived the ages to guide the industry’s evolution. Get ideas from the world’s oldest beauty experts.
Modern spas and their luxurious skin therapies are largely inspired by Roman bathhouses, where contrast bath therapy was all the rage, followed by body scrubs, steam therapy and massages, not to mention an overindulgence in perfume. While some beauty standards elaborated on Beauty and tips would today seem strange, like their craze for the monobrow or use of sheep fat and blood as nail varnish, others have stuck around for good reason, if in a different form. Bathing in donkey’s milk has been confirmed as beneficial due to its high concentration of retinol, important today in anti-ageing treatments. Roman ladies also loved face masks containing natural ingredients that are still in use, including jasmine, basil juice, olive oil and fennel seeds.
The beauty standards of Italy’s ancestors, whether ingenious or outrageous, have been enough to keep the empire’s legendary status alive, but consumer industries enjoy fanning the flames with merchandise. Smartphones are adorned with Redbubble cases depicting Roman landmarks, centurions and quotes from Catullus or Cicero. The movie Gladiator (2000) and TV series Rome (2005-2007) were smash hits because they delivered more or less genuine experiences of what it was like to live in ancient Rome.
For an understanding of Egyptian beauty rituals, look no further than Cleopatra, who would have applied the best her civilization had to offer. Among her favourite nourishing materials, donkey’s milk baths, sea salt scrubs and honey products are revealed once again by Power of Positivity. In fact, royal jelly was and still is extremely popular for its regenerative qualities and the same goes for beeswax, commonly found today in lip balms and mascaras too, smoothing and moisturising skin and eyelashes alike. Rose water was also approved by Cleopatra as a natural refreshing toner, easily copied by purchasing readymade products or boiling rose petals. Hydration and exfoliation would have been essential in Egypt’s climate, so treatments containing shea butter, hemp seed oil and clay were practical as much as enjoyable.
Cleopatra has always been used as an idol of female beauty, charisma, brains and power. Apart from movies – Antony and Cleopatra (1972) and Cleopatra: Mother, Mistress, Murderer, Queen (2016) – the famous Queen of Egypt has graced many aspects of the entertainment industry. The Cleopatra slot game on Paddypower combines her allure alongside scarabs, sphinxes, and gods with five reels and 20 paylines. Arguably, no other historical character has captivated audiences to the extent of the Egyptian Queen, with the use of recognisable Cleo imagery and motifs used across all sectors; from golden tombs and scarabs in games and film, to the classic curved eyeliner found on the faces of most women today.
Beauty product manufacturers can thank this civilisation for the introduction of olive oil and honey in skincare. Athena Hewett, speaking to Byrdie about modern applications of Greek rituals, has particular praise for thyme honey when included, for example, in a face mask, enhancing the substance’s basic hydro-retentive and revitalising properties with thyme’s added antioxidant and nourishing benefits, especially for dry skin. Pomegranate, which has surged in popularity in the last few years, is an ancient symbol of desire, life, fertility, prosperity and more, but also an excellent antioxidant and astringent for oily and combination skin. It’s applied extensively by Korres, 21st-century Greece’s most popular skincare company, using science and over 3000 Greek natural remedies. Sea salts, yogurt and tea baths are other favoured ingredients to explore.
The contributions of science to healthy skin are not to be underestimated. Centuries of experimentation with ingredients, mixtures and applications have led to the development of today’s smartest and highly valued skincare solutions, from La Roche-Posay’s Hyalu B5 Hyaluronic Acid Serum worth £37 to 111 Skin’s Meso Infusion Overnight Clinical Mask priced at £125. Each product targets specific signs of stress and age, leaving the skin moisturised, smooth, firm and bright.
Ancient empires continue to amaze the world with the legacy they left behind for the beauty industry and beyond. The 21st century has even enhanced the techniques of the ancients. Cleopatra eye styles, for example, remain popular but are made so much better by 2019’s indulgence in elaborate glitter and crystal makeup. At the same time, science has taken its considerably improved knowledge of the human body and added it to traditional skincare remedies and materials. The result is a vast array of beauty products and easy home recipes to target specific issues and promote an overall healthier appearance.