Make-up and beautifying treatments have been around since the time of the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians. From lead soaked dyes, to radioactive materials. Women have tried it all for the sake of looking good. There hasn’t been a single time in history when women didn’t desire to adorn themselves with cosmetic forms of beauty. The proof is in the form of this list of top ancient beauty practices that can still be used today and those that are so unsafe they will send you straight into the emergency room. Even though the beauty standards have evolved over centuries, there always was a desire to look and feel beautiful.
You might find it disturbing, to know about the lengths women in old times used to go to enhance their physical beauty. There were no boundaries which would stop the beauty industry from feeding on self esteem of vulnerable women back then as they still successfully do now. Let us walk through history by looking at the following ancient beauty tips the most attractive women of the ancient world swore by.
The Beauty Obsessed Ancient Greeks
The Greeks were big lovers of physical beauty. They were very in tune with the body’s natural aging process, thus they were always seeking ways to improve their appearance. The word “cosmetics” actually comes from the Greek word ‘kosmetikos’, originating in the 17th century.
Aphrodite, the olympian Greek goddess of love and beauty, created a quintessential beauty ideal among Greek women. This goddess symbolized true femininity and grace, which perhaps influenced the Greek’s prestigious, ancient beauty rituals.
Crushed mulberries were used for lip and cheek stains, as was clay and red iron for lip color. Dark eyeshadows were also favored, made using a mixture of charcoal and oils.
Fake, thick and prominent eyebrows were made with the hair of oxen. Often times, women even preferred connected eyebrows (unibrows), as this was admired in their culture.
The ancient Greeks called the olive oil “the elixir of life” and used it not only for their hair, but also as a component of their cosmetics for face and body. Mixed with sugar or salt, olive oil turns into a great exfoliator, while applied alone or in combination with honey – into an effective moisturizer and anti-aging agent.
Another practice, adored by the Greeks, was immersing in aromatic thermal baths filled with dried herbs. This spa ritual rejuvenates the skin, while in the same time relaxes the muscles.
The ancient Greeks bequeathed to future generations many beauty recipes, and perhaps only a few people know that even the word “cosmetics” itself, as well as the beauticians’ profession, are a legacy of this nation of aesthetes and perfectionists.
The Renaissance Beauty Regimen
The Renaissance was a period in which the senses were fully reborn. Beginning in Florence, Italy in the 1400s, it ushered the search for perfection of form through the harmony of proportions, the establishment of anatomical standards and with it, it brought about a new ideal of female beauty. Art had become philosophy and so the love of physical beauty had indeed pervaded every aspect of life.
Delicate, round and supple, yet proportional features were highly prized during the cultural revolution. According to theoreticians, the perfect face was to be set on a long neck. It must be fine and oval, with a high forehead, thin eyebrows, a well defined, straight and thin nose and a small mouth. Skin was to be pale and translucent, yet cheeks, lips and nails were to be a radiating red. Hair was to be honey blonde and curly, epitomizing youthfulness. Machiavelli had even claimed that the hands of a women could only be beautiful if “long, lined with tiny, light-colored veins, ending with slender fingers”.
LILY-LIKE TRANSLUCENT SKIN: Fair skin was another ideal type of beauty, representing wealth, youthfulness and health. For those not blessed with naturally pale skin, rather dangerous compounds such as lead oxide, hydroxide, carbonate, mercury and vermillion would be applied to the face to achieve the coveted pale completion. In particular, mercury granted the illusionary effect of innocence, fertility and virtue, blurring age-ing process and “airbrushing” blemishes, freckles and brown spots. White lead, also known as “Venetian Ceruse” and “Spirits of Saturn” was another effective skin-whitener. However, these highly in demand skin-enhancing cosmetic applications would have devastating fatal effects on health at times leading to scarring, wrinkled leathery skin, facial muscle paralysis, headaches and ultimately led to early deaths. One beauty regime that would help enhance this translucent effect was the application of raw eggs to the face as a primer.
Next, lead and vinegar were mixed together to make a thick, ceruse-colored foundation which was applied liberally to the face and neck. Women would have to remain immobile and cautious in order to avoid this new skin from cracking and flaking. If women wanted to achieve a marble statuesque look, they would apply blue “veins” using a thin brush to the forehead and breasts! Other advise on achieving fair skin was to wash in your own urine or with a mixture of rosemary and wine. Another secret beauty ritual for pale skin was to apply leeches to the ears. The leeches would drain the blood from the head, thus leaving the women their much desired pale look. However stomach-churning it may sound, leeches were in fact a far more healthier alternative to some of the more harmful ways of attaining a pale complexion.
LUSTROUS LIGHTENED LOCKS: Honey blond hair was considered the ideal hair color during this period of time. Women thus resorted to coloring their hair through different bleaching methods. They used a variety of ingredients from saffron to sulfur and turmeric to give their hair the desired look. Firstly, they would apply a product with lye in it to rid their hair of its natural color before applying the dye. They would then spend long periods of time under the sun to bleach their hair. To avoid tanning their skin or getting freckles, women would wear layers of clothing and wear wide-brimmed hats with the top cut out to expose only the hair to the sun, which were known as the Venetian Hats. Other beauty rituals included using a mixture of urine, rhubarb, cumin seed and celandine. In order to rid grey hairs, a recipe included boiling quicklime in powder, lead oxide with gold and silver and applying it to the hair, to later be washed off with no soap and repeated every week. As hair was not to frequently washed, fragranced powders were applied to natural hairs and wigs. Wigs were worn as a result of balding due to the side-effects of mercury and lead usage.
More ancient beauty secrets from cultures across the world.
1. Lovely ladies of the Middle East used to grind up lead – which causes metal poisoning – and apply it to their lashes, eyebrows and eyelids.
2. In ancient Babylonia, unwanted facial hair was sanded off with a rough pumice stone.
3. Women in Edwardian England would gladly swallow a slimy tapeworm to keep themselves slim and trim. The parasite would digest most of the food the women ate, and it also destroyed their health.
4. Eating arsenic was another way to achieve beauty discovered by Englishwomen. The deadly poison – used in the 19th century – gave the skin an interesting glow while it shortened the life span.
5. Beautiful blonde highlights in the hair were achieved by Venetian ladies who poured lion urine on their tresses before sitting out in the sun.
6. Early Japanese geishas and Kabuki actors used nightingale droppings to remove the thick make-up from their faces.
7. Roman ladies rubbed brown seaweed on their faces as rouge, which did them no harm. But the white powder made from lead they rubbed on their faces gave them a slow death by lead poisoning as surely as it delighted their admirers.
8. Italian ladies of the past used to apply deadly nightshade to enhance their eyes. The poison dilates the pupils and makes people’s peepers look enormous and glowing.
9. Arabian ladies loved sleek and shiny hair, so they used camel urine to dip their raven-black hair in.
10. In the England of Queen Elizabeth I, great beauties of the time owed the rich red color of their lips to bugs. The squashed remains of insects were rubbed on the mouth for a ruby-red luster.
11. Face painting with white lead powder was also popular in Elizabeth’s time. The beauty secret caused the premature demise of a number of 16th century lovelies.
12. Crocodile dung made into a paste with donkey’s milk kept Cleopatra’s skin looking lovely in the Egyptian heat. She used it as a face mask – when Caesar wasn’t around.
Tips that still work today
The ancients had some weird concepts of beauty rituals (leeches and crocodile dung weren’t out of place), but they had a lot of great ideas as well. In fact, some of the ideas can still be used today. After talking with a few beauty industry professionals, we learned eight ancient beauty secrets that we should be putting to good use today. Read on to better your beauty routine with ancient secrets!
Eggs: You may be all about your morning egg white omelettes, but there’s a whole bigger world out there. Eggs have been a primary ingredient in skincare for thousands of years. “Zhang Lihua, renowned beauty and Imperial Consort of the Chen Dynasty compiled the earliest recorded skin care recipe, dating back to 600 B.C. Egg whites applied to the face and neck will tighten the skin, providing an instant temporary face lift. The protein in the egg will also hydrate the skin!” says Mike Marenick, the Founder of Heal Fast Skin Care.
Anti-aging gloves: Marie Antoinette knew that the hands were the our first spot to show signs of aging way before science told us. She was known to wear gloves every night that were lined with wax, rose water and sweet almond oil to soften her hands.
The original cold cream: “My favorite ancient beauty secret is hardly any secret at all. The original cold cream was invented in the 2nd century (the 100s!) by Galen, and it contained the special mix of ingredients that makes it work as well as it does. The original cold cream contained a mix of grease and water so that both organic (dead skin cells) and inorganic material (makeup particles) would be dissolved and removed from the skin while cleansing and softening it. Rose water was added for scent, and the first cosmeceutical was created. Cold cream cleanses, removes makeup and softens skin all at the same time, and it’s still used today!” says Dr. Jessica Krant, MD, MPH, a board-certified dermatologist, Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at SUNY Downstate, and Founder of Art of Dermatology on 5th Avenue in New York City.
Milk and honey: Cleopatra is one of our favorite legendary beauties, and was known for her flawless skin. History tells us that she bathed milk, honey and olive oil. All three of these ingredients are still commonly found in facial treatments done in some of the finest spas in the country. Next time you need a body treatment, look no further than your pantry!
Rose water: Rose water speaks of romance and luxury now, and dates back to ancient Egypt, where it did as well. Rose water prevents aging by reducing wrinkles and tightening skin pores. It was also used as a cleanser because it can easily remove dirt, oil and other pollutants from the skin.
Avocado: Avocado was used centuries ago by Aztec civilizations as a skin moisturizer. Avocado oil will help to balance the skin by reducing pore size to produce healthy looking skin. The oil is easily absorbed by human skin and it will not clog pores.
Wigs from ancient history: Long hair are been closely connected to being feminine and beautiful. For centuries people have relied on wigs and hair extensions to have the kind of hair they long for. FYI: In Egypt, only women from high class were supposed to keep long hair, slaves were supposed to cut their hair very short to stay differentiated.
Today people use all sorts of products, like gels, sprays etc to style their hair. But in past, women didn’t have the luxury to style their hair. Neither they had the nutrition to grown exceptionally big hair, so they used wigs. Next on our top 10 old fashioned beauty hacks is Lard Hair! These wigs were constructed out of wooden frames. Hair was wrapped all around it and pasted with lard and grease. Here’s something they should have watch out for: The mixture was very tempting for the rats and wigs often got infested with them. (made you cringe, didn’t it?)
Worm Diet For A Perfect Figure: Since we are talking about beauty secrets, we can’t possibly ignore British beauty from the Era of Queen Elizabeth. While they used to follow some pretty bizarre rituals like other ancient goddesses as well, there is one worthy of mention. Did you know that Women from that era used to swallow tapeworms as a hack to maintain small waists? The worms would digest their food and keep them from gaining weight. I bet all of us want to maintain a good figure but not at this cost, at least. But I still wonder, would anyone still want to give any of these old fashioned beauty tips and tricks a shot? I bet even a primal man would refrain from such acts of absurdity.
The quest for new beauty tips and tricks continue on today and will do as long as women walk this Earth. Always stick with the beauty routine that makes you look and feel your best. It should be whats works for you and not someone else.