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A Whirlwind Natural Beauty Tour through the Ages

We are living in an age when cosmetics innovation is advancing faster than ever before. But, did you know that cosmetic have been used to make a highly and visual statement since Ancient times. In the ancient days, synthetic colours, synthetic fragrance and petroleum (which form the basis of many modern-day skin care and cosmetic products) were unheard of. Instead, natural ingredients such as plant oils, fruits, vegetables, herbs and even animal by-products were used in the preparation of skin care and cosmetic formulas.

Through thousands of years of trial and error, people have discovered what kind of natural raw materials are helpful for treating a myriad of skin problems and for beautifying the skin, thus paving the way modern skin care.

Let’s take a tour of the fascinating evolution of skin care and cosmetics.

ANCIENT EGYPT (Around 10,000 B.C. to 30 B.C.)

Way before the Great Pyramids of Giza were even built, the Egyptians had already started using cosmetics in their daily lives. To them, looking one’s best embodied the highest form of spirituality and godliness.

For a long time, cosmetic manufacturers or brands were virtually non-existent. All cosmetics and skin care preparations were compounded at home using natural oils, herbs, and minerals.

The Egyptians were very innovative and resourceful people. For instance, techniques for distillation and extraction of the active constituents from herbs, leaves, and flowers were first developed in Egypt.

The first official cosmetic chemist was an alchemist. As a result of its intimate connection with alchemy, the art of cosmetic preparation was steeped in esoteric mysticism. And the Egyptians alchemist-cum-cosmetic chemist deliberately heightened the aura mystery by using code words like ‘tail of scorpion’, ‘blood of ibis’, ‘cobra’s tears’, ‘tail of rats’, ‘toad’s skin’, and ‘newt’s dropping’, to refer to the actual herbs or plants used in their recipes. Only the originator of the formulas knew what the actual ingredients were. This was common practice done to protect the ‘intellectual property’ of the formulator.

No tour of the ancient Egyptian world of cosmetics would be complete without paying a visit to Cleopatra, the famous Queen of the Nile.

Although Cleopatra was not a beauty in the conventional sense, she certainly did not fret over it or suffer from low self-esteem. On the contrary, her seductive powers were legendary due to her magnetic personality and intelligence. Besides, she was the undisputed expert in the art of making herself look and feel fabulous. In addition to her ingenuity in setting the perfect mood for seduction with natural perfumed oils, correct lighting, flowers and food, she partook religiously in daily beauty regimes of milk baths, facials, and massages (very much like modern spa sessions, minus the fact that Cleopatra had the luxury of time, money, and many servants to ensure that she enjoyed her spa sessions at least once a day), with her own collection of DIY beauty recipes.

ANCIENT GREECE (Around 550 B.C.)

Let’s make a brief stop at ancient Greece during the height of its Golden Age. While Egyptians created an aura of mystery cosmetics, the Greeks, being down-to-earth people, viewed cosmetics from a scientific and medical perspective. In fact, the word ‘cosmetic’ was invented by the Greeks based on Pythagoras’ theory on the concept of ‘cosmos’.

Pythagoras, as we know, was one of the world’s foremost mathematicians and philosophers. He used the word, ‘cosmos’ to which included the arrangement of the stars and planets. ‘Cosmos’ was also expanded to describe harmony in every aspect of human existence, from the external environment (macrocosmic) to the internal body-mind-spirit (microcosmic) system.

For the Greeks, cosmetics and medicine were one and the same. Looking and feeling good puts one in harmony with the cosmos and thus, cosmetics were so named because the Greeks regarded cosmetics as tools to help them achieve cosmic harmony.

ANCIENT ROME (200 B.C. TO A.D 150)

While the Greeks and Egyptians treated cosmetics as medical and spiritual accoutrements respectively, the Romans used cosmetics solely for physical beauty and pleasure, especially since the Romans were well known for their keen pursuits of the hedonistic lifestyle. The dictator, emperor Nero, for example, was known to throw spectacularly lavish and decadent parties, spending today’s equivalent of US$ 100,000 just to scent a single party with exotic oils and floral water.

Nevertheless, it was due to the pleasure-loving Romans that the cosmetic industry of antiquity really took off. By the first A.D Rome was already importing and consuming approximately 3,000 tons of frankincense and 600 tons of myrrh per year. By A.D. 80, Rome had already established a booming cosmetic industry with manufacturers, distributors, and retailers, very much like what we had today. And with the development of the Silk Road in China during that period, precious perfume oils and cosmetic products were also expand to China.

One of the most significant moments in the development of cosmetics happened around A.D. 150. Galen, a physician who was considered one of the greatest physicians of antiquity after Hippocrates, acme to Rome and start thriving practice Galen revolutionised the cosmetic industry by creating the world’s very first cold cream, which set the precedence for face cream used today.

Galen’s cold cream was made up of only four ingredients: water, rosewater, olive oil and beeswax. He found that when this cream was applied to the skin, it produced a cooling sensation as the water in the cream evaporated. At the same time, the oils helped to soften the skin and the rosewater gave the skin a nice, soft fragrance (there were no such things as synthetic fragrance or perfume in those days).

Needless to say, Gallen’s cold cream was in great demand everywhere. However, the creams were unstable, i.e., the oil and water segregated after a while and spoiled quickly. Hence they had to be packed into very small pots to be used up fast by the customers. Nevertheless, Galen’s cold cream set the stage for modern skin care technology. The rest, as they say, is History.

Thus are a brief history about natural beauty from the Ancient time. Hope it will be useful for you all DIY Beauty Creators :). And thank you for your time reading my blog. If you have any suggestion feel free to drop a comment below :).

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