Skin care has a very long history with the first recorded cosmetics and skin care regimens being developed in ancient Egypt. The ancient Egyptians used skin care products to both increase their attractiveness and to protect themselves from the intense sun and dry winds.
Cosmetics in Ancient Egypt
Around 10,000 BC, the ancient Egyptians made perfumes out of a variety of ingredients like myrrh, cedar, peppermint, aloe, almond oil and many others. The perfumes would be used in religious rituals and to conceal body odor. The Egyptians also developed the first known moisturizers.
Six thousand years later, the ancient Egyptians developed an eyeliner called kohl that was used to make their eyes look attractively almond-shaped. Kohl was made from a mixture of animal fat, copper, lead, burnt almonds and ash.
Innovations in China, Greece and Rome
In 3000 BC, the ancient Chinese developed the first known nail polish, which they made out of gum, gelatin, egg, and beeswax. During the Chou dynasty, the colors of the nail polish indicated social status. Members of the royal family wore gold and silver polish, for example.
Around the same time, the ancient Greeks made false eyebrows out of ox hair. They also made rouge out of white lead and crushed mulberries. Around 1000 BC, the ancient Greeks used lead or chalk face powder to make their faces white, and they made lipstick out of ochre clays and red iron.
Wealthy Greeks were tended by slaves who would painstakingly pluck unwanted hairs from their masters’ bodies, for they considered a smooth look more attractive than a hairy one. Such slaves were called cosemetae, which is the root of the word “cosmetic.” Athletes in ancient Greece used a mixture of fine sand and olive oil as sun screen.
During the first century AD, the ancient Romans developed a pimple treatment made from butter and barley flour. They also made nail polish from blood and sheep fat. Mud baths became fashionable around this time.
St. Hildegarde of Bingen (1098 – 1179) had a busy and long life. She was an abbess, composer, philosopher and writer. She also devised a recipe for moisturizer: cook barley in water, filter it through a cloth, and use the resulting water on one’s face.
During the Middle Ages, the various European kingdoms repeatedly attempted to conquer the Holy Land. Knights returning from these Crusades sometimes brought cosmetics back with them. In the 13th century, the Crusaders thus introduced perfume to Europe.