Timeless Beauty: Skincare Through The Ages

Historical Facts | June 20, 2019

A detail of a painting from the tomb of Nakht depicting three ladies preparing for a feast by using skincare products. Source: (Photo by Werner Forman/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

According to paintings, sculptures, and literature, the women of antiquity were gorgeous. From Cleopatra and Helen of Troy to Guinevere and Sita, there was certainly no shortage of beautiful women from our past. How did they stay so beautiful without the Clinique Skincare line, Botox, and Instagram filters? You’d be surprised at what women used to use to keep their skin healthy and glowing. 

The Egyptians invented makeup, but also took good care of their skin. Source: (makeup.lovetoknow.com)

The Ancient Egyptians, Inventors of Makeup

We can credit the ancient Egyptians with launching the cosmetic industry more the 6,000 years ago. Egyptian makeup was a way to honor the gods and goddesses by emulating them, after all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Makeup aside, the women of ancient Egypt kept their skin healthy and hydrated in the desert climate by washing with soap made of olive oil and clay, two ingredients found in trendy skincare products today. They also made face masks using honey and milk and exfoliated their skin with salt from the Dead Sea. You could say that ancient Egyptian women were ahead of their time. 

Honey, yogurt, and goat's milk helped Greek woman stay beautiful. Source: (lionessebeautybar.net)

Chic Greeks

The ancient Greeks used a variety of beauty products that would make today’s Cosmo girls jealous – eye shadows, perfumes, hair dyes, lip gloss, and the list goes on. For skincare, the Greeks used natural items found in their kitchens to get radiant skin. Textual evidence remains that tell us Greek women gave themselves facials with a mixture of goat’s milk and fresh berries. Honey and yogurt were both applied to the skin to smooth out wrinkles and olive oil was used as an overall skin moisturizer. 

Beauty was important, even in the Dark Ages. Source: (justadram.tumblr.com)

Looking Good in the Dark Ages

Even in the Dark Ages, women wanted to look their best. Cosmetics of the day were often made with harsh and dangerous substances, like arsenic and lead. Add to this the fact that people didn’t bathe as much as they should have, and you have a recipe for a skin care disaster. Removing makeup from the skin often required the use of acidic rinses, like vinegar and wine, that disrupted the skin’s natural pH balance. Women soothed their reddened skin with goat’s milk and honey. 

Medieval women discovered that herbs could keep skin healthy and blemish-free. Source: (skinstation.co.uk)

The Use of Herbal Remedies in Medieval Times

Women in the Medieval era were fond of using herbs and natural plants to keep their skin smooth and blemish-free. Rosemary, chamomile, lavender, and clover were blended with honey or animal fat to make face masks. Aloe vera and cucumbers were used to soothe irritated skin and vinegar worked as an astringent to close pores. 

Skincare regiment in Elizabethan times were often harsh and damaging. Source: (womens-fashion.lovetoknow.com)

Harsh Times in Elizabethan England

Women in Elizabethan England often used mercury to remove blemishes and acne from their faces. While it may have been effective at clearing up a zit or two, the mercury came with its own set of problems. It is a corrosive substance that led to scarring and permanent discoloration of the skin. 

Renaissance women sought skincare products to make their skin pasty white. Source: (fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu)

A Renaissance in Skincare?

The use of mercury as a skincare product carried over into the Renaissance Era. Women, in their desire for pale white skin, applied silver mercury, chalk, and lead powder to create the desired paleness. Of course, these cosmetic products caused skin irritations. To combat this, women used herbs and honey to remedy their skin. For the first time, we see the use of oatmeal as a skincare product. Oatmeal was boiled with vinegar and applied to acne to reduce outbreaks. For puffy undereye areas, clever Renaissance women soaked bits of bread in rose water and held them to their eyes. 

Heavy rouge and other makeup was the trend in the Baroque Era. Source: (janeaustensworld.wordpress.com)

Sweating with the Oldies

Hot saunas and lots of sweating … that was how women in the Baroque Era cleansed their skin. It opened their pores and helped to flush out the heavy cosmetics they used. The Baroque period was a time with dark, thick, painted-on makeup was all the rage. Removing all this makeup took the power of vinegar or distilled alcohol, both of which dried skin. To add more moisture, milk baths were the trendy thing to do. 

Skincare ad from the 1950s. Source: (glamourdaze.com)

Modern Times

Natural skincare products of the 1800 and 1900s included oatmeal, honey, egg yolks, and olive oil. Some of the first commercial skincare products hit the scene, including Vaseline, Carmex, and sunscreen lotions. Many of the early commercial skincare products contained unproven ingredients or harsh chemicals. Interestingly, in the last few decades, we are seeing a return to some of the skincare products that women in antiquity used, such as sea salt, honey, chamomile, and clay. 

Tags: beauty | timeless beauty through the ages

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Karen Harris


Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.