We always love finding the next great thing when it comes to beauty, but sometimes true comfort and results come from returning to our roots. Throughout the world, every country has age-old, time-tested secrets that women use for looking and feeling beautiful. With modern transport now meaning you can travel the Globe in just a matter of days, foreign beauty secrets are being discovered and shared around the world.
Ancient women like Cleopatra, stunned not only with their flair and strategical skills, but also with their beauty that seemed eternal. What were their secrets?
Civilizations have used forms of cosmetics — though not always recognizable to cosmetics users today — for centuries in religious rituals, to enhance beauty, and to promote good health. Cosmetic usage throughout history can be indicative of a civilization’s practical concerns, such as protection from the sun; class system; or of its conventions of beauty.The timeline below represents a brief history of cosmetics usage, beginning with the Ancient Egyptians in 10,000 BCE up through the beginning of the 20th Century.
COSMETICS IN THE ANCIENT WORLD
Men and women in Egypt use scented oils and ointments to clean and soften their skin and mask body odor. Cosmetics are an integral part of Egyptian hygiene and health. Oils and creams are used for protection against the hot Egyptian sun and dry winds. Myrrh, thyme, marjoram, chamomile, lavender, lily, peppermint, rosemary, cedar, rose, aloe, olive oil, sesame oil, and almond oil provide the basic ingredients of most perfumes that Egyptians use in religious ritual.
Egyptian women apply galena mesdemet (made of copper and lead ore) and malachite (bright green paste of copper minerals) to their faces for color and definition. They employ a combination of burnt almonds, oxidized copper, different-colored coppers ores, lead, ash, and ochre — together called kohl — to adorn the eyes in an almond shape. Women carry cosmetics to parties in makeup boxes and keep them under their chairs.
Chinese people began to stain their fingernails with gum arabic, gelatin, beeswax, and egg. The colors used represent social class: Chou dynasty royals wear gold and silver, with subsequent royals wearing black or red. Lower classes are forbidden to wear bright colors on their nails.
Grecian women paint their faces with white lead and apply crushed mulberries as rouge. The application of fake eyebrows, often made of oxen hair, is also fashionable.
Chinese and Japanese citizens commonly use rice powder to make their faces white. Eyebrows are shaved off, teeth painted gold or black and henna dyes applied to stain hair and faces.
Grecians whiten their complexion with chalk or lead face powder and fashion crude lipstick out of ochre clays laced with red iron.
In Rome, people put barley flour and butter on their pimples and sheep fat and blood on their fingernails for polish. In addition, mud baths come into vogue, and some Roman men dye their hair blond.
Henna is used in India as a hair dye and in mehndi, an art form in which complex designs are painted on to the hands and feet, especially before a Hindu wedding. Henna is also used in some North African cultures.
COSMETICS IN THE MIDDLE AGES
As a result of the Crusades, perfumes are first imported to Europe from the Middle East.
In Elizabethan England, dyed red hair comes into fashion. Society women wear egg whites over their faces to create the appearance of a paler complexion. Yet, some thought cosmetics blocked proper circulation and therefore posed a health threat.
1400 – 1500 AD:
In Europe, only the aristocracy use cosmetics, with Italy and France emerging as the main centers of cosmetics manufacturing. Arsenic is sometimes used in face powder instead of lead.
The modern notion of complex scent-making evolves in France. Early fragrances are amalgams of naturally occurring ingredients. Later, chemical processes for combining and testing scents supersede their arduous and labor-intensive predecessors.
European women often attempt to lighten their skin using a variety of products, including white lead paint. Queen Elizabeth I of England was one well-known user of white lead, with which she created a look known as “the Mask of Youth.” Blonde hair rises in popularity as it is considered angelic. Mixtures of black sulphur, alum, and honey were painted onto the hair and left to work in the sun.
19TH AND EARLY 20TH CENTURY COSMETICS
Zinc oxide becomes widely used as a facial powder, replacing the previously used deadly mixtures of lead and copper. One such mixture, Ceruse, made from white lead, is later discovered to be toxic and blamed for physical problems including facial tremors, muscle paralysis, and even death.
Queen Victoria publicly declares makeup improper. It is viewed as vulgar and acceptable only for use by actors.
In Edwardian Society, pressure increases on middle-aged women to appear as young as possible while acting as hostesses. Increased, but not completely open, cosmetic use is a popular method of achieving this goal.
Beauty salons increase in popularity, though patronage of such salons is not necessarily accepted. Because many women are loathe to admit that they needed assistance to look young, they often entered salons through the back door.
Women and vanity have always gone hand in hand whatever culture, country or time of history it might have been. Archaeologists have found makeup on buried women, beauty tools in their graves and even beauty manuals written by influential women of the time. The jaw dropping beauty rituals in our article bizarre beauty rituals from around the world fade in comparison to some of the death defying beauty secrets we have dug up from the ancient world history. Take a look at how women from various parts of the world indulged themselves in beautification and cosmetics even thousands of years ago.
No other culture has been so influenced by the concept of beautification and body care as Egyptians. Egyptian queens like Nefertiti had their own blend of kohl which was found to have anti bacterial properties. But even the lowliest of citizens were supplied olive oil with their wages so that they could care for their bodies. Cleopatra, the famed Egyptian beauty, even wrote a book on beauty secrets and art of makeup. Ancient Egyptians had discovered secrets to treat conditions like wrinkles, stretch marks and scarring.
Cosmetics played a large role in the Egyptian health and hygiene rituals. Aside from kohl, they used lip and cheek paints, body oils, perfumes, and ointments and lotions to remove blemishes and wrinkles. Red ochre was used to give lips and cheeks a red tinge while the scented oils and perfumes were mixtures of almonds, cardamom, cinnamon, sweet rush, myrrh, castor oil and frankincense, as well as herbs such as marjoram, thyme, chamomile, cedar and many others. Donkey’s milk and honey were used in the lotions for smooth skin, and a popular cleansing agent was water mixed with salts of natron. Beeswax, oils and animal fats were used as a matrix to combine the other ingredients and make the cosmetic into a product that could be applied with ease.
- Crocodile dung mixed with donkey’s milk was used by Cleopatra as a face mask. She also famously bathed in milk with rose petals for hours at end.
- Cheeks were blushed using a mixture of clay and crushed beetles. Only women from high class were allowed to have long hair and slave women had to cut their hair very short which were often used for making headpieces for the aristocrats.
- Although lead in makeup is a definite no-no today, ancient Egyptians made eyeliners from lead based kohl
There is a reason why an exceptionally beautiful woman is called a “Greek goddess”. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess, has long been the ideal with whom beautiful women are compared. Helen of Troy was even the cause of one of the bloodiest wars in Greek history. Since light complexion was favored by all in the ancient Greece, women often wore very little makeup. Honey and olive oil were the favored ingredients in all cosmetics.
Nowadays, when we think of Greek women, we think of sultry, olive-skinned beauties. Back in the day, however, the noblewomen of Greek society preferred the palest skin possible. To obtain that effect, they mixed powdered white lead with water which they then daubed over their face, neck and arms. Red iron oxide was used as rouge and lip coloring, as were crushed mulberries or particular kinds of seaweed. For the eyes, they used ground charcoal or soot mixed with olive oil. Eyebrows weren’t excluded: they colored these using dark powders made from the same materials as the eyeliner and –shadow. To connect the eyebrows was considered very fashionable.
Olive oil and honey were used as facial masks and lotions, to give the skin a natural, healthy glow. Of course, that didn’t protect the ladies in question from lead-poisoning – the price they paid for their smooth, white skins. Hair was lightened using vinegar and a spell in the sun; archaeologists have found broad-rimmed hats with a hole in the center, possibly to keep the skin nice and pale while the hair turned lighter to match it.
Perfume was widely used, as well. Made from fragrant herbs like rose, iris, anise, lily, thyme and sage and oils such as castor, almond and linseed oils, these were applied mostly to be more appealing to the opposite gender. Though this wouldn’t help the women much who stayed indoors as much as possible, not only to prevent the sun from tanning them, according to the poet Eubulus, but also because sweating would cause their makeup to run.
- White lead mixed with olive oil was often used to whiten the skin. Although this made their face visibly lighter, the women were also subjected to death by slow lead poisoning which was absorbed in their skin.
- Ancient Greeks liked connected eyebrows (unibrow) and would use dark powder to decorate their eyes.
- To achieve blond hair, which was highly coveted, women would drench their hair in vinegar to bleach them that would lead to hairfall and thus the popularity of wigs.
Although Japanese women have long been associated with clear, glossy and healthy skin, the poignant image that pops in your head when someone says Japanese beauty is that of a beautiful geisha. Geishas had to use elaborate make up routines to achieve that ghostly look with red bee stung lips.
- Geishas removed their eyebrows with tweezers and painted in thick, false eyebrows. During the Heian era geishas would blacken their teeth using a mixture of oxidised iron fillings steeped in an acidic solution.
- Geishas used rice flour powder based paste as a foundation. The women used to remove their heavy makeup with nightingale poop which did wonders for their skin. The active chemical in the bird poop is guanine which cleanses the skin and rejuvenates it.
- The beauty of Japanese women was often judged on the basis of their hair length and the ideal length was considered 2 feet below their waist.
Queen Elizabeth was the epitome of beauty and style for the women in Elizabethan era. English women went to great heights to emulate their monarch. Although cosmetics were considered a hazard because they were considered to block energy from the skin surface, women still strived for the pale and porcelain complexion thanks to their queen.
- A high forehead was considered the sign of aristocracy and women actually plucked their hairline to achieve this look.
- Raw egg whites were rubbed all over the face to achieve a smooth and glazed complexion.
- To achieve the much coveted pale pallor, women not only used lead in makeup but also consumed arsenic which gave a white glow to the skin while shortening their lifespan. Some women even used leeches which would bleed them out to achieve the naturally pale look.
- Most shocking probably would be the use of slimy tapeworms which women gladly swallowed as these worms digested most of their food keeping the women slim and trim
No talk about beauty can be complete without mentioning the beauty secrets of my motherland – India. Indian women have been considered among the most beautiful thanks to their exotic complexion and striking eyes. Ancient Indians got the art of looking healthy and beautiful down to a science. Ayurveda, the science of life, is full of scriptures which have preserved many secrets of looking gorgeous using natural ingredients.
- In ancient India the beautification of any Indian bride would not be complete without Solah Singaar (Sixteen adornments). These sixteen steps covered head to toe and represented sixteen phases of the moon.
- Cow dung and urine was used in the ancient India for its medicinal properties. With its anti-infective properties cow urine was used for slimming, acne-fighting, healing cracked heels and cleansing your system.
- Women in the Mughal period thought of chewing betel leaves as an essential part of their beauty routine. Although this did give their lips a red stain it also left their teeth decayed.
So this is how women in ancient times kept up with their beauty routines and make up rituals. Not much has changed; women still go to great lengths to keep themselves looking attractive. What do you think of these shocking beauty secrets?
The usage of cosmetics in Rome, while first for ritual purposes, soon became a fixed part of daily life of women. Not just the wealthy women, but prostitutes also employed the art of cultus (the Latin collective for makeup, perfume and jewellery) in order to look their best.
Like the Greek, Roman women desired the palest skin possible. They’d use not only white lead, but tin oxide or white marle among others, and even crocodile dung to get this effect. For rouge, they applied products made of Tyrian vermillion, alkanet, poppy petals, red chalk or red ochre. Blemishes were an absolute no-go, and a Roman woman had a variety of means at her disposal to conceal these. For the imperfections that proved too persisted for ointments and lotions made from swan’s fat, donkey’s milk, bean-meal and gum Arabic, there were leather patches of alum they could apply directly on to the spot, to make it look like a beauty mark. In contrast to their Greek and Egyptian contemporaries, Roman women did their best to have their makeup look as natural as possible. This might explain why there doesn’t seem to be evidence of lip paints being used by these women. Kohl was in use for eyes and eyebrows, with saffron added to it to mask some of the smell.
The smell was very important: many of the ingredients used in cosmetics had a terrible stink to them, such as facial masks made from the sweat of sheep (now known as lanolin and still in use in many products). While in the early Roman Republic only pure oils were used as beauty products, in the later Empire many herbs and fragrant ingredients would be added to mask the stench of other products. Fresh breath was highly valued as well, and men and women alike would chew a mix of pumice powder and baking soda to counter foul odours.
Ancient Beauty Tricks: Rose Water
One of the best ancient beauty tricks still used is rose water. In Persian culture, rose water was considered a beauty symbol. Nowadays, many Iranian women continue to use rose water as a daily toner that helps nourish and gently cleanse their skin. Plus, this incredible ancient beauty trick also has anti-inflammatory properties, which makes it a great ancient beauty secret choice.
Ancient Greek Beauty Secrets: Lemon
Lemon is probably one of the greatest ancient Greek Beauty secrets. Back in Ancient Greece, most women wanted to flaunt golden locks, which was considered a gift from their gods. So, they squeezed lemons and then applied the fresh lemon juice on their beautiful tresses. Soon after, they went outside, allowing the sun to naturally lighten their hair. You may rely on this lovely ancient Green beauty secret to highlight your locks during summer, when you’re spending quality time with your friends outdoors.
Ancient Beauty Secrets for Flawless Skin: Turmeric
If you want to have flawless skin, then you should go for one of the most famous Indian spices: turmeric. In Indian culture, this special ingredient is believed to reduce skin pigmentation and also balance the skin tone. Plus, this ancient beauty trick has great anti-inflammatory properties that will help your skin heal faster. By using turmeric, your skin will not only look healthier, it will also look rejuvenated and glowing.
Ancient Beauty Secrets: Tea
Amongst the best well-kept ancient beauty secrets is tea. Japanese and Chinese people made an art out of drinking tea and acknowledged this element’s healing properties. Moreover, green tea is filled with antioxidants that protect your body against free radicals. Plus, green tea masks will add vitality and hydration to your skin. So, you should prepare tea masks once a week and enjoy one of the top ancient beauty secrets from around the world!
Ancient Beauty Secret from Around the World: African Black Soap
This is definitely one of the best ancient beauty secrets from around the world. This black soap is often called ‘Ose Dudu’ and has its origins in Western Africa. Its ingredients are extremely important (e.g. shea butter, coconut oil and palm oil) because they’re rich in antioxidants that will help you prevent skin cell anti-oxidation. So, if you’re dealing with dry skin, you should definitely use the African black soap as a cleanser.
Ancient Beauty Trick: Bugs
During Queen Elizabeth I reign, British women found a great means of seduction: bright red lips. As weird as it might sound to us today, back then most women used the squashed remains of the insects and rubbed them on their lips in order to achieve a beautiful and seductive shade of red.
Ancient Beauty Secret: Dry Sauna
Back in the day, long before sauna became a ‘must try’, Swedish women realized that a transition from a hot to a cold environment boosted blood circulation and made the skin look healthier. The beauty benefits of one of the most important ancient beauty secrets were so great that many Swedish women chose to use dry saunas. Nowadays, this incredible ancient beauty trick is used by millions as it helps the body release toxins through sweat and makes the skin look rejuvenated.
Ancient Beauty Secrets from Around the World: Crocodile Dung and Donkey Milk
This is probably one of the most famous weird ancient beauty secrets from around the world. Cleopatra looked beautiful and young and one of her secrets was the mixture of donkey’s milk and crocodile dung. She used this paste as a facial mask which turned out to have some amazing results: a fresh, young and natural glowing skin.