Where did skin-care routines come from?

Where did skin-care routines come from?

By Zahraa Raj

If you thought that people today were the only ones obsessed with good looking skin, you've probably never taken a history lesson. Umm.. Cleopatra? She bathed in smelly milk for her wrinkles? There was also that Queen who drank blood to keep her skin 'vibrant'. The point is- we cant seem to get enough of perfect skin. While the idea of a skincare routine seems been a product of early stage Capitalism, the truth is that it is a century-old practice. So where did it start?

It All Began in Ancient Egypt:

It all started 6000 years ago in Ancient Egypt, where the women began using cosmetics on a daily basis. On some occasions, it held cultural significance. "Cosmetification" was used for mummification, burials, and honoring traditional Gods and Goddesses. It was also used as a means to protect them from the harsh sun and dangerous insects. 

Skincare in the time of Ancient Egypt consisted of castor, sesame, and moringa oils to fight wrinkles and preserve youthfulness. Soap paste made out of clay, olive, essential oils, dough and ostrich eggs were used to cleanse the skin. Honey and milk masks were used in baths and as moisturizers. Dead sea salts and aloe, myrrh, and frankincense were used to exfoliate, rejuvenate and heal the skin. 

Followed by The Greeks:

The Greeks took the idea of skin care a step further by spending an entire day in the spa to solely focus on their skin. Workers would pluck out the hair of their 'client's' bodies to give them a sleek appearance. Fragrant perfumes and oils were specially shipped from thousands of miles away, just for the skincare market. 

Sand and oils were used to protect their skin from the sun, and prevention from tanning, which was mainly associated with the working or lower class. 

In the past, skin of colour was looked down upon, while white skin was revered as a hallmark of beauty. Skin whitening ingredients were used such as white lead, crocodile dung and chalk. Face masks with eggs and starch were used to tighten the skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Many also used gels and lotions as a bleach, and one natural ingredient still used today.

Renaissance Rules:

In addition to the already in use treatments, women used to include broom stalks to cleanse the skin and oatmeal boiled in vinegar to treat pimples. A popular puffy eye treatment included bread soaked with rose water. 

During the Baroque Era, saunas and milk cleansers were used for smoother and clearer skin. Heading towards the 1800’s modernization gave importance to exercise, skin care and cleanliness. The use of zinc oxide was made for skin lightening but that came with rather allergic reactions. Harsh cleansers as well as egg yolks, honey, and oatmeal to soften the skin and diminish blemishes. Lemon juice as a natural bleach was made popular during these times. 


As skin care moved to Europe, it saw the introduction of newer ingredients and products. The first cold cream was made of rose and water with the addition of beeswax. The idea of cleansing was still in the unknown and he ce they kept adding on alum and olive lead to treat acne and scabs. 

Twentieth century skincare was primarily focused on cleansing, clear and a more youthful skin. However, with the introduction of these products they lacked basic protection from the sun and saw a rise in skin cancer rates. Doctors studied the results related to higher sun exposure and skin  cancer and from there SPF was introduced. 

This time even saw the arrival of a multi-step skincare routine, which is similar to the ones offered today: moisturizers, toners, serums, etc. 

1946 saw the launch of various skin care products and the 1980's saw a rise in all natural products. And the rest is in front of your eyes. Now, everybody- from Rihanna to Tiktok influencers are launching their own skincare lines. But the idea of a skincare routine is still exactly the same. Who would've guessed it is centuries old?




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