A Gallop through the History of Skincare 2023

A gallop through the history of skincare gives us incredible insight into how the different cultures lived.

Using of Milk for Skin Care in Ancient Times

Milk-Bath-history of skin care

As far back as Ancient Egypt the legend of Queen Cleopatra bathing in a milk bath has set the tone for this multi billion dollar industry. Cleansers, exfoliating scrubs, moisturizers, anti-aging treatments – the list of products documented by these Egyptian experts does not vary greatly to what we have available to us on the market today.

The most popular cleanser was a soap paste made out of clay and olive oil. Castor, sesame and moringa oils were blended to fight wrinkles and preserve their skin.

Using of Seaweed and Jellyfish for Skin Care in Ancient Times

ancient Chinese Woman-history of skin care

Seaweed and jellyfish were the ingredients put into cleansers used by the Chinese living under the Shang Dynasty in 1760 BC. As early as this there seemed to be an understanding and acceptance that what you put into your body will manifest itself through your skin, so women of high birth were particularly careful about what they put into their bodies, as much as what they put onto their faces.

In particular it was believed that eating black beans, sesame seeds and Chinese Yam would improve the skin.

Using of Animal Fats for Skin Care in Ancient Times

Source: woodsbotanicals.com

During Medieval times and moving into the Renaissance, the cosmetics used were made of heavy animal fats, to create a smooth white skin that was highly prized in terms of beauty. Later silver mercury, lead and chalk were incorporated to get the same blanching effect.

To clean their faces of this heavy make up women needed ingredients that helped refresh and rejuvenate the skin, and this was achieved with concoctions made from aloe Vera, rosemary and cucumbers.

Seeds, herbs and honey were also popular ingredients to create scrubs and facemasks.

Skin Care in Medieval Times


This desire for ‘whiteness’ was socially motivated. Throughout Europe from medieval times onwards, well into the 20th century, a dark, tanned skin was the sign of a working man or woman who had spent their time toiling in the fields or outside in some other ‘serf’ working capacity.

The ruling classes had the time and leisure to stay indoors and protect their skin from the elements. Lightening their skin was a way of boosting their own social status.

The greatest ‘influencer’ of this trend that we would recognize today is Queen Elizabeth I.

Images of the Queen with a pale complexion, achieved through the use of white lead, have been used throughout history.

She had her own set of followers who copied this trend, even going so far as undergoing a process called ‘bleeding’ in order to achieve the same washed out effect.

Rather disturbingly, the practice of using cleansers took a back step during the Elizabethan ea. Bathing, washing and general cleanliness fell out of fashion.

To maintain their pale looks, instead of washing their faces and reapplying the lead based foundation, women (and men) would simply apply a new layer on top of the old.

Skin Care in 20th and 21st Centuries

Source: glamourdaze.com

Moving into the twentieth and 21st centuries, ideas around beauty and history of skin care have changed considerably.

While maintaining a pale skin was still wrapped in social and, increasingly, racial undertones, the 1920s welcomed a new fashion trend – the light summer tan, achieved by the rich and famous who could afford summers spent on the beaches of the Cote d’Azur. However, the primary focus was on maintaining a skin that was clean, and youthful.

Beach holidays were opened up to the masses in the sixties and seventies, forcing a wider acceptance of darker, tanned skins in the wider populace.

Much more investment was made into products that protected the skin against burning, and against what we now understand now, against skin cancers.

Leave a Comment