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A Brief History of Skincare

The concept of skin care is an ancient one, dating back thousands of years to prehistoric times. In order to truly appreciate where the industry is today, and how far it has come over the years, it always helps to understand how everything really began.

The Ancient Egyptians

Did you know that the very first piece of skin care archaeological evidence dates back 6000 years ago to Ancient Egypt?

The Ancient Egyptians were known for their dedication to skin care, with this not only being an important part of their culture, but also a key aspect when it came to mummification and burial traditions. Even in the most humble tombs, archaeologists have still discovered small clay pots containing cosmetics.

But cosmetics were not just for beauty purposes in Ancient Egypt…

The climate that they had to deal with was extremely harsh, and the effects that this had on their skin was likely what triggered the Ancient Egyptians to delve deeper into the world of skin care.

Wondering what these cosmetics were made from?

The Ancient Egyptians turned to nature for their skin care ingredients, thanks to their deep knowledge of plants, oils and organic compounds, with some popular products being:

  • Exfoliating scrubs made from aloe vera and sand
  • Moisturizers made from plant oils, such as olive oil
  • Anti-aging lotions made from fenugreek, castor and moringa oils
  • Face masks made from honey and milk

Of course, there were no health and safety regulations back in Ancient Egypt, meaning that many of the products that they created actually made use of some harmful ingredients, such as white lead and mercury, although research suggests that their use of lead may have helped to counter eye infections, such as conjunctivitis.

The Ancient Greeks

The word cosmetics actually comes from the Greek word kosmetikos, so you can only imagine how influential the Greeks were in shaping the direction that skin care was taking. Although they did borrow quite a bit from the Ancient Egyptians, they added their own twist to everything they learned, pushing the boundaries of knowledge.

Nudity was something that signified beauty in Ancient Greece, so taking care of the skin all over the body was so important. Both women and men in this time used to regularly moisturize their bodies with a mixture of honey and olive oil, while Greek athletes were known for taking olive oil baths.

The Greeks are famous for the creation of the very first cold cream, which was made by a Greek physician who mixed together rose water, beeswax and olive oil. It was only in 1907 that this recipe was altered, with the olive oil being replaced with mineral oil in order to create a more stable formula.

The Ancient Romans

Hair removal was an important part of the culture in Ancient Rome, for both women and men. This lead to the Romans developing new methods of shaving, as well as bleaching and dying hair.

For the Ancient Romans, beauty was all about cleanliness, making skin cleansing vital. This is why Roman baths became a huge part of their culture, with everything from steam therapy to body scrubs to massages being available at these bath houses.

Facials were also popular, with common ingredients used being:

  • Corn
  • Flour
  • Milk
  • Butter
  • Flower oils, almonds and saffron for fragrances

The Ancient Chinese

Sallehudin Ahmad /

While all of these skin care innovations were going on in Europe, the Ancient Chinese were making plenty of developments in the skin care world themselves.

It was during the Shang Dynasty, around 1760 BC, that skin care really began in China, with the natural and pale look being desired across the country. In order to enhance this, face powders and skin lighteners became increasingly popular.

Cleansers were also commonplace throughout China, with the wealthy using ingredients such as seaweed and jellyfish.

During the Tang Dynasty, the quest for smooth and light skin continued. One of the most popular ingredients used in skin lighteners at the time was songyi mushrooms, which is still used in many lightening products today. Not only does this ingredient lighten the skin, but it also softens and nourishes it at the same time, which cannot be said for many of the alternative, chemical-based skin lightening ingredients out there. 

Although all of these skin lightening products were so popular throughout China, the emphasis was still placed on a more holistic approach to skin care.

What does this mean?

It means being aware of how everything from diet to the sun can affect the skin, so that you can care for your skin from both the inside as well as the outside. This is something that was even more important to the Ancient Chinese than all of their skin lightening products.

Interested in giving this a try?

Here are a few tips to get you started:

The Medieval Times

During the Medieval Times, smooth and pale skin was revered, so people began to create ointments to help them to achieve this.

Common ingredients used include:

  • Animal fats
  • Aloe vera
  • Rosemary
  • Cucumbers
  • Flowers, leaves and seeds
  • Vinegar

The Renaissance

Social status was extremely important during the Renaissance period.

Those who had agricultural jobs would spend more time outside, resulting in darker, tanned skin, and this was an instant giveaway of their place in society.

In order to try to cheat this a bit, skin lightening products grew in popularity, with women in particular using everything from silver mercury to lead to chalk to lighten their faces.

This was also possibly the time when the very first dry brushing technique was conceived…

Dry brushing makes use of a special brush to exfoliate the skin, boosting circulation and helping with a wide range of skin issues. During the Renaissance period, people would use broom stalks in a similar way. 

Tempted to give this a try?

You would be best off purchasing a dedicated dry brush, as these will be made from bristles that will be far more gentle on your skin than broom stalks.

Another popular DIY remedy during the Renaissance period was using oatmeal that had been boiled in vinegar to treat pimples, as well as using bread that had been soaked in rose water to minimize puffiness around the eyes.

The Baroque Era

Skin care during the Baroque Era was actually quite similar to skin care during the Renaissance period, although women in the Baroque Era took the concept of cleansing even further.


By being dedicated to saunas and the process of sweat cleansing.

Wondering how this works?

The deep sweating that is stimulated by a sauna helps to remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, while also clearing out bacteria from the pores and the skin’s epidermal layer.

Sweating in a sauna also has a few other skin benefits, such as:

  • Brings fluid filled with nutrients and minerals to the skin
  • Helps to maintain collagen structures underneath the skin
  • Reduces wrinkles and sagging skin
  • Flushes out toxins from the skin and the body
  • Boosts circulation, resulting in a healthy glow
  • Relieves stress, which can then minimize a range of other stress-related skin issues 

20th Century Skin Care

As you can see, many of the skin care ingredients and practices used throughout history are still used today, but, of course, there have been some significant developments since then.

It was in the 1900s that many of the cosmetics companies that dominate the industry today were first established, and this only led to so many more skin care advances.

It was also around this time, in 1906 to be precise, that the FDA, which stands for Food and Drug Administration, was formed. This was actually in response to a study published by the American Medical Association, which depicted cases of lead palsy caused by the use of a certain cosmetic product.

The skin care industry experienced even more growth around the 1920’s.


Well, not only was this when industrialization hit the USA, but film stars and fashion models also became so influential.

Although the war did have an impact on this, post-war years saw cosmetics become more widely available than ever, with everything from creams and lotions to cleansers and foundations being sold.

Many people used to use cosmetics to try to look more like their favorite movie star, but this began to change in the 1970’s and 1980’s.


Thanks to the even greater variety of products that manufacturers were creating, the trendy thing to now do was to use cosmetics to enhance natural features, trying to look one’s best rather than directly copying someone else’s look.

As the baby boomers took over the world, there was an increase in demand for products that produced fast, visible results. In order to cater to this demand, companies began looking into new ingredients, creating formulas that contained unique botanicals, antioxidants and vitamins.

While many of these formulas used similar ingredients to those that were used in ancient times, the modern products underwent laboratory testing, and were much more stable, and therefore reliable, than earlier versions.

The baby boomers were also the generation who really became concerned with the aging process, leading to a surge of anti-aging products hitting the market.

It also led to cosmetic surgery becoming more popular, as people began to look for any way possible to stop the clock.

Speaking of cosmetic surgery…

This in itself is now undergoing quite the change. While invasive procedures used to be the go-to method for many issues, less invasive treatments, such as injectable fillers, are now being marketed as a safer, and more affordable, alternative.

Skin Care Today

Today, there is so much going on in the world of skin care…

The emphasis on knowing your skin type, and using products that have been designed for your own specific skin issues, is huge.

This is now leading on to an increase in customized skin care options.

Never heard of this?

Made-to-order skin care products are now available from so many different companies, and this is a trend that is really growing. Whether you have your skin examined by a dermatologist, who will then mix together a product for you, or have a machine do all of this, customized skin care is huge. 

Think it sounds like a bit of hype?

Well, if you think about it, everybody’s skin is different, which is why a skin care product will never work in exactly the same way for two different individuals. Customized skin care products take into account all of the unique needs that your own skin has, putting together the most effective ingredients to help you to achieve the results that you are looking for.

There has also been more of a push for natural skin care products in today’s world.


Because consumers are becoming more and more aware of what many of the harsh chemicals used in skin care products can do to the skin. It does not help that many ingredients have been linked to serious health risks, such as parabens being associated with skin cancer. 

The history of skin care is such a fascinating one, because while things have changed so much over the years, there are still so many similarities that can be seen between ancient times and today’s world. From the Ancient Egyptians paving the way with their natural botanicals to the incredible skin-boosting compounds that are created in laboratories today, it is truly impressive to see all of the developments that have been made in the skin care industry.


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