Hygiene and beauty standards may have been totally abandoned in the middle ages, but our sisters in the ancient world definitely knew something about looking pretty. The gorgeous women (and men!) of Ancient Egypt didn’t just wake up looking flawless from every angle—there were definitely some clever techniques involved that are worth knowing about, even today. We can learn a lot from the women of Ancient Rome, who were so vain that they had slaves dedicated solely to styling their hair, and the ladies of Ancient Greece, who needed to have their eyebrows on point even more than we do. There are ways to obtain hair as luscious and healthy as the Native American women used to rock it, and traditional Chinese and Indian culture can teach us all about balancing the body from within to shine from the outside. Here are 15 ancient techniques you need to take note of.
15 Roman Face Masks
Face masks have been around a lot longer than you probably think, and for the women of Rome, they were pretty much everything! If we look at the ingredients used in Ancient Roman face masks, they are actually not that dissimilar from some of the ingredients we would find in our modern packaged face masks, or even in the ones we would make at home. They loved using ingredients like fennel seeds, basil, vinegar, eggs, honey, anise, and of course, oils. It should not be too hard to whip up a D.I.Y. face cream at home with some of the ingredients that the Romans used, and compare the results with the ones we use already. There were a few, uh, less desirable ingredients used too, like Sulphur, ground oyster shells, placenta, human and animal sweat and swan’s fat. But they masked the odor with frankincense, so it’s all good! Phew
14 Body Sugaring
Think again if you’re under the impression that a hairless body is something that Kim K introduced to the world! Many of our ancient friends were about as keen on hairy legs as you are, and the Egyptian art of body sugaring was their answer to smooth, impeccable skin. Basically, sugar, lemon, and water were combined to make an all-natural paste which was applied to the unwanted hair. The sugar would stick to the hair instead of the skin, so it wasn’t nearly as irritable as the wax we use today. The paste was applied at room temperature as opposed to hot wax, so those getting sugared didn’t have to worry about leaving with a burn! This technique is still around today, so it might be worth following in Cleopatra’s footsteps and booking a sugaring session instead of a wax next time. It is supposed to be far less painful!
13 Rose Water
Rose water was used frequently by the incredibly stylish Ancient Egyptians, who used the fragrant liquid to tighten the pores. The benefits of rose water and rose oil are endless, and several figures throughout history were certainly infatuated with both the properties and the alluring scent. So why would you use rose water today? The liquid, which is created through the steam distillation of rose petals, is an anti-inflammatory super power, which relieves the skin after any sort of nasty irritation. The beautiful-smelling liquid is also anti-bacterial, so it’s great for those with acne, and is able to hydrate the skin and has a number of antioxidants, which will add moisture to dry skin and repair sun damage. We’d say that you should check the stuff out, but if you look through the ingredients on your moisturizers, toners, face masks, and makeup removers, you’ll probably find that you’re already using it!
12 Corn Exfoliator
Corn wasn’t just a staple part of the Native American diet—the crop also played a role in their beauty regimen! To exfoliate their skin, Native American women would rub ground corn on their bodies, which helped remove dead skin cells and get that velvety feel. Many people are still unaware of the anti-bacterial properties of corn, and it was also used to fight off topical infections. The Native Americans also believed that corn would improve the blood circulation in the body, and rubbed it on the skin of brides-to-be to help them achieve a lively, young-looking glow. You have to be happy with that! Blue corn was used instead of white or yellow corn, as it is coarser and was commonly used to make flour. The effects of corn were so amazing and crucial to the way of life that some tribes even thought of the crop as a deity.
11 Milk And Honey
Cleopatra, the iconic and last active pharaoh of Egypt, is widely believed to have bathed in milk and honey to keep her skin soft. She didn’t use just any old milk and honey but specifically requested the milk of young donkeys and the freshest honey. She’d combine them with almond oil and frequently bathe in the concoction, which is said by many to be one of the secrets of her youthful skin. The legend goes that she even used to bring young donkeys with her on her travels, just in case she felt like a bath. That’s some commitment to your beauty routine! Most of us probably don’t have the means (or desire) to house young donkeys and extract their milk, but we can emulate Cleopatra’s secret in other ways! Fill your bath with water, and add three cups of milk, half a cup of honey and five tablespoons of almond oil.
10 Chinese Green Tea
The Chinese have been drinking green tea for centuries, and when you consider the amazing benefits of the stuff, it’s easy to see why! It’s packed full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, and it has a positive effect on many areas of the body. It’s traditionally been used to keep the skin looking young and fight aging signs, so drinking a cup of green tea every day is an easy and beneficial way to boost your skin-care routine. Green tea also has the ability to speed up the metabolism, which will help you to lose weight. While green tea, in particular, has all these exceptional properties, the Chinese have also historically enjoyed a whole range of similar herbal teas for the wonderful effects they have on health and beauty. White tea, oolong tea, goji tea and JU HUA tea are also commonly used to detox the system and achieve an enviable glow.
We all know and love (and are pretty much obsessed with) avocados, but the people in the ancient world understood the importance of avocados in a beauty regimen! The Aztecs thought of avocado as the ultimate skin moisturizer and used it topically to achieve supple gentle skin. It was also applied to the face to reduce puffiness under the eyes, so that might be something to try the next time you wake up at six in the morning and have to go to work after a terrible sleep! The beauty of most of these techniques is that they’re easily accessible and so cheap that it’d be silly not to try them out. Avocado oil sounds terribly heavy, but in reality, human skin can absorb it without any trouble, so you don’t have to worry about it clogging all your pores. It’s actually used to reduce pore size which makes the skin look healthier!
8 Ancient Makeup
Cosmetics might be the last thing you’d expect to find if you were transported back to Ancient Greece or Rome, but they were hugely important for many great civilizations. The Greeks lightened their complexions with white lead, but once they realized this resulted in poisoning, they changed to white chalk. They used crushed mulberries for blush and red iron and clay for lipstick! Roman women used a number of similar ingredients and used red chalk to get glowing cheeks. You’re probably not going to exchange your MAC cheek palette for Crayola, but it’s nice to know in case you ever get stuck in the wilderness! The Egyptians were the gods of makeup and achieved those feline-shaped eyes that we still adore today with kohl, and used seaweed, green malachite, and saffron for color. They dyed their lips and hair with henna, which is a good natural option for those with sensitive skin!
The beauty benefits of eggs are becoming more well-known as the years go on, but the ancient beauty gurus were the first egg-sperts. (Sorry, we couldn't resist that one.) All the way back in around 600 B.C during the Chen Dynasty, the benefits of using eggs were being recorded for future reference. Egg whites would be applied to the neck to tighten saggy skin, and would similarly be applied to the face for a brief facelift. Today we know that the protein existing within the egg will add hydration to the skin too! Eggs are definitely one of the ingredients that cost next to nothing to add to your beauty routine, and making a face mask from an egg is easy as pie. Simply separate the white from the yolk, apply it to your face and leave it for 15 minutes. Wash it off with lukewarm water gently, and reap the benefits!
Ayurveda refers to the Indian holistic approach towards health, which dates back thousands of years and teaches that the mind, body, and spirit must be aligned with the universe to achieve the finest health. While this is becoming more popular today in the west, the ancient women of India always approached their beauty routines with this principle in mind, and the results were and still are astonishing! They believed strongly in not putting anything on the skin that you wouldn’t put in your mouth since things are absorbed into the body through both avenues. It’s not a bad idea when you think about it! They’d use edible skin care which was made from a range of nutrient-rich herbs and oils like tulsi, sandalwood, amla and neem. You don’t have to follow these exact remedies, but sticking to natural, non-harmful ingredients might make your skin glow like it never has before!
5 Almonds, Charcoal And Oxen Hair
Good brows were even more crucial in Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome than they are today. To achieve the darkest, most filled-out eyebrows they could, the Egyptians would paint their eyebrows black with burnt almonds. This is something that would be fun to try, even if the almonds aren’t nearly as effective as your brow pencil! This might make you cringe, but the Greeks and Romans are said to have aspired to unibrows, so they really took the filling out thing to another level. We don’t quite need that much hair up there, but it’s still interesting to know how they thickened up their eyebrows, especially if we’re struggling with thin, sparse ones. The Greeks used oxen hair to give themselves fake eyebrows, while the Romans opted for charcoal applied with the splinter of a bone. We’re not keen on the oxen hair, but the charcoal could be one to try.
4 Hydrating Gloves
Everyone knows that you can always tell a woman’s age by the skin on her hands, so it’s a good idea to take care of your hands while you’re still young! Nobody knew this better than Marie Antoinette, who is said to have gone to bed every night wearing special gloves lined with rose water, sweet almond oil, and wax to keep her hands soft and young. Okay, so this isn’t an ancient secret, and it’s not exactly realistic for the majority of us either, but the girl was on to something! You don’t have to worry about wearing gloves to bed every night, but making an effort now to protect and look after the skin on your hands will be something you’ll love yourself for in the future. Simple things like moisturizing, keeping your hands out of the sun as much as possible or applying a toxin-free sunscreen will all add up and are all really good ideas.
3 Roman Baths
Ancient Roman bath culture was really something else! These were pretty much like the spas we have today. The Romans were frequent visitors to the many segregated bath houses in their world, where they would gather to socialize, but also enjoy the health and beauty benefits on offer. They participated in hot/cold immersion therapy or contrast bathing therapy, which would involve immediately swapping from bathing in warm water to ice-cold water. This is said to have helped with inflammation and blood circulation and to kick off the beauty routine from the inside of the body. The Romans would then use a curved, metal instrument called a strigil to exfoliate their skin, before participating in steam therapy for detoxing, followed by various body scrubs and massages. If we can learn anything from this, it’s that sometimes, getting that flawless skin is an all-day affair, and there’s no harm in indulging in a spa day occasionally!
2 Aloe Vera
Just when you thought that there couldn’t possibly be any more uses for aloe vera than there are now! The Native Americans were ahead of the curve when it comes to this wonderful plant, and loved using it in their hair to help them maintain shine and hydration in dry and sandy conditions. It’s said to relieve a dry scalp, and today shampoos infused with aloe vera are now found in most drug stores! In addition to applying the gel to their hair, the Native Americans also included it in their diets to help hydrate from the inside. We’ve all seen early photographs of Native American populations in which their long black hair seems impossibly thick, healthy and shiny, and aloe vera is one of the culprits! Especially if you’re going to be spending time in the sun, apply pure aloe vera straight to your hair to protect your sensitive strands.
The one ingredient that keeps turning up consistently across investigations of the ancient world, from the deserts of Africa to the streets of the Roman Empire, is oil. The Ancient Egyptians alone had access to approximately 21 oils which they used for a variety of beauty and health reasons. Both men and women regularly put oil on their bodies as moisturizers to help guard against the harsh desert conditions, and Cleopatra is said to have used almond oil in particular as part of her anti-aging regime. Oil pulling was used for hygiene in India, and of course, olive oil was held in a godly light in Ancient Greece. Women achieved clear complexions by using it on their faces and covered themselves in it to restore their skin from any external, harmful factors. There are a range of oils to explore today, which have as many benefits as they did back then!