A Brief History of Skincare Routines

Posted on January 24, 2017

Because we’re so passionate about skincare, we thought it would be interesting to take a look back at skincare routines that were popular at different period in time. How did the Ancient Egyptians take care of their skin? Did the Romans care about clear skin? What was the beauty trend in the 18th Century? We’re about to delve into the history of skincare routines.


Ancient Egypt

More than 5,000 years ago, people still wanted to look good. Without the technological advances that we have today, people in Ancient Egypt had to rely on other ways of keeping their skin looking fresh. Honey and milk was used by both men and women to create moisturising face masks, as well as creating rejuvenating milk baths that exfoliated the skin. Having access to Dead Sea salts to bathe in also provided natural healing properties and essential minerals which worked wonders for the skin and body. Hair removal techniques were also starting to develop as early as this, with the Ancient Egyptians using “sugaring” which is actually less painful than waxing and causes less skin irritation.


Ancient Rome

Honey was not as common in Rome and so beeswax was rubbed into the skin to act as a moisturiser and a softener. Like we are today, Ancient Romans were also conscious of having clear skin and so they put barley flour and butter on their blemishes. The Romans were also known for their good hygiene and whilst modern soap hadn’t yet been invented, they rubbed their bodies with olive oil, which would absorb impurities and dirt, before scraping it off with a curved blade called a strigil. Mud baths also become popular.

Aware of sun damage, they extracted oil from plants, herbs and almonds which served as a skin protector and simultaneous moisturiser. This stopped them from getting tanned skin and they even went so far as using white lead and chalk to whiten their skin – which was the beauty trend at the time. Another trend was to polish fingernails with sheep fat and blood.


Imperial China

During The Qin Dynasty, it was believed that the key to healthy skin was through cleanliness, herbal remedies, nutrition and good circulation. Natural cleansers were made from seaweed and jellyfish whilst massage techniques and facial exercises were carried out to help circulation in the cheeks and forehead. A diet of black beans, sesame seeds and Chinese yams was also thought to be good for the skin.


Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, smooth, unmarked skin was the preferred look (isn’t it always!). To soften and moisturise the skin, face creams and ointments were made from animal fat, starch and tin oxide. To get rid of pimples, gemstones, particularly amethyst, were rubbed on the skin and herbal concoctions were made that included ingredients such as aloe vera, strawberry juice, vinegar and sheep’s rampion!

Both men and women also wished to remove freckles, moles and birthmarks and to do this, they would boil oatmeal and vinegar together and use it as a face mask. Whilst soap was around, it was used more for medicinal purposes rather than a cleanser.

In keeping with the herbal trend of this time, many different concoctions were brewed up from seeds, leaves, flowers and roots. For example, boiling Willow Tree Water and drinking it with wine was said to clear the face from any blemishes and discolouration.


Renaissance Era

Not unlike today, natural looking glowing skin was considered a sign of health and beauty. However, the method of achieving this was anything but natural. Women would use seemingly natural powders and minerals, that were actually probably toxic, to achieve this effervescent glow. As well as silver mercury! Raw eggs were also used as a sort of primer. It was around this time that “miracle face creams” started to arise and tonics/toners were supplied by salesman that included ingredients such as oil of bay, rhubarb, spices, and wine.

Unwanted hair was plucked along the hairline on the forehead and to reduce any irritation and redness, would rub pumice stones over the skin. Hygiene was very important to people in the Renaissance Era so frequent bathing of the skin was common.

If you’re squeamish, look away now… To achieve a perfect complexion, women would place leeches on their skin for various lengths of time. It was also thought that pigeon dung could help achieve a young, dewy complexion, as well as bathing in wine.


18th & 19th Century

At the beginning of the 18th Century, facial toners and scented waters were in fashion and were used to hydrate the skin. Common toilette preparation including applying cold cream that was made up of scented oils, spermaceti, wax, rosewater and ambergris.

Scientific thinking about skincare started to take over from superstition. Milk came back into fashion as a cure for all; using it for bathing and drinking to gain softer, clearer skin. And egg yolks, honey and oatmeal were commonly used as face masks.

By the late 1800’s, acid skin peels were popular and phenol weed made from carbonic acid was used to restore skin softness and unclog pores. It was the first step in the kind of anti-ageing treatments we think of today. Soap was also more readily available at this time and was used by women of all classes as a hygiene product for the skin.


20th Century

The 20th Century is when skincare really kicks up a notch. Mass production made a wealth of products available to women with the first commercial face cream to be promoted being Harriet Hubbard Ayer’s.

Retaining a youthful appearance was extremely popular in the 1920s due to the flappers, and this is what skin care was all about.

The advent of electricity didn’t just allow us to illuminate the world, it revolutionised skin care treatments. In the 1930s, salons used pulsating microwaves in facial treatments to tighten and restore skin.

Combining science with skin care treatments would continue with the arrival of the following making significant strides in skin care:

1940s: Elizabeth Arden Youth Mask – a paper mask with tin foil that connected to a supplier of low microwave energy.

1960s: Multi-step skincare systems of moisturisers, toners and cleansers. Vitamin E and petroleum appear in products for the first time.

1970s: Rise in organic and natural skin care products. Scientific authority was sought and Clinique capitalised on this, branding themselves with white lab coats.

1980s: Collagen appears in skin products and the first anti-ageing products hit the shelves.

1990s: Alpha Hydroxyl Acids (AHAs) were discovered and were the first ingredient to actually affect aging skin. Vitamins A, C, E and B were also highlighted as having anti-aging properties.


21st Century

Today, we take a more health conscious approach to our skin, using sunscreens and moisturisers to keep our skin hydrated and healthy. Hyaluronic acid has also emerged as a great way to combat the signs of aging and recharge skin. Antioxidants have also played a large role in keeping our skin looking youthful and vibrant. One of the main differences we’ve seen is a demand for organic ingredients and a move away from animal and synthetic derived ingredients.

What new health and beauty trends will we see in 2017?
Popular celebrity skin treatments in 2017