History of Skin Care

Skin care and cosmetics can be traced back as far as Ancient Egypt over approximately 6,000 years ago. Cosmetics and skin care are nothing new and the global beauty & personal care products industry is projected to be worth $716.6 billion by 2025, that’s just in products! Bare Envy is leading the local skin care market by exploring innovative trends, and it is important to know where the industry came from so let’s discuss the history of skin care. 800 years before common era Babylonians used carved seashells to contain their skin care products, makeup, and ointments.

Cosmetics were seen as important in culture as far back to the days of Cleopatra. There’s a reason why her eyeliner is iconic, cosmetics were used in more than aesthetic reasons, like mummification, burial traditions and the practice of worship. If Egyptians were not fully cleaned and oiled they were forbidden from practicing magical spells or speaking religious incantations, furthermore, cosmetics had the benefit of protecting the skin from the elements. Queen Cleopatra went as far as having sour milk baths, imagine the smell. There was no standard skin care products, individuals used what they found locally like oils, eggs (ostrich), herbs and plants, and milk. Even the exfoliants were crafted by hand using sand and aloe vera, even today some of the best contemporary skin care secrets come from the Egyptians. Their make-up was created using metal ores, water, oils, animal fats, precious stones, and more. Cleopatra’s classic eyeliner look is thanks to kohl made from burnt almost, soot, lead, and coffee. They used red ochre clay to pigment their lips, cheeks, anything to achieve a flush color.

Ancient Egypt wasn’t the only archaic culture to incorporate skin care and cosmetics into their culture and history. Ancient Rome and ancient Greece used methods introduced by Egypt and built upon them. In fact, the word cosmetics actually stems from the Roman word “cosmetae” which refers to the slave handmaidens who would apply products to their wealthy master’s skin. The ritual of skincare was developed by the Greco-Roman culture and they would devote an entire day to their skincare and beauty rituals. Marble statues often depicted the ideal image of beauty in individuals depicting perfectly smooth skin, to obtain this themselves Greeks and Romans alike had their slaves pluck their hairs from their master’s body as well as apply fragrant perfumes and oils. Both Greeks and Romans developed products to protect their skin using ingredients like white lead, chalk, starch, eggs, and even crocodile dung. They sought to tighten their skin and keep it looking as young as possible but also to lighten their skin. We use honey, milk, and yogurts in many of our at-home facials today the anti-aging properties of which were discovered by the Ancient Greeks.

Another beauty phenomenon is found in China where some desire to lighten their skin in today’s cultural environment. During the Shang Dynasty Chinese coveted powdered and smooth skin on their face and found that songyi mushrooms were an excellent natural ingredient. Their aim was to have the whitest skin possible even going so far as to bleach their skin, many contemporary products are developed to lighten skin and still use the syongi mushroom. The Chinese have been practicing cosmetics and skin care since at least 3,000 BCE back when they began painting their fingernails with egg whites, beeswax and gum arabic. The first records of skincare come from the Qin Dynasty when an empress recorded her developed skincare regime. She recorded using natural cleansers made from jellyfish and seaweed, improving her face’s glow with massages and she expressed her belief in the connection between diet and beauty. This focus on maintaining a beautiful complexion through healthy living continues to strongly influence China’s culture today.

Medieval times developed many ointments using fats from animals and used many herbal remedies promoting fair skin and to mitigate pimples. Similar to the Chinese, individuals during Medieval times aspired to have smooth white skin. They treated their faces with cleansers and masks with some traditional ingredients like aloe vera, honey but also started using rosemary, cucumbers, seeds and even vinegar.

Renaissance cosmetology trends continued to use some questionable ingredients such as mercury, lead and chalk, continuing to rely on honey and herbs but started using broom stalks for cleansers and oatmeal for pimples/ breakouts as well as bread soaked in rose water for puffy eyes.

Moving forward the Elizabethan Era was noted when Queen Elizabeth I was popular, she excessively used lead-based whitening foundations. During this time period, it wasn’t considered popular to bath, people rarely washed their faces and layered new product on top of the old product.

The Baroque period saw the rise of saunas and sweat cleansing, something we still do for our skin when we steam our faces. The women of 1700’s loved their milk baths and heavy opaque makeup. Rouge was very popular, and women’s lips were often reddened with vinegar.

The 1800’s saw the creation of products like Vaseline, chapstick and baby powder. During the 1800’s hygiene products were growing in popularity as well as accessibility. We saw lemon juice being used as a natural skin bleach, and egg yolks, honey, and oatmeal for blemishes along with some products utilizing harsh chemicals. During this time cleanliness was held in high regard along with cosmetics and skin care. The lead used in cosmetic and skin care products wasn’t challenged until 1906 when the Food and Drug Administration was formed in 1906.

The 20th century brought accessibility to the skincare industry allowing cosmetic products to purchase by all individuals, not solely the wealthy. The 1920’s held trends like acquiring a youthful glowing complexion. We saw products emerging, like Carmex lip balm in 1937, sunscreens in 1935 by a man named Eugene Schueller, founder of L’Oréal. Estee Lauder launched in 1946, the 50’s saw an explosion in brands like Clinique, Oil of Olay, Ponds, and Clearasil. Beginning in the 1920’s leading up to the 60’s lightly tanned skin rose, we saw tinted products aimed at imitating tans. Then by the 1960’s darker skin tones were being embraced with a rise in the representation of women of color, thanks Uhara! Once the link between the sun and skin cancer was discovered the tanning trend and industry began to lose it’s growth momentum. The skincare regime however continually developed introduced multiple steps: the cleanser, toner and moisturizer routine that we follow to this day as well as the development of the first laser for skin care. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that chemical peels proved to provide successful skin resurfacing. Dr. Howard Murad introduced the line Murad in 1989. Microdermabrasion rose to fame in the 80’s in Europe then continued to maintain momentum in the 90’s in North America. Then by the 1990’s we saw the rise of anti-aging formulas and products flooding the market. Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) were recognized by the beauty industry in 1995 and replaced many of the harsher chemicals we had been using since the 70’s. The more recent developments have increased and refined our tools, resources and treatment options.

More recently Botox was approved in 2002 to be used for frown lines and wrinkles. In 2007 the Zeno Hot Spot, a hand-held battery-operated at-home acne treatment was developed. Skin care and healthy skin has risen to popularity with the embracing of natural beauty over heavy makeup. The focus on natural and healthy skin is exactly why Bare Envy excels with the services we offer.

The National Museum of American History has a collection of cosmetic, skin care, and hygiene products that create a tangible timeline of how the defined standard of beauty has evolved.



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