Woman In India Crushing Turmeric For Beauty Routine

Skincare Wisdom From Around The World

A very long time ago, some early version of a human being held the fruit of a tree, or perhaps unearthed a root from the ground and brought the plant up to touch, to smell, to taste, and they thought - I will eat this. It was instinct. Instinct also led us to seek water to quench our thirst, and to discover how submerging our bodies in water softened the skin and made us clean. Early humans did not mix concrete and lay brick, they found caves and later used animal hides to make tipis. Nature provided.

Over years and decades and centuries, human beings developed a relationship with nature. First, we sought to understand it and then we sought to harness it. We discovered we could grow food so it was no longer necessary to forage. We created water systems to make it safer for consumption and we found healing properties in nature too. All across the world, we also harnessed the power of nature to enhance our appearance.

In the late 2nd century, Cleopatra was trend-setting all-natural anti-ageing treatments in Eygpt and the Roman empire was bringing bath houses to wider Europe. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, women used natural oils to soften their hair and skin and in India Ayurvedic practices brought together medicine, spirituality and beauty rituals, making use of spices in particular.

So much of what we use in our modern skincare routines was used by people all over the world thousands of years ago. Now, with the rising demand for sustainably-sourced, plant-based skincare, we look back to ancient traditions to inspire many of today’s more natural skincare solutions.

But where in the world has our skincare wisdom come from and how ancient traditions are still embraced in our skincare rituals and products today?

The Goddess Beauty Of Greece

Of course, the Greeks knew what they were doing when it came to cosmetics. The word cosmetics itself derives from the Greek word Kosmetikos, meaning harmony with the cosmos. 

Beauty and the spiritual word were closely aligned in Ancient Greece. After all, this was the birthplace of Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, and it was where Helen Of Troy’s exquisite face was said to have launched a thousand ships and set in motion a decade-long war.

Olive Tree Branch

Since the olive tree was considered sacred in Ancient Greece, it’s little wonder that women began anointing themselves with the oil. This was found to protect skin against harsher conditions and keep the texture smooth and supple. Later, honey would also be mixed with olive oil and applied especially to the face, much like a modern face mask, for an enhanced treatment. Aside from its inviting scent, honey was also found to lighten the appearance of the skin and a lighter complexion was, at this time in much of Europe, seen as desirable since it implied wealth.

The Luxury Spas Of Ancient Rome

What did the Romans ever do for us? Well, quite a lot really, including bringing the practice of bathing to England and wider Europe. Having adopted the ritual of bathing from the Greecians, the Romans went from washing more regularly to constructing large Roman Bath Houses which now closely resemble the modern spa experience.

Cleanliness was of high importance to the Romans. Whilst many civilisations they conquered were barely washing at all, the Romans had turned it into a lengthy social experience. Instead of soap, they did like the Greeks and covered themselves in olive oil using a tool called a strigil to scrape off excess oil and dirt.

Roman Baths Used For Beauty Rituals

The Romans also enjoyed pungent scents. Their well-tended gardens were filled with herbs and highly fragrant flowers and they added these scents to oil and water to create perfumes. How much these did to mask the stench of ancient world is unknown but any effort was likely welcomed.

Steam Rooms Of The Aztecs

The ancient Aztecs also enjoyed bathing but they preferred to do so in steam. They set up Temazcals, which were igloo-shaped huts, placed volcanic rocks in the centre and poured over water (often herb-infused) to produce hot steam. They would then sit,  in a form of ceremony, as the steam opened their pores and cleared out their skin. Sound familiar?

Temazcals were basically saunas and they still exist today because the ancient Aztecs were right about the healing powers of steam. It is an effective treatment for the respiratory system as well as other aches and pains. Hot steam also opens up the skin and clears it of impurities. Above all though, in ancient Mesoamerica, Temazcals were used for healing warriors, to improve health and even to help birthing women. Forms of meditation were also practised during the ceremonies.

Rose Water In The Middle East

Rose water was used in many ancient cultures to promote beauty, but especially in Turkey. Roses are not only beautiful but their minerals, antioxidants and moisturising properties also promote beauty. As a natural anti-inflammatory, it is also known to calm sensitive skin and reduces redness.

Roses In Bowl Of Water To Make Rose Water

Rose water was a favourite of Cleopatra and many royals of the ancient world but it carried a hefty price tag then and is still considered an expensive product today. However, many other flower oils contain the same properties, which is why flower oil is used in many Olive & Joyce skincare creams and oils.

The Magic Root Of India

Turmeric is one of my most beloved ingredients. An immune-boosting anti-inflammatory, it has antioxidants five to eight times more powerful than vitamin C and although turmeric was used in many civilisations, it is intrinsically connected with India. 

Used extensively in Ayurvedic practice (traditional alternative medicine that stems from ancient India), the turmeric root would be ground into spice and applied to the skin as a purification ritual.

Turmeric is the magic ingredient in my Natural Face Cream, The Nirvana and particularly prevails in tackling skin pigmentation.

This wondrous yellow root was far from the only gift of India though. Ancient indian culture combined health treatments with beauty rituals, using oils, herbs and exfoliation to scrub the skin. Like me, Ancient Indians believed that nothing you couldn’t eat it, had any place on the skin.

Beauty And Skincare wisdom from around the world - Image shows women's hands coming together over water and flowers

The Berber Women Who Havested Argan Oil (and still do)

Leave it to a group of women to source beauty-enhancing magic from trees! The Berber women were dealing with an extremely dry climate and they needed help restoring the natural oils in their skin and hair. So they took to the trees, making use of the argan oil they could harvest from its fruit. This oil has been used extensively for thousands of years for its wonderful fatty acids which promote repair, hydration and elasticity in the skin.

However, the argan tree produces only a few kilos of fruit each year and due to over-harvesting and other environmental challenges, in the 1990s the trees were almost extinct. Purposeful planting and the support of UNESCO has helped these trees flourish once again. If you’re buying argan oil products though I do urge you to seek those which are ethically sourced.

Berber Women Making Argan Oil

Cleopatra’s Luxury Beauty Rituals

How beautiful Cleopatra actually was is widely debated but what we know for sure is that she sure strived to be. Cleopatra was the Queen of Egypt and a dominant trendsetter. If she lived today, she’d be a top Tik Tok influencer.

Ancient Egypt was way ahead of the civilization curb long before Cleopatra came along. So it's fairly likely many of the beauty rituals she was known to indulge in were in use already, and she simply got them more coverage. As a ruler of insurmountable influence, charged with keeping Rome as an ally, Cleopatra strived to remain youthful, attractive and healthy. Amongst many pampering practices was a love of dead sea salt scrubs, almond oil and apple cider vinegar. However, she is most known for bathing in milk and saffron.

Bathing in a tub of fermented mare’s milk infused with saffron was not without merit. The fats, acids and proteins in milk are natural skin softening and aid in repair, whilst saffron is rich in anit-bacteria and anti-inflammatories.

These days you would still need the wealth of a queen if you want saffron in your beauty routine but milk products (and plant milk products) are still used in modern-day cosmetics.

Ultimately, Cleopatra stayed youthful by dying at the age of 39 which was less than ideal. It’s fair to say though that she knew the value of self-care and made the most of some royal pampering during her lifetime.

Ancient Wisdom In Cosmetics

It is genuinely remarkable that so much of what is in our beauty products today was used by civilizations thousands of years ago. They reaped the same magical benefits of the natural world and were arguably far more connected to nature and the gifts it had to offer.

Although the beauty industry is still harnessing these plant-based properties much of this cultivation is also putting our natural world at risk. The exploitation of the earth’s materials not only damages the planet but has also led to the exploitation of indigenous people. 

As a skincare formulator and environmentalist, I know the challenges of ensuring ingredients are ethically sourced. Sometimes, this means we pay more. It is not fair to put the burden on consumers to ensure that their products are sustainable and that the supply chain is managed morally. However, I urge you always to explore a little into where your products come from and support the businesses that are making the effort to produce plant-based products that do not harm the environment, or the people in it. 

Let’s strive to take the ancient beauty wisdom of those who have gone before to take care of both our skin and our beautiful world.

Back to blog