Take a trip through history to learn about moisturizers
Moisturizers today are more important than ever in human history. Unlike ancient humans, in today’s world we shower and bathe in hot water every day, we use oil-stripping soaps and shampoos, we expose our skin to pathogens and pollutants in the air, and on top of all of that, thanks to modern healthcare, we tend to live much longer into old age, when our skin shows the signs of long wear and tear.
In ancient times, primitive man didn’t shower in hot soapy water every day. The body defended its own moisture levels by being coated in natural skin and hair oils. This held true for thousands of years of human history, until people came to prefer to look and smell clean and levels of hygiene changed. While this was beneficial for many health reasons, it isn’t necessarily the best thing for our skin, which can no longer be self-regulating, requiring us to use commercial moisturizers on a regular basis.
The best face moisturizers today have their roots in ingredients and methods that were used throughout history to soften and beautify the skin.
History of the Best Face Moisturizer Recipes
While it’s entirely likely that even when we lived in caves we had animal and plant-based salves to rub into our skin as protection from winter chapping and summer sun, the first real evidence of humans using advanced recipes for moisturizers comes with the first known civilization, the ancient Sumerians who existed in the area that is now Iraq. The salves that these ancients created for moisturizers contained pulverized plants and tree oils. This was combined with wine and applied to the skin for protection from the elements, making it the best face moisturizer of the time period.
The ancient Egyptians also used moisturizers. Cleopatra was known for bathing in milk baths and using what she considered the best face moisturizer for her skin—sour milk. This was not only a good exfoliant, it also had skin lightening properties. Cleopatra’s legendary skin care regimen also included scented olive or sesame oil to keep her skin soft and supple..
Ancient Greeks also used moisturizing creams and lotions made of olive oil scented with spices and essential oils. There is written history depicting a Greek practice of using what they considered at the time to be the best face moisturizer—a mixture of bread and milk blended and patted on to the face at night as an anti-aging night cream. Sometimes the juice of crushed berries was added, making this probably the first face moisturizer with antioxidant ingredients to fight free-radicals … though at the time they probably simply enjoyed the rosy tint that it left on the skin.
The Romans also used many different moisturizers. In 2003 a small pot of what was surely a wealthy Roman woman’s idea of the best face moisturizer was excavated from a Roman ruin completely intact. When the lid was opened, the mixture inside still held the fingerprints of its ancient owner. Scientists analyzed and then recreated the face moisturizer. They discovered it was a blend of animal fat, ground tin, and plant starch. Recreating the recipe showed them that the tin added a slight tint, while the fat moisturized the skin. The plant starch left a powdery residue on the skin’s surface, making it feel soft. It was definitely one of the best face moisturizer mixtures possible at the time. Basically a tinted face cream and powder in one!
The Best Face Moisturizers go Commercial
During England’s Regency period, the best face moisturizers of the times promised to soften and whiten the skin. One popular concoction contained a mixture of ground white lead, almond oil and lavender oil. While this probably smelled lovely and softened and whitened the skin as promised, it also was deadly when used repeatedly. Using white lead persisted for many years, and apparently it took some time for doctors to make the connection between the cosmetic face cream and many of its users sickening and even dying.
In 1819 a much beneficial and harmless face moisturizer was marketed to young women with the promise that it would remove sunburn, freckles and redness, and would clear and preserve the skin. Interestingly, this recipe contained several ingredients still commonly used in the best face moisturizer products of today. Almond oil, rose water, and oil of tartar. This beneficial mixture was known as Milk of Roses.
By the end of the 19th century, the best face moisturizers were no longer only being made at home. They were packaged, marketed, and sold commercially thanks to the longer shelf-life allowed by using mineral-based oils rather than animal and plant-based ones.
Moisturizing and promoting clear skin remained the intended function of the best face moisturizers for much of the 19th and twentieth centuries. But by the end of the twentieth century, science began to play a part with the addition of anti-aging ingredients such as Retinol, alpha-hydroxy acid, and hyaluronic acid.
It’s likely that moisturizing our faces and bodies will continue to be a big part of our skincare and cosmetic regimens for many generations to come, and it will be interesting to see where the best face moisturizer ingredients of the future will take us.