6 Iconic Women in History & Their Skincare Routines
By: Lee Phillips
It’s Women’s History Month! To commemorate this sparkling occasion, we thought we’d delve into the history books (internet) and take quill to paper (use a keyboard) to round up six iconic women in history and their skincare routines.
Over the ages, women around the world have used ~the hottest~ ingredients and most advanced methods available to them to keep their skin healthy and glowing. From crushed pearl, to cognac face masks, check out these historic women and their skin care routines.
Empress Wu Zetian
How can we have an article about iconic women without mentioning Empress Wu Zetian? The only woman to ever rule China on her own, Wu Zetian was introduced to the high courts as a royal concubine and worked her way up to empress of her own dynasty. She was powerful and beautiful and her skin care routine was just as fabulous. Like many high-class women in China at the time, Empress Wu Zeitan’s secret to flawless pearly skin was, well, pearls. Every morning and night, Zeitan put on a face mask composed of crushed pearl and egg whites. While we might not recommend this mixture today, she might have been on to something. Eggs are high in protein, meaning that the yolk has a skin tightening effect, and can draw out excess oil. Eggs also contains potassium, which moisturizes, magnesium which can slow down aging, and lysozyme, an acne fighting enzyme.
Empress Wu Zeitan, who was a Taoist, was also said to take time every day to close her eyes and clear her mind. While meditating isn’t exactly skin care, we all know what being unbothered and carefree can do to our complexion!
About 70 years before Jesus Christ was born, Cleopatra was ruling the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt and making men all around the world, like Alexander the Great, fall madly in love with her. In addition to her incredible hotness, Cleopatra was known for bathing in sour donkey milk. Sounds gross, but back then it was a luxury that only the richest of women could afford. Every morning her servants would have to milk 700 donkeys. When the milk was good and sour, Cleopatra would bath in it. When milk sours, the lactic acid molecules inside are strengthened.. Lactic acid is known to be one of the gentler exfoliants, which meant Cleopatra was effectively reducing fine lines and wrinkles, and getting rid of dead skin. Essentially, Cleopatra was doing a full body chemical exfoliant. In addition to her milk baths, Cleopatra most likely indulged in the other skin care routines of her time: almond oil, sea salt scrubs, and apple cider vinegar, to mention a few.
Nefertiti ruled Egypt in the 18th Dynasty in the 1370 to 1330 BC. During that time, hygiene was considered a sign of status, so beauty, skin care products and tools were buried with individuals who wanted to make sure they could keep being hot in the afterlife. Nefertiti’s tomb has yet to be uncovered, but she was more than likely up to date with the common skin care rituals of her time, which have been studied from the remains of other elite Egyptians.
So, what do we know? Nefertiti was definitely dermaplaning. Although I’m sure they didn’t call it that. Metal razors, knives and tweezer indicate the careful removal of almost all body hair. It’s likely that Nefertiti shaved her entire head and opted for more elaborate wigs made of human hair. Because there was no soap, she likely used ashes mixed with salt to cleanse her skin. After cleansing, Nefertiti used linen towels and oils to dry and moisturize her skin.
Dermaplaning and active charcoal exfoliation, very *on trend*, Nefertiti!
When making a list of iconic women, it’s hard not to mention the ever problematic Marie Antoinette. The last queen of France before the revolution, Mary Antoinette was famous for her disconnect from the plight of the French people, epitomized in her most famous quote, “Let them eat cake,” and her utterly outrageous opulence. What people might not know, is that one of her oddest beauty tricks is still adopted by some French women today. While I would rather drink cognac, Mary Antoinette was mixing it with egg, lemon and milk and putting it on her face.
Because of its lengthy distillation process, cognac is high in anti-aging polyphenols. Eggs are high in protein and reduce excess oils, milk exfoliates with lactic acid, and lemon is said to lighten the skin, and act as an anti-bacterial.
Known for her classic style of pearls, silk scarves and oversized sunglasses, Jackie Kennedy had surprisingly beautiful skin for smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. Her secret was keeping it simple, which these days, we call “skinplicity.” In a biography of Jackie and her younger sister, Lee, authors Sam Kashnar and Nancy Schoenberger recount her simple skin care routine:
“Wash your face with hot water and a rough washcloth and really rub, with upward strokes on the cheeks and forehead … Rinse with cold water: the shock will stimulate circulation and leave it tingling. With the same upward motions massage in a rich cream before retiring. Do this for about two minutes and wipe off what is left so you won’t find it on your pillow the next morning.”
These days, dermatologists might suggest patting dry instead of “really rubbing,” or adding in an actual cleanser, but she was on the right track!
For years, Marilyn Monroe was the living embodiment of the Hollywood ideal. Despite this, there’s almost no public information about the icon’s skin care routine. We all know about her love of Vaseline for hydration and glow, but there’s got to be more, right? Thanks to New York’s Museum of Make-up’s latest exhibition, we now know a whole lot more about her routine. In comes in the form of a prescription written by Monroe’s facialist, Erno Laszlo. He also worked with the likes of Audrey Hepburn and Greta Garbo! The document outlines Monroe’s routine and breaks down the various practices into morning, evening, “before dressing, “formal occasions,” and “before retiring.” It also includes a list of foods, like chocolate, nuts, olives and oysters, that Monroe cannot eat. While we don’t know the exact ingredient make-up of the products listed (Phelityle oil, Phelitone toner, Duo Phase Face Powder) or even what the heck “controlling lotion” is, we can recognize some of the practices that are still in use today: washing with warm water, and double cleansing with both oil and cream cleansers. Ironically, some dermatologists might not suggest double cleansing for the dry skin problems Monroe was facing.
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