The desire to appear beautiful is nothing new. The cosmetic use of plant materials to enhance beauty is found in all ancient cultures. The Native Americans as well as other cultures used plant based dyes to adorn the body. Seven thousand years ago, the early tribes of the Nile Valley painted and anointed their dead, both to preserve the body and to make it more attractive for the world beyond.


The Egyptians, who followed, assimilated their practices and developed them into an elaborate routine of beauty preparations for religious rituals and ceremonial occasions. But it was the ancient Greeks who worshiped youth and beauty and were responsible for changing the focus of cosmetics from ceremonial to personal, developing a philosophy of all-round health and beauty akin to modern concepts.


Hippocrates formulated the study of dermatology and recommended diet, exercise, bath and massage for improving physical health and beauty. The indulgent Romans furthered the art using aromatic rituals and body pampering. The famous Roman writer Citro, wrote four books on the subject during the first century AD including recipes for bleaching, tinting and greasing the hair, avoiding wrinkles, and dealing with body odors- something other than drowning body odor with perfume which was the standard of the day.


The Renaissance period brought an awareness of skin care as separate from medicinal disorders. Recipes for soaps, creams, and herbal waters were collected and recorded in herbals and stillroom books, which were handed down from mother to daughter for generations.


As Americans became more obsessed with youth and beauty, the costly cosmetic industry was born. Theron T. Ponds offered his “Ponds Extract” to the public and other manufacturers soon fell in line. The innovative use of preservatives and mass production created an unprecedented choice, and the rest is as they say history.


Today’s commercial products are often expensive, having vast amounts of money spent on advertising, packaging, distribution and testing, which may include cruelty to animals. As we the consumers become more aware of our health, including our skin, the demand has risen for more natural ingredients and alternatives to chemically laden potions.


Most of us are not into making our own cosmetics as it can be time consuming so here are a few things to keep in mind the next time you’re looking for cosmetics and other beauty preparations. Avoid cosmetics containing petroleum jelly, they do seal the skin against dirt and grime, but they also attract it. It also blocks moisture that is naturally absorbed from moistened air.


Look for products made with almond, avocado, wheatgerm, carrot, coconut and nut kernel oils that are particularly skin enriching. Castor oil disperses in water, making it a good vehicle for scented bath oils. Lanolin, a thick, sticky fat obtained from sheep’s wool softens and nourishes the skin.


Other natural ingredients include honey, it softens, heals and binds ingredients together. Vinegar is also used to soften, cleanse and soothe the skin. Natural astringents such as rose, nettle, and witch hazel can give the skin a clean smooth feeling. Lemon, chamomile, cucumber and lavender all have soothing properties that heal and soothe.


Working with natural skin care products can be fun and very healing. Remember that good skin care starts naturally with a diet of healthy whole foods, pure water and air. Till next time, Rebecca.