Today, slapping on a hydrating sheet mask and walking out with dewy, goddess-like skin (in less than 30 minutes) might just be another day in your life. *Hallelujah*. However, back in the day, facial mask seshs were never this easy or relaxing. For instance, during renaissance, women used dangerous toxins such as white Lead paste to brighten and whiten their complexion; others resorted to blood of calves or hares to rejuvenate skin and attain an even complexion. Ah, and did you know that blood-sucking leeches were used to make skin look paler? Well, neither did we! And there’s more from where that came from.
So, we are taking you on a Tour-De-Masque and showing you the plethora of mysterious (and very questionable) concoctions women have used on their faces around the world—since time immemorial.
Spoiler alert: It also involved Crocodile dung at some point.
Ever since antiquity, Egyptians have been known to be quite the beauty enthusiasts. From bathing in Donkey milk to slathering on honey, there are numerous ingredients that women used daily to enhance their appearances. The first Egyptian face masks were formulated out of clay. It is said that Cleopatra (the paragon of beauty) applied a dead sea mud face mask to draw out impurities. Additionally, she also applied egg white face masks to tighten the pores. Oh, and there were also crocodile dung face masks that supposedly bestowed a youthful appearance. Thank you, next!
At the turn of the 18th century, woman applied a toxic mixture of Lead and Vinegar on their face to achieve a pallid complexion. In the 19th century, a special face mask invented by Madam Rowley and made of Indian gum became available in the market. The mask fit like a glove on the face and promised bleaching and brightening properties. However, the mask fell out of favour due to high chances of suffocation while asleep! Thereafter, mashed Strawberries and even raw Veal (yikes) were applied to soften skin texture.
Made In India
The concept of facial masks wasn’t alien to the ancient science of Ayurveda. In fact, Ubtan masks composed of various herbs, roots and flowers are considered to be the first ever cosmetic product in the world. These were then mixed in varied proportions to suit different skin types. The primary focus was on plant-based ingredients such as Turmeric, Coconut, Aloe Vera and other botanical extracts to improve skin, inside-out. Cut to this day, and these are still the go-to ingredients in our DIY beauty potions.
Some of the earlier records showing evidence of face mask use dates back to the Tang dynasty. Yang Guifei from the Tang dynasty in China, (also known as one of the Four Ancient Beauties of China), was a trendsetter in the beauty arena. Her go-to face mask was an exotic blend of Pearls, Jadeite, Lotus Root and Ginger Ground into powder. Other ingredients included ground Mung Beans, crushed Tea leaves, Rice Water, and Mint leaves. They were all ground into a paste and applied over skin to protect it against dark spots, wrinkles, and other signs of ageing. Now, that’s something we can hop aboard on.
Fun fact: The Romans started using cosmetics for ritual purposes and gradually got hooked on to them. Interestingly, they had various concoctions to treat various issues. Scrubs were fashioned out of seeds, Orris Root and Honey to refine texture. Face masks made with Starch and Eggs were believed to tighten the skin and keep it youthful. Pimples were cured with a mixture of barley flour and butter while sun spots were treated with the ashes of snails. Lentils, Lupine or Fennel blended with Oils, Oregano Seeds, Sulphur, Vinegar, Goose Grease, Basil Juice and Hawthorn were used generously for glowing skin. Some other ingredients used in ancient masks were placenta and even excrements of some animals such as kingfisher or calves!
SPOT IT. SHOP IT.