As the hourglass turns, the eras changes, and the winds of fashion blow to and fro, our concept of beauty and what is beautiful never stops evolving. Indeed, each year brings with it another set of trends, another notion of what we should be aiming towards with our style, our visage, and our cosmetic explorations… but our sense of what is truly desirable remains fascinatingly timeless.
As we all know, the whims of fashion change with the winds, but beauty and grace are everlasting and eternal. True beauty has nothing to do with covering up the natural or gilding the lily; rather it is about enhancing and accentuating nature, highlighting our finest features, and luxuriating in the mystery of our gaze, the softness of our skin, the delicate curves of our lips and the endless magic of colour, form, and contour.
This timeless sense of beauty has spanned the ages, and the more we learn about the ancient world of various classical cultures, the more we can understand just how powerfully they have influenced our understanding of beauty and cosmetics today. In the same way we owe much of our concept of justice, philosophy, art, and love to ancient and time-shrouded cultures and countries, we also owe many of our beauty rituals and the products we use to such civilisations, too. No matter how in thrall we are to the miraculous properties of 21st century beauty products, the mind-expanding science behind their conception, and the state-of-the-art use of ingredients and materials within them, their origins all lie in the most historic of innovations.
Let’s draw back the curtain of time, consider some of the unique ritualised beauty practices of the ancient world, and see how they’ve influenced our beauty practices in today’s ever-changing, ever-quickening world of beauty and skincare. To understand the past is to understand the present, and the more we know about the origins of our skincare rituals, the more we can appreciate the unending cycles and timelessness of beauty itself.
Thanks to the astonishing amount of relics, artefacts, and beautifully preserved treasures left behind by the various dynasties of the ancient Egyptian empire, we’re blessed with a wealth of knowledge of many aspects of life in the Nile Delta thousands of years ago. As a result, our understanding of ancient Egyptian beauty is surprisingly rich… and we can clearly see that when it comes to the value placed upon aesthetics, and the luxuriant enhancement of specific features, the Egyptians were a fascinating culture whose influence can still be felt to this day.
While most of us are aware of the fact that ancient Egyptian royalty and aristocracy obsessedly adorned themselves with gold and jewels, there was far more complexity and subtlety to ancient Egyptian cosmetics than first meets the eye. For example, the Egyptians were seemingly one of the first ancient cultures to experiment with precious minerals - most notably the vivid green malachite - which they crushed to a fine powder, and then used as we would utilise eyeshadow and blusher today. They also utilised sulphites as kohl to enhance the beauty of the eyes, and crushed carmine, iodine powder, and certain Nile algaes were used to add depth of colour to the lips.
Perhaps most interesting of all the ancient Egyptian beauty practices, however, was the ritualised approach to skincare, and the emphasis Egyptian women put on beautifying, softening, and moisturising the skin. Cleopatra, for example, was immortalised by Shakespeare, who capitalised on the legend of the Pharoah bathing in milk. In fact, he wasn’t far from the truth; we know from Egyptian records that she and other aristocratic ladies in her court used honey and milk baths to beautify the skin, and they would also use salt scrubs (collected, of course, from the mineral-rich waters of the Dead Sea), almond oils, and even apple cider vinegar for their skincare rituals - all ingredients still in high demand on the beauty market today.
Beauty, for the ancient Egyptians, wasn’t merely about cosmetics, confidence, and looking and feeling good; it was a way of enhancing mortal flesh to gain a greater closeness to the gods which oversaw every aspect of their lives. Cosmetics, balms, ointments, and elixirs were kept in burial chambers, given as offerings to deities, and used in religious ceremonies, demonstrating the deep connection between the beauty of the living world, and the perfection deemed to exist within that of the divine.
When we think of beauty and the ideals of beauty in the classical world, our minds immediately turn to the civilisation of the Ancient Greeks. This was, after all, the cradle of the modern world, the spiritual home of theatre, of art, of epic poetry, and devastatingly beautiful women whose faces launched a thousand ships, and for whom endless glorious feats of bravery were undertaken. The ancient Greeks idolised beauty and worshipped the perfection of the human form in a way never seen before in the world. Indeed, they deified feminine beauty in the figure of Aphrodite, who was seen as the ultimate example for women to follow, and the ultimate point of comparison for the very zenith of love and desire.
To say the ancient Greeks were influential when it comes to modern cosmetics and beauty rituals would be a remarkable understatement. In fact, the very word ‘cosmetics’ comes from the Greek kosmeticos - and the art of makeup and enhancing natural beauty was very much a part of everyday life on the Greek islands and mainland at the heights of their remarkable civilisation.
Greek culture idolised pale and delicate female skin, and in order to achieve the perfect alabaster complexion, women would go as far as to paint their skin with white lead. However, this was soon discovered to have a toxic effect on the wearer, and cosmetics pioneers began developing safer replacements made from powdered chalk - the predecessors of modern foundations and concealers. Lips were stained a deep and sensuous red with crushed mulberries, and early Greek alchemical explorations also made use of ruby-red iron ore for similar purposes. Dark and mysterious eyeshadows were favoured by the fashionable women of Athens, and these would have been made from a mixture of charcoal and almond oils - something not a million miles away from natural cosmetics one might find in makeup boutiques today.
The aspect of ancient Greek beauty rituals which is most familiar to modern women, however, has everything to do with the greatest treasure of the forests of ancient Greece: olive oil. The olive groves of Greece were famed throughout the Mediterranean, and the beautifying properties of olive oil were well known by those in the classical world. This health-giving oil was used as a face mask, and was also used as an anointment to protect delicate women’s skin from environmental stressors, proving that the ancient Greeks really were remarkably ahead of their time when it comes to timeless beauty trends.
While the ancient Greeks and Egyptians each undertook phenomenal steps when it came to cosmetics, beauty rituals, and skincare regimens, it was - of course - the Romans who perfected the art of beautification, luxury, and indulgence. At around the point of the first century AD, the Roman Empire was at its decadent peak, and elaborate and sophisticated bathhouses and spas sprung up wherever hot springs were discovered throughout the expansive empire. These were temples to pleasure dedicated to beauty and relaxation, and they demonstrate to the modern world a civilisation which made no compromises when it came to a sense of wellness which is surprisingly familiar to us today.
Roman baths were primarily about good hygiene, relaxation, and socialisation, but skincare played a major role in their function and use. Visitors to the bathhouses would utilise fragrant and moisturising oils, which would be rubbed all over the body before being scraped off along with dead skin cells, and any build up of dirt blocking their pores. This process would typically be followed by a vigorous massage, or the addition of further moisturising ingredients sourced from the furthest reaches of the empire; cocoa butter, honey, yoghurt, and rudimentary soaps made from oils and ashes. Beautification would also take the form of cosmetics, and just like the Greeks before them, the Romans went to great lengths to accentuate natural beauty with white marl and chalk powders to achieve a smooth, flawless, and pale complexion. Rouge was also popular, and was commonly made from grape must (a waste product of the booming Roman wine industry), mulberries, and rose petals.
The last years of the Roman empire were perhaps the final flush of the artistry of beauty in Europe, which dazzled with a stunning intensity before the fall of the civilisation and the rise of the dark ages. Interestingly, once the Roman empire crumbled, the use of cosmetics, perfumes, and moisturisers became somewhat uncommon in the western world, with many of the secrets and rituals perfected by the Classical civilisations being lost forever. Indeed, it wasn’t until the 13th century - and the beginnings of a new golden age of alchemy, science, and art - that beauty rituals, makeup, and skincare began once again rising in Europe, with many of the efforts of the pioneers of this time being based upon a longing for the lost artistry of the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians.
The fact that echoes of these astonishing ancient cultures still reverberate to this day is a testament to their power, and something for each of us to bear in mind whenever we undertake our own beauty rituals in this dizzyingly modern age.
With its emphasis on natural ingredients, its dedication to celebrating, enhancing, and highlighting untarnished and genuine natural beauty, and its uncompromising attitude to the heights of cosmetic savoir-faire, Christian Berlin proudly offers a continuation of innovative beauty rituals for the 21st century woman.
We’ve searched the globe for the secrets of beauty and youth, and through our discoveries, we’ve been able to distill the very essence of beauty in our unique elixirs and beauty products. Our philosophy is one that has spanned the millennia: Beauty is timeless, and new heights of perfection are there to be attained.