For thousands of years and all over the world, women have been on the quest to discover new products in nature to enhance their beauty. Luckily today, we live in a world where the global beauty market is worth billions of dollars, and we have access to almost every type of beauty product created at the touch of our very own fingertips (thank you, Amazon Prime!). However, as a young woman who loves the beauty section in Target, I have noticed that the beauty industry is running on trends that were established hundreds of years ago.
I come from a family of immigrants. My grandmother is originally from the Caribbean, so as grandmothers do, she told me many stories as a young girl about how different her life was living on an island and what beauty regimes she created with the resources available to her. Who would have thought that the coconut oil that she had to extract from the coconuts on the coconut tree would be selling in stores for just one payment of $10.99? After some research, I found out that there are an insane amount of beauty products being sold that were originally used in the daily lives of ancient women. Is the beauty aisle actually an ancient historical exhibit in the form of plastic bottles with yummy-smelling products?
1. Shea Butter: West Africa
Shea butter is a type of moisturizer that many of us have used (or may not know we have used) when putting on our daily lotion. Shea butter originates from the fat extracted from shea trees in West Africa. West Africans not only used shea butter for dry skin but for inflammation. Although shea butter was commonly used for cosmetic purposes, it was also used in the preparation of food. Today, it is not uncommon to find many body moisturizers with shea butter as one of the main ingredients. Who would’ve thought that we were so close to the motherland after all?
2. Argan Oil: North Africa
Argan oil has recently become very popular in many commercial hair products. There are plenty of choices for shampoos and conditioners that claim to contain argan oil. However, did you know that argan oil originated in Morocco? The Beber people of North Africa extracted the oil from the argan trees and used the oil for cosmetic purposes. For fifty centuries of production, I would say that the Beber people developed a pretty successful business.
3. Coconut Oil: India, Papua New Guinea, Panama, Jamaica, Nigeria, Samoa, Thailand
In the beginning, God made light, darkness, then coconut oil. Coconut oil has been a very popular product in the beauty department due to its vast versatility in the cosmetic, cooking and medical worlds. Historically, it has always been a very popular oil to use, especially in places where the coconut tree grows well. Thanks to many different cultures, coconut oil has been a helper in moisturizing skin, removing makeup, and even growing eyelashes and hair. Don’t be fooled, the coconut oil craze has been around for decades!
4. “Pearl” Masks: China
Many facial masks in the beauty aisles claim to have pearl powder in them. If you are like me, you probably aren’t really knowledgable about what exactly pearl powder is. Pearl powder is used for making the skin on the face more elastic and supple. Pearl powder claims to restore skin back to its natural beauty and is still a popular skin product throughout Asia. Interested in a pearly complexion? You can thank the ancient Chinese and pick up a pearl mask at your favorite beauty store.
5. Exfoliants: Egypt
You know that feeling right after you use your favorite body scrub during a nice, hot shower after a long day of hard work? Yeah, me too! Did you know Egyptian women have been doing the exact same thing for hundreds of years? Okay, maybe they weren’t exactly hopping in a nice, hot shower but, Egyptian women used the salt from the dead sea as an exfoliant for the body and face. At times, if skin problems such as eczema appeared on an individual, the salt from the Dead Sea would be used medicinally.
6. Castor Oil: Jamaica/Caribbean
Long hair, don’t care? Those Jamaicans sure don’t. Jamaican women use castor oil on their hair to encourage healthy follicles and length. Castor oil is a type of thick vegetable oil that has a very (very!) distinct smell. Those who suffer from hair loss typically find castor oil in conditioners and hair regeneration treatments. Now, Shea Moisture even has an entire shampoo and conditioner line centered around castor oil and hair restoration. Looking for a magic pill to grow your hair? Just put a couple of drops of castor oil on your roots and say thanks to those beautiful Jamaicans.
7. Milk and Honey Masks: Egypt
Who would turn away a soothing and hydrating face mask? I know Cleopatra wouldn’t even considering saying no. In fact, frequently in her beauty routine, Cleopatra would take milk and honey baths! Yes, entire baths! The lactic acid found in the milk promoted cell regeneration while the honey soothed and hydrated the skin. Thinking about picking up that milk and honey sheet mask from the beauty aisle? Girl, go ahead! Cleopatra would approve.
8. Lemon Juice: Greece
Ancient Greek women used lemons way before Beyonce made them cool. In fact, Greek women would use the juice from lemons as a way to cleanse and brighten their hair. After smothering their hair in lemon juice, they would sit in the sun and lighten their locks. Many women today use this ancient beauty ritual as a beauty hack for their own modern hair care.
9. Lip and Cheek Stains: Greece
The makeup industry has been going wild with lip and cheek stains. You can basically get a cheek stain in any form you can imagine — powder, liquid or even cream. In ancient Greece, to obtain stains on the lips and cheeks, women would use mulberries. This was definitely one of the earliest organic makeup brands to exist. Greece has quite the resume — pioneer of the Olympic games and blush!
10. Kohl: Egypt and Rome
Do you see that eyeliner pencil laying on your makeup vanity? Yeah the one that should’ve been nicely packed into your makeup organizer but you decided to press snooze this morning and the rest is history? Women have been using kohl for eye makeup for generations. Egyptian women had the cat eye down even without the help of liquid eyeliner and scotch tape. Ancient Romans used kohl to serve as an eyeliner in their makeup routine. So, your eyeliner routine is actually a historical ritual of the women during the ancient Egyptian and Roman times (by the way, I may or may not have been describing my own vanity).
In a world driven by innovation and modernization, it can be difficult to realize the cultural overlaps that are present within our world. However, the world isn’t as big as it seems, and we as citizens of this planet are not as different from one another as we may think. Although it is important to celebrate cultural differences, it is also important to recognize the similarities we share thanks to centuries of common ideas and practices. So, the next time you walk down the beauty aisle of your favorite store, I hope you not only see your favorite shampoo and conditioner on sale, but a historical collection of intertwined cultures and ideas.