Do You Know Your Skin-Care History? 5 Facts You Didn’t Know About the Beginnings of the Beauty Industry


We’ve officially entered National Healthy Skin Month this November and with new research linking the health of the skin microbiome with the health of the gut microbiome – what better time to quiz you on your skin-care history!

We’re in an age of impressive advancements in technology, often in ways never previously thought possible. If you take a look around you, you’ll see examples of modern-day miracles everywhere your eyes settle, thanks to the ingenious evolution of traditional products.

For example, if you pull out your phone or open your laptop to read this blog, you might be struck with just how a few short decades ago this was impossible. We have access to information all hours of the day with a simple touch of our fingertips, many of our cars can run on electricity, and you can contact your friends and family within a matter of seconds from across the globe. It’s easy to look back and be in awe of where we came from, but even thousands of years ago, ancient innovations paved the way for many common products – some of which we still use to this very day.

We’re conditioned to thinking about electronics when we see words like “technology,” but it can entail so much more: like the cosmetics and skincare products you use each day. If you thought much of what we use is new, you’re in for a surprise. Some of your products may have been around for thousands of years – since the rise of the pyramids and the fall of civilizations.

1. Cleopatra Was The Founder Of The Skin-Care And Cosmetic Industry

Although various civilizations had their own unique hygiene practices, Queen Cleopatra spent her life researching skincare and beauty techniques – even going as far as creating her own manufacturing plant that produced perfumes, cosmetics, and skincare potions. Born over 2000 years ago (69 BC), she crafted various antimicrobial facial cleansers using honey, olive oil, lime, and chalk, in addition to creating toners from apple cider vinegar and using sea salt scrubs to exfoliate her skin. She also produced natural nail polishes and hair dyes to maintain a youthful appearance.

2. In Fact, Cosmetics Were Traced Back Far Before Cleopatra’s Time In Egypt, Back To 6000 BC

Prototype cosmetics were found on Egyptian tombs and buried with ancient Egyptians. Items like kohl – what gave many Egyptians the smoky eyes we lust after now – were originally used to fight off infection by killing pathogenic skin bacteria with their heavy metal components. Ancient Greeks and Romans also used various ways of “painting” their faces with natural minerals to help give a luminous appearance, complete with utilitarian antimicrobial properties.

3. Queen Elizabeth Made Pale Skin “In”

During the Middle Ages, colorful cosmetics were commonly seen among prostitutes, so Queen Elizabeth changed the tides of beauty standards during her reign. This is where we begin to see the heightened paleness or white appearance of higher-class women during this time. A concoction created from vinegar and lead – called ceruse – was used to lighten the appearance of the skin giving it that unnatural paleness indicative of a dignified lady. Unfortunately, bathing was out of fashion and many women using this product faced difficulty in removing it (even in some cases using donkey’s milk and urine - yikes) and consequently faced muscle paralysis or death by lead poisoning…

4. Before Foundation, Skin Bleaching Was A Must-Have Beauty Technique

Long before Queen Elizabeth supported a pale complexion, the Chinese perfected skin bleaching methods by using lemon juice and songyi mushrooms. However, the Chinese felt youthful, healthy skin was most linked to inner wellness and liked to employ methods of nutrition, circulation, and exercise to promote inner and outer health. One empress during the Qin dynasty (221 BC – 207 BC) believed a diet rich in black beans, sesame seeds, and Chinese yam led to healthy skin and improved complexion. Looks like their minds might have been in the right place!

5. The Creation Of The FDA Changed Unsafe Skin Practices in the U.S.

In 1869, the American Medical Association published a study called “ Three Cases of Lead Palsy from the Use of a Cosmetic Called Laird’s Bloom of Youth” – sorry, not sorry Queen Elizabeth - citing their findings on lead-based whitening cosmetics and lead poisoning. This paved the way for the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and eventually, we saw significant strides in making safe many skincare products we continue to use today.

Although the people of ancient times (even up until this last century) may not have known how the microscopic organisms that lived on their skin affected their risk of infection or disease, they still found unique ways to harness their powers. Many of the nutrients that Cleopatra used were natural probiotics for her skin microbes, unintentionally aiding them and supporting their natural line of defense. In other ways, ancient man and woman created cosmetics and skin products that resulted in heavy metal poisoning and other diseases – but with access to modern medicine and research techniques, we have shed these practices and found new ways to create healthier, more natural product lines.

Other things we are seeing today are even more astounding – something microbiologists may have never even considered: we are now seeing the skincare industry embracing the microbes that call us home and considering their role in individualized cosmetics. This may be where many future advancements shift the market. What a technological feat!

But ultimately, if you want to reflect health and make your skin glow, optimizing your nutrition and improving your inner health first can make an incredible difference in your skin.

Whether you choose lipstick or chapstick, or have a 20-step or 2-step skin-care routine before bed, having clear skin can say a lot about what’s happening inside you. At Viome, we believe there is even more than meets the eye with the idiom “beauty begins from the inside-out” – mostly because science has taught us a lot about what’s happening beneath the surface at the microscopic level. Don’t guess your way to finding the “right” diet – see what Viome can do for you and your skin by getting science-backed dietary recommendations specific to you - through actionable changes you can see. You may even find yourself glowing with a new sense of confidence, and healthier skin to boot.

*The information on the Viome website is provided for informational purposes only and with the understanding that Viome is not engaged in rendering medical advice or recommendations. Viome is providing this educational information to share the exciting developments being reported in the scientific literature about the human microbiome and your health. Viome products are not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease.