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The Origins of Skincare

Skincare seems like a new phenomenon because websites like Nykaa and Sephora has increased their products. There are also many videos available that educate people about skin care. This business is booming today because many women are taking an interest in their skin. 

The origin of skincare is quite interesting. Skincare was a part of the process called mummification of dead bodies back in Egypt six thousand years ago. It was used for other things; rituals for their gods and good skin. During that time, good skin meant skin protection from the sun and insects. 

The ingredients for skincare were pretty much the same back then as they are now. It included herbs, essential oils, milk and various plants. They were known to the world as some of the important ingredients for skincare, like Aloe Vera and Frankincense. Aloe Vera, along with sand, was used as a scrub. 

The Greeks and the Romans expanded further on Egyptian knowledge of skincare. The word 'cosmetics' comes from the Roman word cosmetae, which means female slave. Cosmetics were mostly produced by these slaves and used essential oils and perfumes to make the skin of their masters smooth. Their masters would spend entire days in the spa with the female slaves. At the time, skincare was for all genders. There were some ingredients one would not think of applying today, like crocodile dung and chalk. A particular type of sunscreen was used in Ancient Greece and Rome. It was a combination of essential oils and sand to prevent a tan. 

In the Chinese Shang Dynasty, gels and lotions were used, with face masks made of eggs and starch. There were face powders. The purpose of these skincare essentials in China was to achieve white, smooth skin, which was a trend back in the day. Europe also was obsessed with white skin. It led to the invention of a whitening foundation made up of vinegar and lead. The goal of the whitening foundation was to hide freckles.

Until the 1800s, skincare was focused more on removing freckles, having white skin, soothing irritation and avoiding skin problems caused by the sun. In the 1900s, this gradually changed to what we know today, cleansing the skin and making it youthful. Cleansing would include clearing the face of pimples, acne, blackheads and other problems. The early 1900s were not better than the 1800s in terms of natural skin colour. Women did not want to have dark skin, so skin whitening was very popular in those days. Then came in two women - Madame C.J Walker and Annie Turnbo Malone.

As a child, Annie Malone was interested in skincare and haircare. She had an herbalist aunt. Together with her aunt, she tried to make hair products for Black women. The products used to straighten hair was of butter, potatoes and heavy oils. But they did not work for the hair of Black women. Instead, they were harmful to the hair because they were too harsh. She worked to make a mixture that worked for Black women effectively. She came up with a Wonderful Hair Grower, which worked wonders for Black women hair. She mainly focused on a clean scalp. She thought that a clean scalp is much better than the one that is laden with harsh products. She had a range of hair care products and started a college named Poro College to encourage cosmetology.

Madam C.J Walker was an African-American woman who is known to be the first self-made female millionaire in America. She had her line of skin and hair care products aimed at Black women. The name of her company was Madame C.J Walker Manufacturing Company. Her products were a huge hit and catered to the women of colour at the time. Her original name was Sarah Breedlove. She was born in Louisiana and experienced excessive hair loss in the 1890s. She decided to treat it by using home remedies and store brought hair products. One of the products she used was by Annie Turnbo. It worked effectively for her hair. She worked with Turnbo’s company as a sales agent. She left the company and launched her product named Madame C.J Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower. 

At the time, both Annie Turnbo and Madame C.J Walker were rivals. But they revolutionized hair care products. The foundation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. in 1906 brought more products. It was known as the Food and Drugs Act. It got its present name in the 1930s. Before that, the U.S. government would use chemicals to analyze agricultural products. The Department of Agriculture would handle the testing starting from 1863. Later that became the responsibility of the FDA. The Act defined skincare and makeup products as anything applied to clean, beautify or alter the appearance of your skin. If a product is used to prevent or treat a disease, it is classified as a drug.

Brands like L’Oreal came to the United States after the FDA was set up. Later, brands like Olay, Clinique and Estee Lauder were launched and approved by the FDA. Since then, many brands have been introduced. Earlier, products that were France based were considered the best. Now the product from Korea is the best.

Korean skincare and makeup originated way back in the Gugoryeo era in ancient Korea. The skincare was only focused on makeup and looking fair. It was influenced by the Chinese obsession with fair skin. The Baekje era is recorded to pass their cosmetic knowledge to Japan.

The Silla era was known for keeping their bodies beautiful. Hwarang men, who were appointed to help the king, were trained in academics and martial arts. They were known to wear makeup, jewellery and other accessories. It is only in the Joseon Dynasty that inner beauty was preferred more than outer beauty. At the time, people started to wear light makeup and only wore it on special occasions.

The Korean skincare industry has seen a massive boom in these past few years. It was introduced to the U.S. market back in 2011. From face masks to the 10-step routine, the Korean beauty industry has brought many changes in the way people view skincare. Korean skincare is successful because of the Hallyu wave, which consists of Korean Dramas (or k-dramas) and Korean pop music (or K-pop). These two are also the biggest exports from Korea, apart from skincare and automobile. Korean Dramas have actresses using skin products, which makes the viewers feel that if they use such products and take care of their skin in such a way, then their skin will also be like the actress. One popular product in K-dramas is the face mask. The face mask gained popularity after people in K-Dramas were seen using it.

K-pop also has a considerable influence on beauty. K-pop idols like Jeon Somi have shared their skincare routines with their viewers. K-pop idols are also seen using beauty products in variety shows. Beauty products are not only used by women but also men. The biggest market for Korean products is currently in China. It is followed by Hong Kong and the U.S.

Like the Hallyu wave, the Korean Government also backs the beauty industry. There are many stores in Korea. Korean beauty brands are anywhere from 1,800 to 2,000 in number. Despite that, the Korean skincare industry lacks products with AHA (Alpha Hydroxyl Acid) and BHA (Beta Hydroxyl Acid) ingredients. Korean products are cheaper and look better than their Western counterparts. There have been many Western products recently that imitate Korean products. The 10-step Korean skincare routine consists of foaming cleanser, exfoliant, toner, essence, serum, sheet mask, eye cream, moisturizer, and either sunscreen or a night cream/sleeping mask. While this might be an effective skincare routine, it also depends on what works for your skin. Sometimes too many products do not work for the skin based on the texture and skin type. The basic routine that should be followed is a cleanser, toner, moisturizer, and sunscreen/night cream. If you need to treat your skin, then serums and treatment products like retinol are effective. Eye cream is effective if you have black under your eyes.

Indian skincare started with what is known as Ayurvedic skincare today. The first ingredients that were used are butter and oils. This helped to give the skin a smooth glow. There was also an Ayurvedic book called Ashtanga Hridaya that explained different herbs and their uses for skincare. There were references to beauticians and natural beauty products in mythological stories like the Ramayan and Mahabharata. Beauty products were used during the Indus Valley civilization.

Skincare practices were written according to the daily life habits of people (or Dinacharya in Sanskrit), according to the seasons (Rutu in Sanskrit). The Ashtanga Hridaya had six different lepases (face masks) used on the skin for the six seasons in India. There were bath powders and deodorants mentioned in ancient texts. Hair washes and oral hygiene were mentioned too. Specific pieces of wood were used to clean the teeth. All necessary skincare and hygiene products were conceived in ancient India. More than 200 plants and herbs were used for this purpose. For example, cracked lips were healed by using the rind of Bel fruit, mixing it with milk and applying it on the lips. Khas-Khas seeds were mixed with milk after being made into powder and then applied to the hair for dandruff. After that, the hair would be washed.

Ayurvedic beliefs held that what you eat internally can cause an external glow on your face. One mixture consisted of Kadunimba, Mundi, Maka, Nirgundi, and Vova leaves. These had to be dried and then powdered. It would be mixed, and two pinches of it would be eaten every day. It was done to get a healthy, youthful glow and to have black hair.

Although face masks are popularized in Korea these days, there was an Ayurvedic face mask in ancient India, using Honey and Masura. The mixture was made for glowing skin. A paste was made of Coriander, Lodh tree, and Kosta and used as a mask to cure pimples.

After Independence, Indians used British products for their skin. But JRD Tata had an idea. He thought that Indians having a cosmetic brand that caters to Indian women was required. He came up with Lakme in 1952. It was the first Indian cosmetics brand. It encouraged other people to start cosmetic brands. The 90s brought many international brands to India. Before the 90s, no foreign brands were allowed in the country. In 1991, economic liberation happened, which led to an influx from brands like L’Oreal, Maybelline, and Clinique. During this time, many women were entering the workforce, and looking good had a market. But the Indians are still in touch with their roots. Brands like Himalaya and Patanjali are popular for their Ayurvedic products. Newer brands like MamaEarth, Plum, Forest Essentials, Khadia Ayurveda, Kama Ayurveda, and SoulTree are gaining ground. Many Indians to this day use home remedies for their skin and hair. Some popular ingredients for home remedies are egg yolks, neem, tulsi, chrysanthemum, pudina, saffron, jeera, milk and others.

Although skincare is usually considered a thing for women, everybody should take care of their skin as much as possible. If you take care of your skin now, your skin will thank you later for your hard work. Not to mention how skincare helps avoid skin and face diseases. As they say, “Skincare is a part of self-care.”


Picture credit: WebMD

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Tags: korea annie turnbo hair Skincare madame c.j walker routine Ayurveda


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