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Ancient Greece: The Classical Period, 500 BC-323 BC


Classical Greece: A Changing World
Classical Greece was home to the great philosophers, athletes, thespians and scientists that most people associate with the country's brilliant history. The first democratic society in the world, Classical Greece boasted a forward-thinking culture, dedicated to the advancement of the highest levels of thought and education. During this time, trade continued to flourish with Egypt and many people continued to use the traditional skin care techniques they had first learned from the Egyptians. Opinions about health and beauty were shifting, however, and were putting a new focus on exercise, physical fitness and the beauty of the male body.

For the most part, men and women continued to use the same skin care treatments they had used for centuries. Oils derived from herbs, plants and organic compounds were applied to make the skin soft and supple. Honey also continued to be a popular moisturizer. Women continued to powder their faces with chalk dust or lead to give themselves a pale complexion, and then painted their lips and cheeks with henna-tinged pigments. While skin care products were derived from natural ingredients that grew abundantly in the Mediterranean climate, their use was usually reserved for the upper classes of Greek society.

The First Olympians
While most people continued to practice traditional, organic methods of skin care, the Greeks began to draw a larger connection between physical fitness and beauty, especially among men. You need only look at their gods to see that athletics had long been a part of Greek culture, and strength had always been admired. Heracles and his displays of strength are the perfect example of what Classical Greeks saw as a male ideal. As physicians and philosophers began to connect athletics with health, however, a greater focus was put on this ideal. Exercise was believed to be a major component of beauty. Beautiful skin was a much a result of physical fitness as greater strength and a toned physique was.

In fact, physical beauty was a large factor in the public enjoyment of athletics. The word "gymnasium" stems from the Greek word for "naked." Athletes would compete in the nude to show off the beauty of the male body: their toned muscles, their quick reflexes and their flawless skin. The gymnasium was also a place for socializing and discussing philosophy. Greek men saw all of these things as being connected to good health. Good health was, of course, connected to beauty. (You can read more about Greek gymnasiums here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gymnasium_(ancient_Greece) )

The Father of Dermatology
Classical Greece saw advancements in almost every area of scholarship. Greek philosophers, politicians and artists developed theories that are still used today by experts in their fields. This period also saw the beginning of a new medical discipline. Until this time, medicine was usually considered a branch of philosophy and was not a profession in its own right. The great physician Hippocrates, however, changed that. He was the first in the western world to develop a system of diagnosis and treatment based on set symptoms. Several of the conditions that he first diagnosed are still acknowledged by today's medical professionals.

While Hippocrates is often referred to as the Father of Modern Medicine, many people also consider him to be the Father of Dermatology. He encouraged strict standards of hygiene and professionalism and was one of the first to see treat skin conditions with the same medical attention reserved for other illnesses. He saw skin health as a part of overall health and believed that the skin would respond to treatment the same way as any other part of the body. Many of the diagnostic and treatment methods developed by Hippocrates and his students are still used today by skin care experts. (You can read more about Hippocrates here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippocrates )

While the scholars of Classical Greece may be better known for their contributions to philosophy and science, the effect that they had on skin care is undeniable. From using plant-based cosmetics to associating physical fitness with beautiful skin, to laying the groundwork for the profession of dermatology, the Ancient Greeks played a huge role in developing the practices that are still a part of good skin care today.


© 2013 J.K. Knowles

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