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Ancient Rome: The Republic, 500 BC-30BC

Naturals Skin Care

A City of Baths
While Ancient Rome may be best known for its expansive empire, the city was a bastion of culture for hundreds of years before it started expanding. The Roman Republic borrowed many customs from the neighboring Greeks and used many similar skin care techniques. They had a tendency for grandeur, however, and focused more on sensual, external pleasures than they did on the advancement of philosophy and science. Nevertheless, many citizens of the Roman Republic were highly educated and applied their knowledge to the improvement of their physical appearance as well as the improvement of their mind.

The Romans were known for their good hygiene. Cleanliness was of the highest importance and Roman men and women were always finding new and improved ways of cleaning themselves. The epitome of the culture of hygiene was the construction of the Roman baths. The Romans were the first society to develop a system of indoor plumbing, using pipes and aqueducts to carry water from its source to public buildings and private residences. While the poorest citizens did not have access to private plumbing systems, indoor plumbing gave Rome's upper classes the ability to clean themselves in the comfort of their own home. Nevertheless, most people attended the public baths, or thermae. These baths were places for gathering and socializing as well as for cleaning. As the bathers discussed politics and beauty secrets, the water and steam would wash away dirt and impurities, leaving only soft, beautiful skin. (You can read more about Roman baths here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermae )

The Quest for Smooth, Pale Skin
Like the Greeks, and many other societies, the Romans associated tanned skin with the lower classes. Roman women, in particular, were concerned with giving themselves a well-bred, pale-faced appearance. They used two methods to achieve this. The first was to lighten the skin permanently. The second was to coat the face in a white substance to make it appear lighter than it actually was. Although Roman women did not know of the mushroom bleaches used by Chinese women, they believed that crocodile dung would permanently lighten the skin. Because of the rarity of this substance, however, and the risk involved in collecting it, the dung was expensive and only the richest women could afford it. White lead and chalk powder were much more readily available, and were used to temporarily whiten the face by the rich and poor alike.

The shade of the skin was not the only thing that was important to Roman women. Soft, smooth skin was also important, and the Romans used a number of natural substances as moisturizers and skin care treatments. Although honey was not as common a moisturizer as it was in Greece and Egypt, beeswax was often rubbed into the skin because of its similar softening effect. Oil was also extracted from a number of plants, herbs and the plentiful almonds that grew in the region, and was used to soften and protect the skin from sun damage.

New Technology and Hair Removal
While both the Greeks and Egyptians had been shaving their unwanted hair for centuries, the Romans were the first to develop precise, hand-held razors to do the job. The Romans believed that a smooth, hairless body was a mark of beauty for both men and women, and they went to great lengths to be rid of hair from head to toe. Many left hair only on the tops of their heads. Besides the razors, which were one of the most common cosmetic tools, Roman men and women would use tweezers and pumice stones to remove hair, and developed several types of depilatory creams made from natural ingredients.

The Romans also developed a number of devices to keep themselves clean. While proper soaps had yet to be developed, the citizens of the Roman Republic would rub themselves with olive oil and scrape it off with a curved metal tool, called a strigil. Like soap, the oil would absorb dirt and impurities on the skin, and the strigil would wipe the body clean. While it was impossible to completely remove the oil, the excess could be rubbed into the skin for added moisturization, or rinsed off in the baths. (You can read more about the strigil here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strigil ) While these technologies were developed during the Roman Republic, however, this was only the beginning. The next centuries would see Rome expand as an Empire, and carry its skin care products and techniques with it.


© 2013 J.K. Knowles

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