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Elizabeth Taylor a.k.a Luscious Liz channelling Cleopatra in the 1963 epic historical drama "Cleopatra."

A Little Bit of History Repeating

Modern Beauty Inspired By The Past.

issue one : borrowed from before

By Khandiz Joni

From art and music to fashion and beauty, we constantly look to the past to inspire the future. Sometimes regurgitated as a carbon copy and sometimes (ideally) updated to reflect something new and exciting, but acknowledge what has come before, what has been the source of inspiration.  Ultimately, it is the past inspires us to explore and investigate and push the boundaries that have already been set.

Everything is new. At least everything is new the first time around.

Diana Vreeland


 But it was Frida Kahlo who made the unibrow a a
Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940)

But it was Frida Kahlo who made the unibrow a “thing.”

Many rituals (and even perceptions) dating back to ancient times are still very relevant today, and many basic principals are still in use. In ancient Greece and Rome, the quest for pale skin meant lead or chalk was applied to the skin. As you know, the toxicity of lead wasn’t discovered for many thousands of years and saw women dying early deaths well into the Victorian era. This skin lightening concept is still practised today, for the same – dare I say, prehistoric mindset, that pale skin depicts a higher class.  A mixture of charcoal and oil was used to create distinctive brows that would rival the ‘insta brow’ trend we see plastered all over Instagram today – except they were more into the “unification” of the brow back then… yep, the unibrow was in! Lips were deepened in colour with natural red pigments and cheeks were flushed with fruit dyes. It’s worth pointing out here, makeup was worn by both men and women, for its apparent supernatural powers. 

Basically, beauty rituals have been important since the dawn of time, and our outward appearances have played a part in luring in lovers, defining our wealth or professions – for instance, prostitution has been linked to excessive makeup and pungent perfume since the beginning too. Why, you ask? Well, interestingly enough, it was because quality cosmetics were an expensive commodity, even back then, so prostitutes used cheaper, inferior “products” that needed regular reapplication and bore a rather pungent odour, which intern needed to be covered up with some cheap perfume. Adapt or die right? – and downright, feeling more “womanly” – whatever that means.

 A bust if Nefertiti in Neues Museum, Berlin.  By Arkadiy Etumyan - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,  Licence
A bust if Nefertiti in Neues Museum, Berlin. By Arkadiy Etumyan – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Licence

The ancient Egyptians were also playing the beauty game and had some ingenious tricks up their proverbial sleeves. From honey masks to milk baths and dead sea scrubs. They even pioneered the very fashionable sugaring craze that is surging at the moment. Not to mention their love of liner! Oh yes… forget Bollywood’s perfected kohl-rimmed cat-eye. It was Cleopatra and Nefertiti who started that trend baby!

While some natural ingredients proved to be highly toxic and others totally inefficient for modern requirements, the advancement in science, disposable incomes and just plain curiosity of what the alternatives were, we have landed up with countless products filled to the brim with synthetic chemicals, fillers and fluff. Ok, ok, and a couple of plant extracts.

Top tip: If those natural ingredients aren’tat the top of your ingredients list, they ain’t doing squat.


As everything comes full circle eventually, so has the quest to reinvestigate the power of plants and nature for our beauty products.

According to the Soil Associations latest report, the natural and organic beauty sector has grown by 20% in the last year, with the UK market alone, being worth an estimated £62 million. 

This trend proves the theory that we are looking to the past to address our current and feature beauty needs. And so it seems cosmetic formulators, industry insiders and consumers alike, are returning to their roots of beauty… literally. This means we are seeing an upturn in historic ingredients starting to feature heavily in modern formulations.

 Image via Twelve Beauty
Image via Twelve Beauty

Further reading

Lisa Eldridge’s book, ‘Face Paint: The Story of Makeup‘ is an excellent addition to any beauty aficionado’s collection. Not to mention her video channel is a wealth of tips and tricks, and worth their weight in gold. But you know that already!

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not contaminated, polluted, or tainted: the paper was untainted by age.

UNTAINTED is a directional beauty platform, pushing the boundaries of clean, sustainable beauty. We are inspired and motivated by the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-sabi.

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