Ella Baché Toowong

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Observations on the World of Beauty

The products we use every day to cleanse and hydrate our skin, reduce wrinkles and beautify our face are created using cutting-edge technology, but the quest for beauty began long before it became the science it is today. Although they didn't have our technology at their fingertips, ancient civilizations were able to create clever (though sometimes dangerous) beauty concoctions.

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Nail polish, for example, originated in 3,000 B.C. when the Chinese began painting their nails with a polish made of gum arabic, egg whites, gelatine and beeswax. During this time, Egyptians also produced dramatic eye make-up using kohl - a paste made of soot, animal fat and lead. Around four hundred years ago, the 'white skin' fad caught on across Europe, and women began spending their days inside instead of labouring in the sun like tanned, low-class workers. The demand for lead-based skincare and make-up (which was used for hundreds of years to whiten skin and clear blemishes) soared in the pursuit of a flawless pallor. Lead was mixed with vinegar to make whitening foundation, used as the main ingredient in early facial peels, and even used to remove freckles.

Centuries passed before people learned the dangerous and devastating side effects of applying lead to the skin. Complications range from scarring to infertility to madness. It wasn't until 1869 that the use of lead was challenged. Although the beauty business is steeped in a rich and fascinating history, it has an undoubtedly bright future too.

In the 21st century, beauty products and therapies have evolved to the point where women (and a growing contingent of their male counterparts) can grow old gracefully without submitting to major surgery.