Monday, May 5, 2014

Skincare for Women

Madonna of the Recommended,
Lippo Memmi (c.1291 - 1356)
Cosmetics were known as far back as early Egyptian culture, so it is no surprise that ways to maintain good skin were known through the Medieval Era. The materials needed for cosmetics were derived from some of the same sources as medicines—such as lily root or white lead—so much cosmetic advice came from physicians.

An example of ideal skin was the 1350 painting by Lippo Memmi, "Madonna of the Recommended." Trotula of Salerno offered recipes for fair skin. "Fair skin" was not necessarily light-colored skin, but referred to smoothness  and a lack of blemishes. A woman could be considered "fair-skinned" if she were a pale Englishwoman or an olive-complexioned Mediterranean. Frequent smallpox epidemics made fair skin a rarity.

There were several ways to treat a less-than-perfect complexion. Rubbing a saliva-coated amethyst over pimples to remove them was one method, or just hold the amethyst over a pot of boiling water and use the moisture that gathers on it.

Hildegard of Bingen (c.1098 - 1179) is known today largely for her devotional musical compositions, but as this blog has noted in the past, she also gave medical advice for, among other things, clear skin:
Pulverize ginger with twice as much galingale* and a half portion of zedoary.** Place in a tied cloth in vinegar and then in wine so it doesn't become too dark. Smear the skin where eruptions are, and he will be cured.
Rosemary, also mentioned previously in this blog, could be mixed with white wine and applied to the face as a beauty treatment. And if you wanted to get rid of freckles, the Liber de Diversis Medicinis ["Book of Diverse Medicines"] from 14th century England (found in the Lincoln Thornton Manuscript in Lincoln Cathedral) suggested the blood of a hare or bull.

I feel compelled to add the caveat: Don't try these at home!

*Galingale was a plant from the ginger family.
**Zedoary is a perennial herb native to India. Also called "white turmeric," it has largely been replaced in western cuisine by ginger.

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