Cosmetic Receipts

The serious point that the ancients understood about cosmetic or beauty care was that it kept you well and healthy: 'such, indeed, are human means of embellishment, and therewith they keep off death from themselves', as one Vedic author put it.12 A more comprehensive view of the connection between cosmetics and health care can be obtained from some of the very earliest medical texts. Many of these simply recorded a folkloric pharmacology of herbal, animal, and mineral 'receipts' (ingredients) for the treatment of various conditions, that continued to be recycled for centuries to come;ancient Indian cosmetic receipts in particular were preserved uninterruptedly from 600 bce to ad 1600 and onwards to the present day. All these early receipt texts show an overwhelming medical interest in the care of the body surfaces. Egyptian cosmetic receipts appear in medical papyri next to skin salves, eye salves, and tooth remedies;similarly in the early Anglo-Saxon leech books. In the Indian herbals, cosmetic receipts for hair dyes, hair promoters, hair oils, depilatories, and hair-disentangling cream jostle with recipes for the treatment of grey hair, dandruff, lice, and nits. Face paint, lip dyes, and perfumed unguents were set side by side with face salves for moles, blemishes, pimples, and peeling. There were teeth-cleaners, mouth deodorants and washes, nose deodorants (fumes through the nose), and armpit deodorants. There were any number of aromatic oils, unguents, pastes, bath waters, and bath powders for the body—things that 'will make the bodies of the males and females gold-like, beautiful, fragrant and lovely'.13

The basic common senses—especially vision and touch—that were used to check the general state of the body were natural methods that took no notice whatsoever of any formal division between preventive and curative medicine. It is perhaps easiest to think of this external COBS medicine as operating along a continuum of self-care, ranging from the ephemeral to the urgent—from painting to cleansing; from cleansing to emolli-ents;from emollients to remedies. The Romans clearly regarded cosmetics as a legitimate branch of medicine; for example, Crito, personal physician to the emperor Trajan (ad 98-117)

wrote an exhaustive four-volume work on cosmetics, all lost except for its table of contents:

For care of the skin: cleansers, emollients, bleaches, paints, remedies (dryness, wrinkles, freckles, white spots, sunburn, warts, scars, double chin, superfluous hair, deodorants). For the care of the hair: hair-dressings, bleaches, dyes, scalp lotions, remedies (scaliness, falling hair, baldness, lice). For the care of the parts: manicure, pedicure, mouth care, teeth care, throat, remedies (washes, tooth powder, pastilles), bust developers, perfumes (powders, liquids, ointments). Cosmetic tools: mirrors, brushes, combs, fancy pins, hair-bands, razors, tweezers, false hair, curling irons, tongue scrapers, breast binders and false teeth.14

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