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Beautiful woman with fashion make-up and hairstyle like Egyptian queen Cleopatra (EmotionPhoto / Adobe Stock)

8 Ancient Beauty Secrets We Can Still Use Today


Beautification and cosmetology have been important to humans for many thousands of years. Obsessing over our appearance is something that seems to go back to the very roots of modern human behavior, and our ancestors altered their appearance in a myriad of ways.

Of course, some ancient beauty tricks should be left in the past. Ceruse, a skin lightening foundation used by women in the Elizabethan era, contained lead, which eventually left the women using it with permanent blemishes. To help get rid of these blemishes, it was extremely popular to wash their faces with mercury. While these things may have worked, they were downright dangerous.

But not every ancient beauty tip has aged this badly. Some of them could still be used today and in a some instances, they still are.

1. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has become immensely popular over the past couple of years and is used as everything from a hair mask to a treatment for skin conditions such as eczema. With antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties it is no surprise coconut oil has been utilized by healers for centuries – in fact, the ancient Sanskrit word for coconut translates to “the tree that supplies everything needed to live.”

As well as the popular modern uses for coconut oil, like deeply moisturizing hair masks, there are some properties utilized by our ancestors that seem to have been forgotten. For example, coconut oil is a natural sunscreen, filtering out harmful UV rays while allowing the body to absorb Vitamin D.

Coconut oil is one beauty trend that shows our ancestors knew what they were doing some of the time and it is a trend that is likely to stick around for a while.

Coconut oil is an ancient beauty treatment (sunny mama / flickr)

Coconut oil is an ancient beauty treatment (sunny mama / flickr)

2. Sea Salt

Another ancient beauty secret that has maintained its popularity is the use of sea salt. Browse the beauty isle of any superstore or pharmacy and you will find products proclaiming the benefits of sea salt and using it as a key ingredient.

Just like coconut oil, salt has a lot of benefits. It is an antiseptic and a preservative. It cleanses, detoxifies and (while it does dry things out) helps lock moisture in.

Since ancient times salt scrubs have been used as a way to remove dead skin and improve the appearance of cellulite. The Ancient Greeks got sea water massages, used sea salt in facemasks and body wraps, and used sea water pools for hydrotherapy.

Ancient Greeks got sea salt and sea water massages. (Africa Studio / Adobe)

Ancient Greeks got sea salt and sea water massages. (Africa Studio / Adobe)

3. Olive Oil

Olive oil has been used in skin care products for over 5000 years. Ancient Greeks, Phoenicians, Egyptians, and Romans all used olive oil in their skin care regimes.

Today, olive oil is found in many beauty products and is used to keep skin, nails, and hair in tip top condition.

As it is high in Vitamin E, olive oil is particularly suitable for skin care. It helps with complexion and improves the elasticity of skin. It is also used to help keep nails strong and prevent them getting brittle. It helps moisturize hair and keep it looking shiny and healthy.

Olive oil is yet another example of a product valued for thousands of years that has not been forgotten even today.

Olive oil has been utilized for over 5,000 years (public domain)

Olive oil has been utilized for over 5,000 years (public domain)

4. Sugaring

Depilation – hair removal – is a beauty need that is popular in so many societies that a wide variety of methods have been devised to do the job.

Since around 1900 BC sugaring, also known as Persian Waxing, has been one method. Due to its effectiveness and the fact it uses natural ingredients it is increasing in popularity again today.

Sugaring is a process similar to waxing. A sugar paste made with ingredients such as molasses, honey, and lemon juice is applied to the skin. It is then pulled off, bringing hair with it.

It is a much gentler technique than waxing and is less likely to cause issues such as ingrown hairs. It’s no surprise that this is one ancient technique that hasn’t been abandoned.

5. Honey

Another sweet product with fantastic beauty uses is honey.

It is well known that honey has some amazing properties – it is an antiseptic and packed with antioxidants. It was the most popular ingredient used in Ancient Egyptian medicines, featuring in more than half of the 900 surviving recipes. These properties have also made it a popular ingredient in cosmetics since long before the positive effects were truly understood.

The antiseptic nature of honey, for instance, means it can help with acne if applied as a mask. It also helps keep skin and hair soft, moisturized, and clean.

Honey is featured in more than 900 ancient Egyptian recipes (public domain)

Honey is featured in more than 900 ancient Egyptian recipes (public domain)

6. Saffron Oil

It is fitting that Cleopatra, who was renowned for her beauty, was reputed to bathe in milk baths infused with saffron oil. The notoriously expensive spice has been valued for many centuries. It is mentioned in the oldest Ayurvedic texts, from around 500 BC, as a spice which is used in beauty treatments.

Saffron oil is not a popular beauty ingredient today, but some people add a few strands to coconut oil to create a cleansing and moisturizing facemask. It is used by some women in Morocco and India, and the people that do use it swear by it. Perhaps it is time more people spiced up their beauty regime with this ancient tip.

Egyptian Queen Cleopatra was reputed to bathe in milk infused with saffron oil. (Brodetskaya Elena / Adobe)

Egyptian Queen Cleopatra was reputed to bathe in milk infused with saffron oil. (Brodetskaya Elena / Adobe)

7. Clay

Many facial masks today are based around clay – it is infused with a variety of ingredients and then applied directly to the face.
Clay face masks, using the finest clay from the Dead Sea, are fabled to have been another of Cleopatra’s top beauty secrets.
Although they are quite messy to apply, they certainly seem to work, and their popularity is not likely to wane any time soon.

8. Eggs

Possibly the cheapest, easiest to source ingredient on the list is eggs. Nearly everyone has access to them, and they have been a staple part of most diets for thousands of years. But along with their health benefits, they make a wonderful ingredient in cosmetics.

Both the yolk and the whites can be used, and a mask made from the yolks mixed with honey and essential oils can be used to help brighten and moisturize skin.

Eggs have also been used as the base for hair masks for many centuries, they are mixed with ingredients such as sea salt, olive oil, and honey depending on the hair type of the user.

The cosmetics industry is one that is particularly prone to fads and new wonder ingredients and products appear every year. But looking at the longest surviving traditions, it seems that we can learn a lot from our ancestors and many of their techniques are still hugely popular today. It is no surprise that the ingredients which were long ago found to have positive effects on skin and hair are still found in beauty products today and many of the things in this list are commonly used in conjunction with one another.

So, the next time you pick up a clay mask with honey or a sea salt and coconut oil scrub, remember that your ancestors would probably recognize the product and may even have used something similar themselves.

Top image: Beautiful woman with fashion make-up and hairstyle like Egyptian queen Cleopatra (EmotionPhoto / Adobe Stock)

By Sarah P Young


Being Healthful. 2019. Waxing vs Sugaring. [Online] Available at:
Brightside. Date Unknown. 13 ancient beauty secrets that are useful even today. [Online] Available at:
Crage, D. 2013. Sanskrit Name For Coconut Has a Startling Meaning. [Online] Available at:
Eteraf-Oskouei, T. 2013. Traditional and Modern Uses of Natural Honey in Human Diseases: A Review. [Online] Available at:
Kilvington, S. 2016. The History of Coconut Oil. [Online] Available at:
Organic Field. Date Unknown. History of Coconut Oil and Benefits. [Online] Available at:
SFSalt. Date Unknown. History of Salt Bathing. [Online] Available at:
Upadhyaya, S. 2017. Wonderful Saffron for Beautiful Skin. [Online] Available at:



I have been making my own face cream for years. I use shea butter, cocoa butter and coconut oil infused with essential oil. I add zinc oxide for sunscreen

I have used 'mayonnaise' [homemade without the mustard, though mustard has also been used as a medication for centuries] as a deep conditioner for my hair for some 40 or so years. I used olive oil as a make up remover [until I stopped wearing makeup entirely] as well, and use it as a massage oil, and to lock in moisture after showering. Salt and olive oil makes a wonderful scrub as well. Pity I am deathly allergic to palm products or I would give coconut oil a try.

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Sarah P

Sarah P Young is undertaking her masters in archaeology, specializing in early human behavior and in particular evidence of interaction between humans and Neanderthals. She hopes to continue her studies further and complete a doctorate.

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