A Look Inside Beauty Secrets From the Renaissance


| LAST UPDATE 08/14/2022

By Elena White
Renaissance Beauty Project Auckland
Francis G. Mayer/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

We all know the importance of reading product labels, beauty products mostly so. Being aware of what ingredients are included in the liquids and creams we apply to our face and body is incredibly important, protecting ourselves from unwanted chemicals. One woman who feels strongly about this is art historian Erin Griffey who has gone as far as to research what went into the beauty products of the past. In her book about beauty culture in Renaissance Europe, she compares the beauty industry of then and now. Here's what she said.

While, at first, it may seem like there are few similarities between the beauty standards of the 16th century and the 21st, Griffey has identified many ingredients that are still being included. Examining books, recipe collections, medical texts, and health regimen manuscripts, she noticed that things such as rosewater, used nowadays in hydrating mists, and sulfur, which is now often included in acne creams, were listed on Renaissance beauty products. This information can help us to learn how products were used during this period and how effectively they worked. But there's more...

Beautiful Chemistry Project Renaissance
@zuza.the.immunologist via Instagram
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Examining the Renaissance beauty recipes further, Griffey noticed some more unusual and outright dangerous ingredients listed, such as bile acids, calves' hooves, lead, and toxic bryony plant. Wanting to get a clearer picture and take this all a step further, she recruited her team at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and set out to recreate these potions. They named it the Beautiful Chemistry Project

It's not been an easy feat. The recipes they are referencing have often been vague, so the team has had to play around with the measurements and combine them with other research. "We knew we could not re-create it exactly as is." Griffin explained about the rosemary flowers in white wine recipe for a product that promised to make the skin fair. "We do not have access to the rosemary plants that grew 500 years ago or the wines, and whatever their chemical makeup was." So, they have done what they can to "get closer to an approximation." Once the resulting mixture was produced, the team was excited to find chemical compounds that were found in today's skin products. The dream is to one day bring these recreated Renaissance-style products to the masses - of course, without the harmful ingredients! Stay tuned.

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