Water, hygiene and beauty

  Act One: hygiene

Although hygiene and water are inseparably related today, there have been times throughout history when this was not the case.
Water's beneficial effects, and its ability to bring joy and comfort, were familiar to inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent 30 centuries ago. For example, the houses of prominent members of society already had baths and drainage systems during this period.
The word hygiene comes from the name of the Greek goddess of health, Hygie. The Greeks adopted ablutions from the Hindus and learnt the science of perfumes and ointments from the Egyptians. Washing, for example, was incomplete in those days without the application of these ointments, known for their defence-enhancing and healing properties.

Citizens of Ancient Greece could take outdoor showers in open-air public fountains. Indoor bathing facilities were then progressively introduced - initially cold-water swimming pools, subsequently followed by the introduction of hot-water baths and adjoining steam rooms.
The Romans were next to adopt the notion of bathing. Their thermae were comprised of a frigidarium (cold bath), a tepidarium (warm bath) and a caldarium (steam bath). Later, with the fall of the Empire and growing influence of Christianity, these "dens of iniquity" - judged immoral because men and women bathed together - were banned.

In Medieval Europe, hygiene fell into neglect and water was even regarded as dangerous. The Plague in the 16th century fuelled this mistrust, at a time when popular belief held that water "seeped through" the skin's pores to deposit the germs it carried. With bathing anathematised, cleanliness and hygiene were sought in white linen. Those were the days of dry body cleansing.
Linen absorbed perspiration, sebum, and purified the body - and hence became a sign of its wearer's sophistication and cleanliness. During this period, notables and middle-class members of society owned a great number of shirts, in order to change them often. The 17th century saw perfumes enjoying widespread esteem alongside white linen. Until then, fine clothes had only concealed the grime. Now fragrances were used to veil the smell. The 18th century saw water somewhat reconciled with the body; baths once again became acceptable, water regained its rightful place, and soap appeared. 19th-century medical treatises stressed the role of hygiene. Yet it was not until the middle of the 20th century that running water installations became commonplace - accompanied by the elementary notions of hygiene. Personal hygiene then once again became central to healthcare and well-being.

  Act Two: make-up
Egyptian make-up revival

Egyptian make-up revival

Even if make-up has been found to have prophylactic properties, it has long been recognised as the par excellence beauty care product. Proved by archaeological discoveries of pigments being used to adorn the body as far back as prehistoric times.
Egyptian tombs from the 1st dynasty (circa 3100-2907 BC) revealed the earliest vestiges of first green, and then black, eye-liner. Egyptians used a carefully formulated mixture of substances for these preparations, designed to protect the eyes not only from the sun, but also from infection.
In the early days of the Roman Empire, cosmetics were deemed outmoded, yet as its influence extended, luxury items brought back from conquests in the east became highly prized. Traders therefore began to bring cosmetics into Rome once again. But as the imperial city's influence declined, the associated notions of dress and bodily cleanliness went with it.
In India, it was a woman's duty to be attractive. The Kama Sutra, for instance, encourages women to learn the art of colouring their body, hair, nails, teeth and clothes. Facial ornaments were also used to distinguish people from different castes.

In Medieval Europe, the ubiquitous Christian teachings consigned make-up to oblivion. The Crusaders brought it back from the Middle East, where it had remained commonplace. For want of hygiene, perfume - in particular eau de cologne - enjoyed sweeping popularity in the late 17th century. Dry perfumes were commonly used from the Renaissance to the first half of the 19th century. These included powders in sachets used to perfume clothes, and powders for the face and wigs. They were sold loose in large, elegantly decorated pots.

Courtesans of Louis XIV (the Sun King) used saffron and flower pollen to make their faces colourful, so that before long, France was considered a leading light in the art of make-up and as the country of cosmetic genius.
In 18th-century Europe, men and women alike went to great lengths in order to make themselves appear almost unnatural. Besides whitening their faces, they used blue colouring to touch up their vein lines. The black silk or felt beauty spots, initially invented to hide smallpox marks, grew to astonishing sizes, and attained matching levels of complexity. This ostentatious use of cosmetics fell out of favour following the French Revolution and with the arrival of the Victorian era. Men stopped using make-up, and for respectable ladies no more than a touch of powder was deemed fitting.
In the 1880's, technical progress and the dawn of advertising concurred to open a new chapter in the history of cosmetics. Encouraged by the flawless beauty and respectability of models featured in luxury magazines, women were once again encouraged to use beauty products. Resulting in a sharp increase in their consumption between the wars. In the sixties, the market for cosmetics became world-wide, as constantly-improving technology enabled safe, effective, and ever more sophisticated products to be introduced.


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