10 Skin Secrets from the Ancient World
Snail slime facials and seaweed soaks sound exotic, but they aren't new. Here's why beauty companies are looking at centuries-old ingredients for the latest antiaging innovations.
By Ning Chao
As much as science has advanced over the years, tried-and-true treatments still endure. "Women think that natural products harness some secret to why they've worked for thousands of years. But these remedies can take time, and women want results now," explains global beauty industry analyst Karen Grant of the NPD Group Inc. That's why researchers are racing to figure out the science behind these miracle cures and learning new ways to maximize their benefits. Passed along from generation to generation and now perfected with cutting-edge technology, these ancient skincare secrets could help us all find the fountain of youth.
Credits: 1. Chanel Le Blanc Intensive Night Brightening Treatment, $400 for four treatments; 2. Amarte Ultra Veil SPF 50, $45; 3. Estée Lauder CyberWhite HD Advanced Brightening Moisture Creme, $80
Ancient Secret:The Compendium of Materia Medica of the Ming Dynasty suggests applying pearl powder to moisturize skin—Chinese empresses even ingested the stuff. In the Dongui Bogam (a book on traditional medicine from Korea's Joseon Dynasty), a recipe recommends mixing the powder with milk for a DIY dark-spot corrector.
The Redux: In 2009, a Taiwanese study supported the claims in these early medical books, showing that pearl powder helps hydrate skin, reduces melanin production, and contains antioxidants. Pearls also lend the complexion a light-diffusing glow that minimizes imperfections.
Targets: Dryness, brown spots, sun damage.
Find It Today: 1. CHANEL Le Blanc Intensive Night Brightening Treatment, $400 for four treatments.
Ancient Secret: A member of the mint family, this herb has been used topically in traditional Chinese medicine to treat acne, eczema, and psoriasis.
The Redux: "Skullcap possesses anti-inflammatory and even possible anti-cancer benefits. The root contains the antioxidant baicalin, which inhibits melanin production and brightens the skin," says Dr. Craig Kraffert, dermatologist and president of Amarte.
Targets: Acne, sun damage, brown spots.
Find It Today: 2. AMARTE Ultra Veil SPF 50+, $45; 3. ESTéE LAUDER CyberWhite HD Advanced Brightening Moisture Creme, $80.
Credits: 1. Neal's Yard Remedies Frankincense Intense, $90; 2. Veria ID Innerdosha Pitta Dosha Balancing Act Serum, $35; 3. Yves Saint Laurent Or Rouge Face Crème, $400; 4. Origins Plant-scription Powerful Lifting Cream, $60
Ancient Secret: This fragrant resin has been used since biblical times to zap blemishes and heal cuts. "Before antibiotics, frankincense was more valuable than gold because it's naturally antibacterial," says pharmacognosist Dr. Simon Jackson.
The Redux: Frankincense is rich in boswellic acid, which boosts collagen formation and reduces scarring.
Targets: Acne, wrinkles.
Find It Today: 1. NEAL'S YARD REMEDIES Frankincense Intense, $90; 2. VERIA ID Innerdosha Pitta Dosha Balancing Act Serum, $35.
Ancient Secret: Cleopatra is said to have added these bright orange stamens to her legendary milk baths, and some Indian and Moroccan women still apply a saffron oil stain on cheeks as a traditional form of makeup that "helps balance the hormones and improves the complexion," says Dr. Siva Mohan, an ayurvedic practitioner.
The Redux: In 2010, an Iranian study found that saffron has natural sunscreen. Now scientists have discovered that saffron from Morocco's High Atlas Mountains contains higher levels of protective antioxidants and firming glycans.
Targets: Wrinkles, sagging, brown spots, dullness.
Find It Today: 3. YVES SAINT LAURENT Or Rouge Face Crème, $400.
Ancient Secret: Wise men (three in particular) prized this resin that's related to myrrh. "Commiphora has been used as incense, perfume, and medicine," says Dr. Marcus McFerren, derma-tologist and ethnobotanist.
The Redux: New research shows that an Indian variety plumps and firms the face by increasing hyaluronic acid production in the skin.
Targets: Wrinkles, sagging.
Find It Today: 4. ORIGINS Plant-scription Powerful Lifting Cream, $60.
Credits: 1. Dr Dennis Gross Clinical Concentrate Hydration Booster, $38; 2. Murad Rapid Collagen Infusion, $78; 3. Dr Jackson's No. 2 Skin Cream, $120
Ancient Secret: More than 90 percent water, this fruit provides hydration in dry, arid climates like the Kalahari Desert. It's also been used to treat fevers. "When it's almost putrid, Egyptians collect the juice and mix it with rosewater and sugar," says dermatologist Dr. Howard Murad.
The Redux: "Watermelon contains amino acids that are the building blocks of collagen and lots of antioxidant lycopene, carotenoids, and vitamin C," Murad says.
Targets: Dryness, wrinkles.
Find It Today: 1. DR DENNIS GROSS Clinical Concentrate Hydration Booster, $38; 2. MURAD Rapid Collagen Infusion, $78.
Ancient Secret: In most of sub-Saharan Africa, locals boil this tree's fruit into a pulp to treat dark spots.
The Redux: "Kigelia has naphthoquinone, which stops melanin from getting darker," Jackson explains. "It's not a skin bleacher, but as the skin sheds, you get a more even skin tone."
Targets: Brown spots.
Find It Today: 3. DR JACKSON'S No. 2 Skin Cream, $120.
Credits: 1. Perricone MD Chloro Plasma, $75; 2. Jurlique Herbal Recovery Eye Gel, $48; 3. Algenist Algae Brightening Mask, $59; 4. Immunocologie Super 7 Elixir Face, $300
Ancient Secret: Mineral-rich seaweed is the backbone of thalassotherapy, centuries-old antiaging and slimming treatments especially popular in France. "Algae contains chemicals that make skin feel tighter," says McFerren, which explains why it's so popular in masks.
The Redux: Turns out, seaweed is a powerful hydrator that also repairs sun damage. "Studies have found that there are DNA-repair mechanisms in algae that protect from UV harm," says Dr. Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, a dermatologist who uses algae extracts in her 37 Extreme Actives cream.
Targets: Dryness, brown spots, sagging, sun damage.
Find It Today: 1. PERRICONE MD Chloro Plasma, $75; 2. JURLIQUE Herbal Recovery Eye Gel, $48; 3. ALGENIST Algae Brightening Mask, $59.
Ancient Secret: We know that the French love to eat their escargot, but "thousands of years ago, the Greeks used snail mucus for antiaging skin treatments," Alexiades-Armenakas says.
The Redux: Stop gagging—snail slime is amino-acid-rich and antibacterial, and a recent German study showed that one type of the garden pest's mucin contains anti-inflammatory salicylic acid. Snail mucin has since become a cult hit in Korea because of its major moisturizing and firming properties.
Targets: Dryness, wrinkles, sagging.
Find It Today: 4. IMMUNOCOLOGIE Super 7 Elixir Face, $300.
Credits: 5. Natura Bissé Diamond White SPF 50 Matte Finish Sun Protection, $105; 6. Artistry Ideal Radiance Spot Corrector, $58
Ancient Secret: Greek goddess Persephone ate pomegranate seeds while trapped in the underworld, and the fruit has been curing colds and fight-ing the fevers of mortals ever since.
The Redux: "Pomegranate increases the potency of sunscreen and contains brightening vitamin C," says Murad. "It's also hydrating. Cell membranes get thinner as we get older, but antioxidants help cells attract as much water as possible."
Targets: Dryness, brown spots, sun damage, wrinkles.
Find It Today: 5. NATURA BISSÉ Diamond White SPF 50 Matte Finish Sun Protection, $105; 6. ARTISTRY Ideal Radiance Spot Corrector, $58.