Radiant skin is something we all aspire to and often assume only comes to us in the form of expensive creams and lotions. There are many different ways of achieving radiant skin however, and some of the best ways of doing so have been practiced in cultures around the world for hundreds if not thousands of years! Each culture looked to the natural world around them and used what nature provided to them on their doorstep to craft their own cultural beauty secrets and rituals. Luckily for us, we live in a world today where it is possible to get our hands on almost anything that exists across the globe, and we can take advantage of some of the cultural wisdom of the past and craft ourselves the most divine beauty rituals in the present.
I have detailed below some of my favourite time honoured beauty secrets of the past and instructions on how to incorporate them into your daily life. I hope you will give some of these a try, and I do think the results will speak for themselves! Enjoy :)
Dry Skin Brushing
Dry skin brushing has been used in many different cultures around the world for hundreds of years, and is a practice that dates as far back as ancient Greece, where Olympic athletes would use the treatment after intense athletic training and competition.
Dry skin brushing has many health and beauty benefits. As a beauty treatment it reduces cellulite, tightens skin, removes dead skin layers, restores youthful texture and glow to the skin and increases cell renewal. Its deeper health benefits include aiding digestion, stimulating circulation and most importantly cleansing the lymphatic system which a major detoxification pathway in the body. Accumulated toxins cause free radical damage to cells and speed up the age-ing process. Removing toxins via the lymphatic system will help to prevent this premature age-ing of the skin and of other vital cells in the body.
Dry skin brushing is best done before a bath or a shower. It is excellent to do at least once a day or up to two times daily if possible. When purchasing a skin brush, look for one made of natural fibres only. A synthetic fibre brush will scratch and potentially damage the surface of the skin and should be avoided. Also look for a brush with a long handle, as this will make it much easier to reach all parts of the body and to effectively brush the entire back as well.
Instructions for Dry Skin Brushing: When dry skin brushing, always brush towards the heart. Begin brushing your skin starting at the soles of your feet first and continue to work upwards brushing your ankles, legs and thighs in long strokes. Next, move onto your abdomen, buttocks and back, remembering to brush towards your heart. Lastly finish by brushing your hands to your arms in the direction of your underarms. Do not brush open wounds or cuts and do not brush your face. Most importantly, do not brush wet skin as this will stretch the surface of the skin and not be effective in reaching the lymphatic system below.
Sesame Oil Self Massage
Sesame oil is one of the most revered oils in Ayurveda, India's ancient holistic system of healing. Anointing the body in warm oil, a practice known in Ayurveda as Abhyanga, is recommended as a regular practice to nourish and moisturise the skin, restore lustre and balance to the skin, tone and tighten the limbs, increase circulation, promote restful sleep and to decrease overall stress levels in the body.
In Ayurveda, sesame oil is considered a Vata pacifying oil. Vata is energy in the body that is responsible for movement and relates to the elements of Air and Space. Like air, Vata is cool, changing, quick, dry and rough. If there is excess Vata in the body, this can result in dry hair, skin and nails, chapped skin and lips, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, feelings of insecurity and abdominal bloating. Warm sesame oil massage is the Ayurvedic prescription for Vata imbalances in the body; it calms and decreases Vata, leading to decreased stress levels, decreased anxiety, increased beauty sleep and more soft and supple skin.
Instructions for Sesame Oil Abhynaga: Sesame oil massage is best done using warm oil. To warm the oil, place the bottle of oil in a pan of hot water or in a sink filled with hot water, and let it sit until it has reached a comfortably warm temperature. Using a generous amount of oil, begin applying the oil at your extremities and work inwards towards the centre of your body. Use pressure and work in long strokes on your limbs and circular strokes on your joints. Focus extra attention on any sore areas of the body and massage them thoroughly. After you have finished with your massage, take a warm bath or shower. You do not have to wash the oil off, only use soap where it is absolutely necessary. This will allow the oil to permeate the skin and remain on the surface for the remainder of the day, delivering incredible moisture and resulting in dewy, supple skin.
Milk and Honey Bath
Bathing in milk and honey was a favourite ritual of the renowned beauty Cleopatra.
Milk is incredible for the skin. It naturally contains lactic acid, which is an alpha hydroxy acid that works to dissolve dead skin cells and exfoliate the surface of the skin, revealing fresh, healthy and rejuvenated skin cells below. The fats, proteins and vitamins in milk make it intensely softening and moisturising as well and are very soothing to sensitive skin.
Raw honey also has many wonderful health and beauty benefits. It is anti-bacterial and full of antioxidants; it is also incredibly softening and smoothing to the skin and increases blood flow to the skin's surface. It leaves behind a lovely and deliciously sweet scent on the skin too!
Instructions for preparing a Milk and Honey Bath: Use 1-2 cups of full fat milk (organic if possible) and 1/2 cup of raw honey. Heat the milk very gently on the stovetop, and when it reaches a warm temperature, remove it from the heat and stir in the honey until it completely dissolves in the milk. Run a bath with warm water, taking care to avoid extremely hot water which can destroy some of the natural healing properties of the raw honey. Add the milk and honey mixture to your bath and soak for 15-20 minutes. If you would like to make the experience even more luxurious, add a handful of rose petals to your bath as well, or a few drops of your favourite essential oil. The experience is indulgent and incredibly effective for revealing glowing, radiant skin beneath.
Hammam Exfoliating Mitt
Hamman mitts, also known as kessa gloves, have been used in Turkish and Middle Eastern baths for centuries. They are used during a bath or a shower and are deeply exfoliating and incredibly invigorating too.
Hammam mitts are specifically designed to slough off and exfoliate the very top layer of the skin, unlike dry skin brushing which is intended to work on a deeper layer by moving and cleansing the lymphatic system. Hammam mitts and dry skin brushing are an excellent compliment to each other, and I recommend using both on a daily basis if possible. Hammam mitts are especially great if you like to use self-tanner. They do a superb job of sloughing off dead skin cells and creating a smooth and even surface on which to apply self-tanning lotion.
Instructions for using a Hammam Mitt: A hammam mitt is always used on wet skin only. It can be used on it's own with water only, or can be used along with your regular body wash. Traditionally in Morocco, hammam mitts are used in combination with Moroccan Black Soap, which is an olive oil based soap that is rich in minerals and Vitamin E and is deeply moisturising, exfoliating and detoxifying to the skin. To use your hammam mitt, apply black soap or body wash to wet skin first, wet the hammam mitt and vigorously scrub against the soapy skin to deeply exfoliate. Make sure to rinse your mitt regularly while you are using it to prevent buildup of dead skin cells on the mitt's surface. Hammam mitts and Moroccan black soap are easy to find online; one of my favourite brands to purchase from is Zakia's Morocco. The quality is great, and the mitts last quite a while.
Schisandra Berry Tonic Tea
Schisandra berry is a medicinal herb that has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years to promote longevity and vitality. It is renowned for its dramatic skin beautifying and anti-ageing effects, and was the most prized beauty tonic of the women of the imperial court of China, who hoarded the precious berries for their ability to rejuvenate and bring a youthful clarity and glow to the skin!
Schisandra's name means Wu Wei Zi, or 5 flavour fruit, because it possesses all 5 flavours of sour, bitter, sweet, astringent and salty. Even though schisandra is a berry, it is strictly medicinal only and is not meant to be eaten as food or added to smoothies and yogurt.
Schisandra's renowned skin beautifying properties are due to its ability to purify the blood and to tone and cleanse the liver and kidneys. The liver, kidneys and skin are all major organs of detoxification in the body. If there is too much buildup of internal toxins in the liver and kidneys, the body pushes some of these excess toxins out through the skin, delivering with them a less than radiant appearance! Schisandra cleanses these internal organs in the body and detoxifies them, which results in a healthy and youthful external glow. Schisandra is also anti-inflammatory and antioxidant; it additionally has potent astringent qualities that plump the cells of the skin and allow the skin to retain maximum moisture. Overall it really is a wonder herb and unrivalled in its ability to prevent and reverse the signs of age-ing.
Instructions for preparing Schisandra Berry Tea: Measure 1 tbsp of dried berries for every 1 cup of water you would like to use. You can prepare several servings of schisandra tea in advance and store it in the refrigerator for up to 8 days. Before making the tea, you must soak the berries in water for several hours to release their tannins. When they are done soaking, strain the berries, discard the water and use fresh water (preferably filtered water) for preparing the tea. To prepare schisandra tea, add the desired amount of water to a saucepan, bring to a boil and add in the pre-soaked and strained schisandra berries. Reduce the heat and simmer covered for 15 minutes. After the 15 minutes is complete, strain and discard the berries and store the liquid in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. You can add honey to your tea to sweeten it. One to two cups of schisandra tea per day is ideal, and if you are up for a challenge, schisandra is said to completely rejuvenate the skin if taken for 100 days in a row! When purchasing schisandra berries, look for a reputable source online and buy organic if possible.
*Check with your physician or a qualified herbalist before using schisandra berries if you are on prescription medication. Do not use when pregnant or breastfeeding.
There is much wisdom in the ancient world of cultural beauty secrets, and I hope some of these secrets have sparked your curiosity for beauty rituals of the past!
It is wonderful to use some or all of these rituals on a daily basis. However if time does not allow that, I recommend carving out one special night for yourself and trying as many of these rituals as possible. For a really luxurious evening, start with several minutes of dry skin brushing followed by a lovely warm sesame oil massage. Then plunge yourself into an indulgent bath of milk and honey and exfoliate your skin using your hammam mitt. Finally sit back and relax into your bath and sip your schisandra tea. I recommend lighting candles and playing your favourite music to enhance the experience even further. It is a lovely prescription for beautifying the body and relaxing and calming the mind as well. Enjoy! :)