The skin and hair care benefits of various moisturizing agents have been well documented in this and other forums. The contemporary woman has at her disposal an array of efficacious products based on proven and substantiated technologies. In the past, however, women relied on ancestral wisdom passed down from mothers to daughters for advice on personal care. In examining some of the moisturizing habits embraced over the centuries, one finds remarkable parallels between the chemistries that underlie these ancient practices and those embodied in today’s modern, sophisticated products. Some examples follow:
Milk & Honey
Based on historical accounts, we know that the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra delighted in milk and honey baths. Given what is now known about the exfoliating effects of lactic acid (EU) and the skin conditioning benefits of honey (EU), this practice may well have contributed to Cleopatra’s glowing skin and her legendary beauty.
The Prickly Pear Cactus has been effectively used by generations of West Indian and Latin American women to cleanse and moisturize their hair. This relative of aloe (EU) is an excellent source of proteins and vitamins and chemical analysis has shown it to also contain high levels of amino acids (EU).  The benefits to skin and hair of these nutrients need not be re-iterated here since they have been widely publicized. For hair care applications, a common practice on the island of Trinidad is to combine this plant with Hibiscus leaves to further enhance the overall benefits.
Coconut oil has gained popularity in recent years as a culinary and personal care ingredient. However, this oil has long been a personal care staple for women and their children in many cultures. The smooth skin and healthy hair that results from its use are now attributed to the coconut’s rich fatty acid content.
Other Oils & Butters
As with coconut oil (EU), many other oils and butters that have been used for centuries by indigenous peoples around the world, have migrated into modern day products. For example, emu oil (EU) and tea tree oil (EU), used for centuries by the Australian Aborigines, have been researched and confirmed to be efficacious skin care agents. Neem oil (EU), which is rich in fatty acids and glycerides (EU), has been traditionally used by Indian women as part of their daily beauty regimen and can be found in some of today’s creams and lotions. Given these and numerous other examples, one cannot help but ponder the ability of our ancestors to identify and utilize effective ingredients – without the benefit of chemical analysis.
1. Cactushttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/portal/utils/pageresolver.fcgi?recordid=54f92be85b “Chemical Analysis of Nutritional Content of Prickly Pads (Opuntia ficus indica) at Varied Ages in an Organic Harvest”
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