How Your Dad Did It: Skincare Through the Ages
Male grooming and skincare has changed a lot over the years. In fact, it’s become such a huge part of the cosmetics industry that it’s not unusual to see moisturiser, face wash and even sheet masks, designed for the unique challenges that men face when it comes to their skin.
You might think that male skincare and grooming is a new-fangled thing that has been embraced recently with the rise of the millennial man, but it’s actually been a hot topic among men for hundreds of years. Here, we’re going to look at the history of skincare through the ages, from what your ancestors did right up to how your granddad took care of himself.
Male skincare and grooming, including make-up, was a huge part of the Ancient Egyptian culture. We’ve all seen the stereotypical Egyptian king with thick black eyeliner and blue eyeshadow; well, this was very much rooted in reality.
Kohl eyeliner (which you might still see in your girlfriend’s make-up bag) was originally made from crushed antimony, ochre, ash, and burnt almonds, among other things, and was used a lot by men of the time not just for aesthetic reasons but also to reduce the glare of the sun in the eyes, very practical.
Hygiene and health were big back then too, with some of the oldest recorded sales being things like fragrant plants, spices and gums which were used to make grooming and skincare products for men. They might not have the perfect mix of ingredients we currently have to make the face cleansers for men that we’re known for but looking after appearances was hugely important culturally and in terms of the ancient Egyptian economy.
By the middle of the first century AD, the Romans were using make-up and skincare products in their droves. Not only would they use kohl around the eyes, but they’d also use flour mixed with barley butter to treat acne, and a mix of sheep’s blood and fat for nail polish (yeah, we know, gross).
Slightly less disgusting than pig’s blood nail polish, chalk was used to whiten their complexion and they would use pumice stones to clean their teeth. Also, the ancient Romans loved using fragrant oils and perfumes in their baths.
The beard also became a big thing in ancient Rome as well. Rather than the long and luscious beards that the Greeks pioneered, Romans preferred a shorter and neater style, cut a bit closer to the face.
The rise of the church during the Middle Ages pushed men’s grooming and skincare to the background, but it did signal the separation of healthcare and cosmetics. So, when the Elizabethan age was in full swing, the aesthetic nature of male cosmetics gained popularity once again.
They liked to use things like rosemary water in their hair and whitened their teeth with sage. Coloured cheeks and lips suggested happiness and good health, so it wasn’t unusual for men to use rouge made from geranium petals on their face and lips.
You’ve probably heard about the ill-advised use of lead powder on men and women at the time – Queen Elizabeth I was known to have become pretty sick from this – so a lot of the choices at the time were pretty dangerous. We’ll stick to today’s lead-free face cleansers for men, thanks very much!
The Victorian gent is a mainstay of the British stereotype. From top hats and tails, to magnificent facial hair, the dapper gentleman of yesteryear was the kind of style icon replicated by many-a-hipster these days.
This love of the hirsute actually reduced the amount of skincare products for men in favour of various tonics that promised to make beards grow thicker and more lustrous. We know now that there’s no magic formula for making beards grow, but back then the promise of a thick burly beard meant paying a great deal for the latest potions.
However, the clean-shaven look was not to be forgotten, and by the 1870s men had started using the latest technology to shave at home rather than at the barbers. This heralded the start of a more affordable and simpler male skincare and grooming regime. They might not have known how to use face toner, but it would’ve been better than the arsenic shaving soap that was used en mass!
20th Century Skincare
Now we’re getting a bit closer to the male skincare techniques that your father and grandfather might have used. From the 1930s onwards, products were becoming more regulated for both men and women’s skincare – no more arsenic or lead!
Also, the rise of the Golden Age of Hollywood and stars like Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart helped propel the idea of male cosmetics, skincare and grooming back to the fore. The clean-cut, sleek look of these influential stars gave men the drive to replicate the style.
Then, as we move through the decades, things moved in circles. For example, the 60s and 70s pushed beards and long hair alongside the hippy fashion style of the time. Then in the 80s and 90s, men got rid of the beard and embraced make-up in a whole new way. New Romantics like Boy George and The Cure pushed a new kind of style narrative for men, one that was unusual and experimental.
And that brings us right up to today. Nowadays, the skincare routines of the modern male bring together classic masculinity with androgyny. Although some men might think using skincare products is a bit new-fangled, this blog should show you that men have been taking care of their appearance with a little help from products for generations.