Beauty has always been in the eye of the beholder. And youth, throughout the ages, has been considered the epitome of beauty. Young looking skin continues to be a huge market worth millions of pounds in the UK every year, as men and women look for new ways to fight the signs of aging skin. As a result, a plethora of anti wrinkle, anti ageing skin care and skin conditions products flood the market on a regular basis. But is this obsession with young looking skin a new phenomenon?
The simple answer is no. The ancient Egyptians and the Chinese were the first to document their attempts to halt the relentless march of time, noting the effects of certain types of herbs, mineral treatments, diet and exercise on the condition of the skin, all destined to stop the inevitable first wrinkles and keep young and beautiful. But the study of anti ageing techniques isn’t just vanity – it has developed over thousands of years into a complex study of molecular biology, botany and even philosophical and psychological research.
During the ancient Egyptian dynasties, olive leaves were promoted as an anti ageing remedy. The Vedic culture focused on diet and exercise as a means of halting the ageing process, and on the Indian sub-continent, and Ayurvedic medicine concentrated on the youthful effects of Yoga, meditation and, once again, herbal remedies and anti ageing potions and poultices. That research continues today, with the ‘next big thing’ being proudly announced by major manufacturers. These ‘magic’ ingredients include everything from ginger to caffeine, but is there any basis in these claims that one product will reverse the damage to the skin that is an inevitable part of life itself?
The Alchemists spent centuries looking for the ‘Elixir of Life’ – a mythical ingredient that would grant them access to the ‘fountain of youth’ and eternal life. At this point we did not understand about molecular biology and that the ageing process is genetically coded into our DNA. Yet even today, modern genetics is still searching to unlock the key to longer life, and they are concentrating their studies on people who are over 100 years old to try and find out what makes their bodies more resistant to the cellular decay associated with ageing. This includes a study of the skin and how its structure alters over time. This research was unavailable to our ancestors, who instead looked to the natural world to find an ingredient that would work every time to keep the skin looking young and beautiful.
But repeatedly, modern skin care products are looking back to these ancient civilizations for their inspiration, and olive oil has made a comeback as an anti ageing ingredient in many modern products. It seems that the Egyptians were onto something. But rather than basing our trust in these new anti wrinkle creams on mythology and esoteric reasons, science is now playing a major part in a multi-million pound industry to find a modern day ‘Elixir of Life’. Much of it is pseudo-science, designed to part a society desperate to maintain its youthful looks from its cash. But in amongst all the pepto-thingies and ‘here comes the science’ advertising that has little or no meaning to the average person in the street, there may be an ancient remedy that actually does condition the skin, reduce the signs of ageing and get rid of those pesky wrinkles. Whilst nobody can beat the clock, perhaps by looking back at the ancient civilizations, we can slow it down a bit.