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Cleopatra bathed in sour milk: Ancient skin treatments in the modern day

Women have been doing painstaking things in the name of beauty since the beginning of time. Before it was discovered that lead poisoning can damage the skin with scarring, or cause even bigger problems like infertility and madness, it was used for centuries as a way to clear and whiten the skin – effectively removing freckles and blemishes. Although there was much trial and error with toxic treatments, a few seemingly crazy concoctions actually stood the test of time, and prove their merit in our modern day beauty routines.

Cleopatra bathed in sour milk to exfoliate her skin.
It turns out the Egyptian queen was onto something. Lactic acid is a member of the alpha hydroxy family that’s derived from fermented or sour milk. When applied to the skin, it can up its hydration level and improve the texture and clarity. You can mix a cupful of powdered milk, fresh milk or buttermilk into a warm bath, or look for skincare products with lactic acid listed as an active ingredient. Of all the AHAs available, lactic acid is one of the gentler options, which makes it more tolerable for sensitive-skinned users when compared with other topical acids. Whenever you use skincare products containing AHAs, it’s best to use sun protection consistently and avoid direct, intense sun exposure as a general rule.

Sulfur was mixed into mineral baths to unclog pores during the time of the Roman Empire.
These days, dermatologists continue to turn to sulfur-based ointments to treat patients with conditions like acne, dandruff, eczema, rosacea and seborrheic dermatitis. The mixture helps exfoliate excess skin and fight bacteria on the surface. Although topical treatments are more common, a mineral mud bath still exists today, and it’s called balneotherapy. People with kidney disease or allergies to sulfur or sulfa drugs should avoid using sulfur as a skin treatment.

Women in the Middle Ages bathed in wine for a skin-softening treatment.
Like the lactic acid in milk, grapes contain powerful AHAs to improve skin texture. Today you can find wine-enhanced beauty products that are ready-made to use at home, or indulge in a grape escape with a wine-spiked spa experience. The French Wine Therapy Collection from 360 Skin Care features body products fortified with antioxidant-rich grape seed extracts blended with botanical butters and hydrating oils. The d’vine Skin Care collection is a physician-developed system whose products and treatments can be found at spas, salons and medi-spas worldwide. Take-home products include cleansers, mists, exfoliants, masks, serums, body care and a men’s collection. Salon treatments include a quad of facials, manicure, pedicure, and four different body care experiences.

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Lauren Stewart
By: Lauren Stewart

Lauren Stewart is a freelancer writer from Michigan. She enjoys writing about beauty, health and fitness! She is passionate about learning new ways to take control of her health and wellness and is a makeup and skincare junkie! You can contact her by emailing