our skin embraces us and at the same time represents the source and reflection of our wellbeing. without us even noticing, our skin carries out a number of complex functions: it protects us from outside influences and dehydration; it creates new skin cells and is stimulated by touch and hot or cold temperature sensations. however, feeling comfortable in one’s skin also means to live in harmony with your body and mind. after all, looking young has always been a key aspect of skin care.
finding the fountain of youth already played a major role in ancient egypt, where our modern rituals of skin care and cosmetics have their origin. back then, the peoples of the nile made pastes out of animal fats, vegetable fats and flavouring agents. ointments, massages and baths played an important role in everyday egyptian life, just like they do in our times of modern body cult. cleopatra, the famous ruler of egypt, for instance used to bathe in milk and honey to keep her skin smooth and shiny. many of the egyptian massage and bathing rituals were assumed by the greeks, who believed that a healthy mind lives in a healthy body, and by the romans, who relied on milk to pamper their skin. nero’s second wife for instance is said to have bathed in donkey milk.
the heydays of bathing rituals and personal grooming were ended by the outbreak of epidemics like cholera or the plague, some of which were brought by the crusaders. to avoid contracting these diseases, people stayed away from water, and at the court of louis XIV it was even frowned upon to bathe. to appear more cleanly and cover up unpleasant body odours, people used different perfumes and fragrant towels. during the baroque era, thick layers of powder and scented wigs were all the rage and any resulting skin impurities were simply covered with artificial beauty spots. back then natural beauty was not something that people strived for, but as we all know, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and is also subject to prevailing fashion trends.
the era of seafaring expeditions also brought the knowledge of other skin-related phenomena to europe, like the body decorations of different indigenous people such as the maori in new zealand, scar patterns of african tribes, the henna paintings of the indians, or shamanic body painting. the art of tattooing (scratching and piercing ornaments into human skin) allegedly goes back to polynesian rites copied by seafarers. however, the art of tattooing was already known to the nubians in egypt, and the mummy of ötzi, the iceman found in the alps, also featured more than a dozen tattoos.
in samoa, tattoos on the women’s thighs are a sign of maturity, while in other cultures they have a spiritual meaning or indicate the social standing of a person. in japan, the traditional method of irezumi tattooing depicts scenes from epic stories, while the seafarers used their tattoos as a kind of personal diary to record their travel experiences and affairs. in europe, christendom condemned tattoos as a pagan custom and for a long time they were considered to be the sign of social outcasts or members of other marginal groups. the fashion revolution of the 19th century made it popular to “show more skin” and featured models and film stars in figure-hugging clothes and bikinis which gave the precious “cover” an altogether new cultural meaning.
today, it’s more along the lines of “everything goes”, but looking young and natural still remains a key aspect of our working life and leisure time. the media, advertisements and an ever-growing selection of products have influenced our perception. today, instead of the “fairest of them all”, the queen from the brothers grimm’s famous fairy tale snow white would probably have to ask for the “best skin product to become the fairest of them all”. after all, there is a myriad of different eye shadows for you to choose from, and finding the perfect wrinkle cream can be a time-consuming undertaking.
inspired by the knowledge that beauty is not just skin deep but also comes from within, cosmetic brands like juvena or weleda have been conducting skin studies for many years. after more than 50 years of research, juvena has reached a milestone in the world of cosmetics: their ”skinnova sc technology“, which they developed in a year-long cooperation with the laboratoire des substitut cutanés of lyon university in france, is based on the same principle the university uses to reconstruct burnt skin. it supports the skin’s stem cell activity, which is responsible for the creation of new skin, and protects its natural self-regeneration potential. the idea is based on the principle of young skin and its ability to regenerate cells by itself. skinnova sc technology is now used in all of juvena’s products to support the stem cells’ natural ability to produce new skin even at an advanced age.
but why is young, healthy and natural-looking skin so important in our society? “together with the leading scientists in the area of skin research, we at juvena are trying to get an even better understanding of this organ and find out about its special needs. people are striving for perfection in all areas of life and this also makes us seek for new developments in the field of cosmetics. the ideal of ‘absolute beauty’ will always have top priority in cosmetic research, like it has been since the times of cleopatra. however, ideals are seldom reached and what remains is to strive to achieve them. what’s more, “ideals and the methods to achieve them also change during the course of time,” says prof. dr. sven gohla, head of research & development at juvena. “the digital world allows us to conceal our true selves and the way we are perceived. the women of today want to be themselves and not just try to be like some beauty icon. to be young and beautiful is no longer the ultimate goal women are striving for.” gohla adds that we also feel most comfortable in our skin when we don’t notice it – or are only made aware of it by compliments about its immaculateness. as we age, the quality of our skin’s natural procedures decreases, and it loses the ability to protect itself. therefore ideal skin care should always be in line with and show respect for its natural mechanisms.
since 1921, the name weleda stands for “harmony with nature” and is known for its comprehensive body care products as well as drugs for anthroposophical therapy. according to the anthroposophical understanding of man and his environment, there is a similarity in their nature, leading to the use of certain plants or plant preparations in human body grooming. as much as possible, only pure natural substances are used. “as a traditional manufacturer of medicines, weleda is also guided by the principle of ‘salutogenesis’ or the question ‘what keeps people healthy?’ in the development and production of natural cosmetics,” says sonja christine dambach of weleda communications. the company’s own medical plant garden is the heart and soul of weleda and is cultivated by way of bio-dynamic farming (nb: based on the principle of “living agriculture” by philosopher rudolf steiner). on 20 hectares, weleda grows more than 200 different plants that virtually go right from the field into the tube. that’s why weleda’s products stand for environmentally friendly resources and the economical use of water and energy. they do not contain any synthetic fragrances, colours, preservatives or mineral oils. “the main purpose of our products is to stimulate the skin’s self regulation and thus to aid its health and vitality instead of simply replacing what it is lacking. today, feeling comfortable in your skin is playing an increasingly important role. women don’t try to look ten years younger than they are; they just want to look good for their age.”
dambach adds that our skin feels good when it contains enough moisture and fat. to stay that way, our skin shouldn’t be exposed to long periods of harmful environmental influences like blazing sunlight, as uv rays can accelerate the skin’s aging process. dry air from heating or frequent changes of warm and cold air can also harm our skin. another thing to keep in mind is the well-known rule of drinking at least one litre of water per day.
what are the future prospects regarding skin and beauty ideals? “people’s longing for beautiful, groomed and youthful skin is as old as mankind itself. that’s why it is unlikely that this beauty ideal will change in the near future.”