Life & Culture

Magic potions old and new to keep you young

Inspired by a visit to an exhibition exploring skincare practices adopted by Jewish women in the Renaissance, our expert recommends some modern-day products


Secret formulas: some of the "Renaissance Goos" at the Cult of Beauty exhibition

Last week, I managed to catch the tail end of the amazing exhibition The Cult of Beauty at the Wellcome Collection, charting beauty ideals and practices from the ancient Egyptians to the present day. For a geek like myself who loves the history of beauty, it was a dream come true. But what I was surprised to learn was that Jewish women played a key role in formulating cosmetics during the Renaissance era.

One section of the exhibition focused on “Renaissance Goos” — reconstructed recipes from a 1562 Italian text, The Ornaments of Women. Many of these products — from skincare to haircare — were made by Jewish refugees who were expelled from Spain in 1492. When they arrived in southern Italy, they hawked them in the market squares or sold them from their homes, where Italian women of all faiths came flocking to buy them. From anti-wrinkle creams to SPFs, these recipes are considered to be astonishingly advanced (overlooked and ignored by scientists at the time, of course). To learn more, read How to be a Renaissance Woman: The Untold History of Beauty and Female Creativity by art historian Jill Burke, who, together with physicist Wilson Poon, was responsible for recreating some of the recipes for the exhibition.

From the Middle Ages to modern-day formulas: we all know that the sun can be a major cause of pigmentation in the skin, but a new crop of SPFs have been developed to both reduce and prevent it. Ultrasun’s new Anti-Pigmentation Face Fluid SPF (£28) contains cystoseira tamariscifolia a special “rainbow algae” (it changes colour with the light) that reduces melanin production in the skin. What I love about this range, aside from the relatively accessible price, is that the SPF is super lightweight and has a shelf life of two years from when you open the bottle (usually, it’s six months). The brand have also launched its new Anti-Pigmentation Perfecting range, starring actives hexylresorcinol, niaminacide and 2 per cent N-Acetyl Glucosamine (N.A.G), which are all known to tackle pigmentation. It includes an Anti-Pigmentation Body Elixir (£32) to diminish patchy areas of discolouration on the body in areas such as the shoulders and chest, knees and elbows.

The “suncare as skincare” trend is still going strong – gone are the days we had to slather on gloopy old-school sun block on our face, making our skin sweat and leading to congestion and breakouts. Today’s formulas are invisible and lightweight and contain myriad skincare benefits to boot. Which is just as well, given more of us are realising that SPF should be a part of our everyday skincare routine, not just for high days and holidays (damaging UVA rays are present all year round after all). Naked Sundays is a snazzy new Australian brand that comprises a complete skincare regime: serum, moisturiser and highlighter all featuring powerful SPF 50+ broad spectrum filters from Australia. I’m a fan of their Cabanaglow Mineral Glow Drops (£34), which doubles up as a skin-brightening primer, to give tired, drab complexions a much-needed lift.

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