A brief history of facial aesthetics

From the very depths of time appearance has always been an important part of people’s lives. Facial markings made from tree ash may have been used as long as 50,000 – 100,000 years ago, and all known civilizations have used some sort of make up to appear more beautiful, powerful or successful. The ancient Egyptians are known for the classical beauty of Queen Nefertiti and the well-known limestone bust of her is still used as an ideal for proportions and symmetry today.

Her use of cosmetics to highlight and define parts of the face was widely used in all levels of ancient Egyptian society. 1300 years later Cleopatra famously bathed in ass’s milk, allegedly using the milk of 700 asses for each bath. This was done with good reason as the acid naturally present in the milk, lactic acid, softens the skin and acts as a chemical peel. The group of chemicals that lactic acid belongs to are alpha hydroxy acids which are very widely found in modern day beauty products, normally denoted as AHAs.

The ancient Greeks philosophised about aesthetics and through Euclid and Vetruvius developed a mathematical form of assessing beauty, the Golden Ratio, which can still be used today in planning treatments. Greek thinking changed around 450BC from a realistic depiction of the human face and body to an idealised form. Ever since then aesthetics has been based on an ‘ideal’ appearance and that ‘ideal’ changes with fashion, sometimes to extremes. In the 6th Century for example a pale look was sought and bleeding with leeches was one bizarre form of creating this appearance!

In the Middle Ages and Renaissance period mixtures of ideas combined from different cultures and these differing styles of art have depicted beauty as athletic and muscular as well as rounded and full-figured. Through all of this proportion and symmetry remained central, influenced by Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings, most notably Vitruvian Man (based on the ideas of Vetruvius). Another extreme fashion in the 19th Century was a romantic tuberculosis look that Lord Byron was claimed to have desired! Francis Galton in the 1800s discovered that attractiveness is related to an average of facial features, but recent studies have shown that certain features are thought to be more important than others (this is much more notable in men judging female faces women than judging male faces).

egypt02At present typically female aesthetics are based around large eyes, sensuous lips and an inverted triangle shape to the face, whereas male facial aesthetics are a strong jawline and chin, narrow lips and a more angular facial shape. But the concepts of proportion and symmetry are still dominant as recognised by the ancient Egyptians 5500 years ago, and this a concept that will never go out of fashion.

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