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Beauty treatments, skin care, and even the concept of what is

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Bavaria’s prized Medieval city. Photo Jim Hinckley

beautiful has changed rather dramatically over the years, especially in western society. Today even the average person can avail themselves of professionally administered body sculpting methods such as is offered by Glam RN. During the Middle Ages, generally the 5th to 15th centuries, things were quite different.

Almost universally, women with long flowing hair have been viewed as attractive by the opposite sex. So it should come as no surprise to learn that in Medieval European society dominated by the church, decent women were encouraged to hide their hair behind veils or hats. In traditional Orthodox Jewish villages a woman’s hair was considered seductive, and so married women shaved their heads and covered themselves with shawls. In central European villages this remained a common practice until the commencement of WWII.

In southern European countries where the temperatures were warmer and even hot, women were allowed to forgo hats for braiding. Still, with the exception of young unmarried girls, a woman who publicly displayed long flowing locks was considered a peasant or even worse, a prostitute.

Linked with the desire to hide hair in public was the general consensus that women with a high forehead hairline were beautiful. A popular potion to acquire the desired affect was a mixture of vinegar and quicklime. However, this not only destroyed hair follicles, if improperly applied the treatment caused skin burns, and if not kept from the eyes, blindness.

The mandates of the church led to hair being seen as forbidden fruit, a very potent symbol of temptation. For reasons unknown, blonde hair was viewed as the height of seductive beauty.  Chaucer, one of England’s earliest popular writers, wrote in The Physician’s Tale about Virginia, a young “maid in excellent beauty” that had  “tresses resembling the rays of burnished sunbeams.” And so hair dying concoctions became a lucrative commodity. Saffron, stale sheep’s urine, or onion skins were common ingredients. Fortunate women who could avail themselves of leisure time would discretely sit in the sun without a hat.

At Glam RN, the expert use of SkinMedica products are used to address skin damage caused by sun caused photodamage, age spots, or acne prone skin. During the Middle Ages, when pale skin was prized for its alluring beauty, and freckles, birthmarks or moles were commonly viewed as evidence of a devil’s mark for a hapless woman accused of witchcraft, skin treatments were also a prized commodity.

Boiled oatmeal and vinegar paste mixed with bull’s blood was recommended for the removal of freckles. If skin showed a red hue, an application of cucumber or strawberry juice was applied. A plaster band aid made from sheep’s leather was believed to enhance these treatments. Age spots could be removed by licking an amethyst crystal, and vigorously rubbing the stone over the area.

When people talk longingly of the good old days, my assumption would be that they aren’t talking about the Middle Ages.

Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America