Ancient Anti-aging Remedies: Tales of anti-aging

Many historical figures, including Qin Shi Huang, Empress Wu, Consort Yang Gui Fei, and even Empress Dowager Cixi have their own anti-aging remedies. Even people from other countries including Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt have their own interesting (and sometimes slightly horrifying) anti-aging methods!

Motherwort, the “Elixir for Women”

Empress Wu lived to 80 years old, after controlling her empire for 40 years. Similar to Fan Bing Bing, she has a habit of putting on masks! One of her favourite masks was mixing Chinese motherwort into powder. Li Shizhen’s “Compendium of Materia Medica” also states motherwort of having properties of healing, improving blood circulation, replenishing the body after menstruation, and even detoxification.

The poisonous Five-Mineral Powder (五石散)  

The Six Dynasties and Tang Dynasty periods  were the most prominent in driving the elixir of immortality. At that time, many believed that practicing alchemy could lead to immortality. One of the most popular drugs was the Five-Mineral Powder, which is a psychoactive drug which was thought to cure fevers, prolong life, and brighten and smoothen our skin. No wonder so many beautiful men appeared during the Six Dynasty periods

Of course, now we know that the Five-Mineral Powder is actually poisonous and addictive.  The drug poisons your body over time and caused so many priests to die that it quickly lost its popularity during the Tang Dynasty.

Apart from Chinese historical figures, many other cultures have their own special anti-aging elixirs. How far will humans go for beauty and longevity?

Ancient Greece Skin Cream

According to legends, the first skin cream was invented by Ancient Greek philosophers and Galen, a Greek physician. The cream was a mix of rose water, olive oil, and beeswax. Beeswax is a fatty substance secreted by bees and used to fix their nets. The main compounds which make up beeswax are fatty acids, carbohydrates, carotenoids, and vitamin A. It has many beauty and nourishing effects. In fact, it is also mentioned in Li Shi Zhen’s “Compendium of Materia Medica” which states the benefits of beeswax. Even today beeswax is used in creams, lipsticks, hair wax, lotion, and other beauty products.

Ancient Egyptian Donkey Milk Bath

Legend has it that in 30 B.C. the Egyptian Pharaoh Cleopatra used to bath daily in fresh donkey milk made by 700 donkeys. The AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) in fresh milk has anti-aging benefits, such as exfoliation of dead skin, reducing wrinkles and pigmentation, and stimulating the production of collagen. The gentleness of milk ensures there won’t be any allergic reaction. Moreover, milk contains many essential nutrients such as vitamin E and zinc. No wonder Cleopatra was so renowned for her beauty!

Fresh blood makes you beautiful?

In the 16th century Europe, Countess Elizabeth Báthory of Hungary captured rural virgins. She bathed with and drank their blood as she believed this was a great youth remedy. The estimated number of victims is around more than 850.

Fast forwarding to today, the Vampire Facial (officially known as the Platelet Rich Plasma facial) is a popular anti-aging facial amongst celebrities and socialites. PRP’s procedure “involves withdrawing a patient's blood, processing it to isolate the platelet-rich plasma (PRP), then re-injecting it to erase wrinkles and create a more youthful look.” As you use your own blood the risk of sensitivity or infection should be lower.  

Although this sounds ridiculous enough, there is another story that is even more astonishing. Alas, in the end, we must return to Chinese history.

Fresh blood, human milk... and bird droppings

The most infamous ancient Chinese anti-aging remedy is credited to the Empress Dowager Cixi. According to medical journals written at that time, Empress Dowager Cixi ate 10 grams of crushed pearl powder every 10 days. Also, she began drinking human milk for nourishment at the age of 26. Many ancient books have recorded the delicious recipes that can be made with human milk, and even its ability to heal illnesses. During Qing Dynasty, using human milk as/in medication became even more common.

Empress Dowager Cixi even used animal droppings in her quest for beauty. According to Professor Li Si-chi, a professor of Chinese medicine, white cloves, white striped eagles and white pigeons in the famous "Yurong San" formula of Empress Dowager Cixi was made from sparrows, ewes and pigeons. Research has proven that this formula indeed has the ability to increase skin metabolism, promote blood circulation, delay skin aging, anti-wrinkle, help prevent eczema, sweat spots, acne, freckles and so on. Seems like the ridiculous sounding formula isn’t so ridiculous after all!


Why do we chase after longevity and immortality? Does longevity equal to healthiness? Can beauty be eternal?

The pursuit of eternal life and youth has been a mystery for thousands of years. Even after the development of technology, modern medicine, and even religion, we seemingly still haven’t found the answer….

Until the 20th century, where scientists have discovered compounds that can promote health anti-aging and beauty.

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