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CosmoJourney, episode 2 "The Disgusting" - Podcast script


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Hello everyone!

Welcome to the second episode of the Cosmo Journey podcast – The disgusting!

Tighten your seatbelt, cause this time, we bring especially for you, the dirty little secrets of ancient cosmetics and medicines!

And when we say dirty…Well, some of these beauty recipes are borderline repulsive for our average 21st century fellow human being.

With that being said, and just for this episode, if you are indeed on your lunch break, maybe you want to consider listening later! So, without further ado, let’s dive into the past!


Let’s start with more recent history, and something that is still used today for medicinal purposes.

First stop, the 18-19th century where pale complexion standard was a must around Europe. During this period, to achieve such complexion, women would use blood-sucking worms or…leeches if it sounds better, to bleed themselves into fashion. Of course, the use of leeches, extended to therapeutic purposes. In fact, these worms were so adored, that they inspired dress decorations with embroidered leeches! [1]


Now let’s dig a bit deeper in history. Our second stop will be before the medieval period. Let’s hop off the train and wonder a bit in the Roman Empire.

Romans, in contrast with ancient Japanese who strived for a black teeth look, wanted their teeth white and shiny. And since they didn’t have our modern minty toothpastes, they had their way around it. They used…human urine. Yes you heard well! Pumice stone, along with vinegar and urine were used to whiten teeth back in the day. And if we consider that the latter ingredient contains ammonia, it explains its efficacy. [2]


Ancient Chinese were a bit more eclectic and incorporated mainly children’s urine in their mouth rinsing practice, as it served to prevent malodor and gums diseases. Chinese medicine is attributed with the first formal mention of mouth washing, which dates back to around 2700 BCE. [3]

Urine was a potent, easily accessible and multi-use ingredient back then.

In fact, it was so profitable that Vespasian, a roman emperor, seized the opportunity and imposed a urine tax on the fullers! The fullers were professional launderers who washed the clothes of wealthy Romans. And you probably guessed the key ingredient in their professional detergent formula. Urine, which was supplied from public urination vessels placed to collect the profitable liquid. ( Tell me about ongoing supply!) It was then mixed with water, carbonates and sodium to create the detergent that would soak the clothes in throughts, which were washed by the…bare feet of the launderers. [4]


Now coming back to Japan, let’s visit another iconic culture! The one of Japanese geishas. “Uguishu no fun” or more commonly known as the “geisha facial”, was used by the geishas to naturally lighten the skin and remove the heavy –and toxic– lead-zinc based makeup in the Edo period, around 1600s. But can you guess the mysterious ingredient of this popular beauty routine? Another modern, western name for it, is bird-poop therapy, which pretty much gives it away. Well, technically, it’s bird guano because birds have only one opening to excrete both solid and liquid waste, which includes uric acid. Historically, the use of nightingale droppings was introduced by Koreans to the Japanese around 1100s and the latter ones used it initially to remove stains from kimonos. [5]

It might be surprising that hundreds of years later, in our days, the geisha facial was introduced in the western world, with clients paying a hefty amount for it! Nightingale droppings can also be found in cosmetics for use at home, which have strong advocates. These products are obviously made safe and sterilized from bacteria and bugs in the present. [6]


And just in case you are wondering like us, the active substances in these feces are guanine, Urea and proteolytic enzymes. So yes, the mask does work, as it provides a temporary glow, hydration and mild exfoliation, but its popularity would probably be attributed to the “exotic product hype”, since all of these active substances are mostly lab synthesized nowadays, buuut there are still those who prefer them naturally produced in…the colon of an exotic bird! [6]


Ok, we talked about Europe and Asia, let’s explore Africa now. And more specifically, Ancient Egypt. Everyone knows about Egyptian make up, essential oil use and Cleopatra’s famous milk baths.

But what many people don’t know is that Ancient Egyptians had another ace up their sleeves when it comes to natural skincare. This time, the secret ingredient we’re talking about is…drum roll please...crocodile dung! They used crocodile feces as a face mask, to achieve a radiant and relaxed look. It was also believed to have anti-aging and lightening effects. [7]


And if this didn’t even come as a surprise at this point, wait till you hear what was written in the Kahun medical papyrous, the oldest saved medical text dating in the 1800 BC. Crocodile dung was used as…a contraceptive. No, they didn’t eat it thankfully. Nonetheless, they made pressaries from it combined with honey and sodium bicarbonate aaand well, they inserted it into the vagina. In theory, if it was inserted dry, with the body’s temperature and moist, it would soften and create an impenetrable barrier. However, that could be a bit unfortunate since these pressaries were alkaline and could have promoted sperm motility. [8,9]

Just for the record, and judging by Galenus’ ancient pharmacological texts, ancient Greeks were also fans of crocodile dung and used it similarly to the Egyptians. [10]


And with that, the episode disgusting cosmo- journey is completed.

As we saw today, cosmetology’s history has gone through weird and unhygienic --to put it gently- phases. Thankfully for us today, we have so many options of potent products and active ingredients, natural or lab synthesized. Therefore, there is no necessity for human or animal excretes in our skincare routines, which, besides possibly being gross, can also originte from cruel practices and captivity.

And that’s a rap for today guys, remember to take good care of your skin, and see you next week!


Bibliography

[1] I.S Whitaker a, J Rao b, D Izadi c, P.E Butler, Historical Article: Hirudo medicinalis: ancient origins of, and trends in the use of medicinal leeches throughout history, British Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Volume 42, Issue 2, April 2004

[2] Gurudath, G.S., Vijayakumar, K., & Arun, R. (2012). Oral Hygiene Practices: Ancient Historical Review. Journal of Orofacial Research, 2, 225-227.

[3] G Gurudath, KV Vijayakumar, R Arun.,Oral Hygiene Practices: Ancient Historical Review, journal of Orofacial Research, October-December 2012;2(4):225-227

[4] Jennifer R Hill , MASTERS OF MICTRITION: THE FULLERS OF ANCIENT ROME, NY The Journal of Urology, 2006. https://www.auajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1016/S0022-5347%2818%2933182-3

[5] Roman J, Reynolds SD. Exfoliative Excrement. JAMA Dermatol. 2016;152(6):701. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2015.5023

[7] Hendry, M. (1995). Rouge and crocodile dung: Notes on Ovid, Ars 3.199–200 and 269–70. The Classical Quarterly, 45(2), 583-588. doi:10.1017/S0009838800043706

[8] Carol A Quarini, History of contraception, Women's Health Medicine, Volume 2, Issue 5, 2005,Pages 28-30, ISSN 1744-1870, https://doi.org/10.1383/wohm.2005.2.5.28.

[9] Buzzi S, Zanforlini C, Curare con gli escrementi animali: il caso del coccodrillo, Journal of History of Medicine, 29/2 (2017) 283-298. View of Healing with Dung: The Crocodile (uniroma1.it)

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