Acne in ancient history and treatments
Table of Content
Acne. Older than mankind
Acne .. if you want to use the fancy Latin word for it, has tormented teenagers and adults alike since the dawn of time. Ever since the invention of writing people have been complaining on this socially crippling phenomena. Pharaohs have struggled with it, so have common mortals. Genetics seems to be the #1 factor but the causes stay open to discussion. Since the dawn of time to today treatment has varied greatly.
Ancient Egypt and acne
Written evidence suggest that Egyptian pharaohs, while being of divine descent, were struggling with acne. You could presume that there is a limited number of written works produced at the period. You could also presume most of it would focus on the object of worship – the Pharaoh. This would mean that probably acne was present even among the common population. Because of the divine origin of the supreme rulers, the breakout of acne was usually attributed to magic, spells and telling lies. Naturally, the most common prescribed treatment was of the same nature, with charms or spells being cast to control the breakouts. The closest to an actual acne-treating remedy that we have from this period comes from King Tutankhamun himself. Traces of essential oils used to treat acne scars were found in his tomb . Since Egyptians were undisputed champions in the making and mixing of Essential oils, our best guess is that they used Kyphri (a mix of honey, wine, mint, cinnamon and a lot of other ingredients..)
Ancient Greeks and puberty
In the texts of Hippocrates and Aristotle it is clearly outlined that these gentlemen recognize this disease (Old news right ..). The name of the disease is thought to originate from the Greek word Acme meaning peak. The original meaning of this word was spot or point. As time passed by the meaning of this word evolved to the meaning it has today, with peak referring to puberty and the first growth of beard. Possibly this word was chosen because of the fact that the first breakouts usually occur during puberty. Common treatment of the time included applying honey on the affected area if the lesion was soft. Another solution was a mixture in soap-base in case of harder ones.
Ancient Romans had to get down from their high horses when it came to acne among other things. Although most people of the time viewed spots, freckles and similar skin conditions as quite normal, just like in other day and age, there were people overly concerned to their looks. Roman baths played a huge role in the life and hygiene of every citizen, so every thought-to-be-hygiene-related issue people had, tried to resolve there. Common method of treatment included taking prolonged baths and using sulfur to exfoliate the skin. The mineral water in the baths, when combined with the sulfur was used to unclog and clean the pores while at the same time removing oils that piled up on the surface. The treatment proved so effective, that no better treatment was invented until the 1800.
Meanwhile in the far east
Chinese Medicine, unchanged for millennia, has employed many different acne treatments. Although the treatments vary (as they recognize different kinds of the condition) they all agree on one thing. Acne is caused by “heat” in the lung or stomach area. On the of yin-yang, heat-cold principle, a number of of treatments are advised. The main reason heat is built up in an organ, especially is the stomach is diet and inactivity. Interesting to mention is that the internal heat also manifests itself as negative or impatient thoughts. This is the first pointer in the direction of psychological causes of the condition, recently recognized by western medicine. The most common advice is to reduce heat through green and mint tea, regular exercise and meditation.