You may know I’m a bit of a geek about beauty history, so when brands create products inspired by the ancient world or 19th-century glamour, I’m thrilled to bits. There’s been a bit of an upswing for these types of products recently, but I’ll include some classics as well.

Queen of Hungary’s Water
You may recognize this from the ultra-luxury Queen of Hungary face mist by Omorovicza, but this concotion has been a beauty classic since the 14th century – originally formulated as a beauty and health aid for a Hungarian queen whose exact identity is still under debate.  You’ll find this as inspiration both for the aforementioned Omorovicza face mist, but also the Caudalie Beauty Elixir and even as an ingredient in the Skin’s Shangri-La moisturizer from LUSH.

Shiseido Rainbow Powder

When Shiseido dropped a remake of one of their most legendary products, the Rainbow Powders from 1917, I shrieked with glee. I recognized it instantly from early Shiseido product lineups. This was colour correcting before colour correcting, and the little boxes of pastel-coloured powders are so charming and dainty. To make the idea of these powders more contemporary, they also made a multicoloured pressed illuminating powder that reminds me so much of Art Deco design. Incidentally, Shiseido still makes one of their original skincare products – Eudermine, a toner launched in 1897 that remains a cult favourite.

Fresh Creme Ancienne

Galen of Pergamon is credited with the first recipe for cold cream, which contained olive oil, beeswax and rosewater. Beauty brand Fresh has an entire line inspired by this ancient recipe, though it is very modernized – it contains more than three ingredients, and the olive oil has been replaced with meadowfoam. The brand has them made by monks, which is taking it a bit too far I think, but it’s fun to see a brand go the extra mile. I appreciate that they’re spreading some beauty history, even if I don’t really agree that only monks would have been permitted to make the beauty products – women made their own cosmetics all throughout history!


The entire lineup at Besame is inspired by 20th century beauty history classics, with products ranging from lipsticks and powders to perfumes inspired by specific decades. The mascara is in cake form, just like the early Maybelline ones, and the lipsticks are replicas of historical colours. The aesthetic leans 1940s, but the inspiration draws from all of the first half of the 20th century. The only sad thing about the brand is the shade range of their powders – perhaps a little too historically accurate, that.

Biologique Recherche Lotion P50

European women throughout history would pat their face with vinegar for a clear, smooth complexion (and in the 19th century even drink it to look more pale!). Vinegar is also a starring ingredient in the widely adored Lotion P50 from Biologique Recherche – along with sulfur, onion, sorrel, horseradish and myrrh. It all sounds rather medieval – apocalyptic even! Many of these ingredients do figure in historical recipes – myrrh and vinegar in particular make frequent experiences in the production of the deeply toxic lead face paint known as Venetian Ceruse or, poetically, Spirits of Saturn.

BULY 1803
Inspired by a 19th century apothecary, BULY sells products that all look like something that belongs in a 17th-century witch’s pantry. You’ve got beautiful Japanese flacons, Iris root powder and sandalwood seed oil. And the packaging looks like something out of the regency era – it’s lush! The brand has a beautiful book of traditional beauty remedies with historical inspiration that I’m dying to get my hands on.