Why did Cleopatra supposedly bathe in sour donkey milk?

To improve the appearance of her skin by reducing wrinkles. When milk sours, the milk sugar lactose is converted by bacteria into lactic acid. When alpha hydroxy acids, such as lactic acid, are applied to the skin they cause the surface layer to peel off, leaving new smoother blemish-free skin underneath. It is questionable whether sour milk has enough lactic acid to rejuvenate the skin, but modern cosmetics which contain at least 8% alpha hydroxyl acids can reduce minor wrinkles. A truly effective chemical peel, though, requires the application of irritants such as trichloroacetic acid or phenol to the skin by a physician. The corrosive effect causes burning and stinging for several minutes followed by reddening and peeling of the skin over the next few days. As this happens, new skin with a more youthful appearance forms. Chemical peeling is not a pleasant procedure and the unsightly scab formation can be psychologically disturbing. Most patients are not ready for public viewing for several weeks but in the end they tend to be satisfied with the results. Cleopatra was apparently into more than just sour milk. She used powdered excrement from crocodiles to embellish her complexion, although this was in all likelihood fruitless. Perhaps the concoction did trigger Cleo’s interest in perfumes. In her perfume factory, yes, she apparently was a venture capitalist, herbs, flower petals, leaves or seeds were mixed with hot vegetable oil made from pressed olives. The mixture was allowed to soak for a week and then was pressed through a cloth bag to extract the perfumed oil. The queen even played around with baldness remedies, spurred by her relationship with Julius Caesar who was hair challenged. She experimented with a goo made of ground horse teeth and deer marrow to spur his dormant hair follicles into action. When this didn’t work Cleo traded Julius in for Mark Antony. And those beautiful eyes seen in ancient depictions of the famed Egyptian queen? Made up with green copper malachite, and black lead sulfide. Not only did these improve her appearance, the chemicals kept flies away.


Joe Schwarcz

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