One way to have great-looking skin is to keep it moisturized. The basic idea behind moisturizing is getting your skin to retain water to prevent dryness, and there are a surprising number of things -- both natural and manmade -- that can help it do just that. Some of the key ingredients in most moisturizing products include humectants, which draw moisture from the air and help the skin retain it, and emollients, which smooth the skin by filling in around the skin cells [source: Mayo Clinic]. The beauty industry might seem to have no bounds. If a product exists, then there's a good chance that somebody somewhere has tried to put it on their skin. If it can be made into a cream, a paste, an exfoliant, a lather, a rinse, a mask or some other beauty-boosting concoction, then it probably has been.
But some moisturizing methods can push the limits of what most would consider normal. We've dug up some of the strangest methods that people (both past and present) have used in an effort to bring youth and luster to their skin. Read on to learn about five bizarre ways to moisturize your skin.
Our first bizarre moisturizing treatment comes all the way from early 17th century Hungary, from one of the most infamous serial killers in history: Elizabeth Bathory.
There are several versions of the tale of Countess Bathory. One story claims that a witch convinced her that the secret to eternal youth and beauty could be found by bathing in human blood. Another story claims that it was all a coincidence -- after striking one of her servants she noticed that the splattered blood made her skin looked rejuvenated. If so, the effort might have been all for naught. Although improving blood circulation inside our body is beneficial to the skin and can help reduce the appearance of aging, little research has shown that anything in human blood does much good for your skin.
Whatever the real story, history tells us that Bathory and several accomplices ran wild with the idea, to the great misfortune of many young Hungarian women. Bathory and her friends were said to have tortured and killed hundreds of women (some say young virgins) in order to use their blood as a beauty treatment by bathing in it [source: Stevenson].
But the countess didn't get away with her alleged mad beauty routine -- the authorities eventually uncovered the bodies of dozens of her victims, and she was imprisoned inside her home for the rest of her life (which ended up being only about four more years). Bathory's supposed moisturizing regimen has earned her several nicknames throughout history, including the Bloody Countess and Lady Dracula.
Sebum, the oil produced by the sebaceous glands in your skin, is your body's natural moisturizer. It's what makes your face look shiny when you haven't washed it, and what oozes out of a zit when it pops (besides pus). Sebum is a mixture of lipids (fats), glycerides, skin cells and other materials produced in the glands.
As sebum oozes out of your pores, it solidifies as a greasy coating on the skin's surface and acts as a barrier that holds in moisture. Sebum makes the skin soft and smooth, and it helps reduce water loss. Because of this, some people say that one way to moisturize your skin is to spread the sebum from one part of your body to another -- by wiping the oil off your face and onto your elbow, for instance. Does it work? Well, in theory it does, but excess sebum production is one of the causes of acne, and spreading sebum around could also spread bacteria, so that's definitely something to consider if you're thinking about trying this bizarre moisturizing method.
If you read the labels on moisturizing products, it can quickly start to sound like you're listing off items in the refrigerator: honey, cucumber, coconut oil, milk, oatmeal, coffee. Why do we have such an interest with putting food on our skin?
Before lab scientists created chemical concoctions to bring youth and beauty to the modern cosmetic world, people relied on what was around them -- which often tended to be food. Cleopatra is said to have bathed in a moisturizing mixture of sour milk and honey. The ancient Greeks bathed in olive oil to help keep their skin smooth and soft. Did they work? Perhaps. Although consuming a food is often the best way to obtain its nutrients, applying some of them topically can sometimes be beneficial, too [source: WebMD]. Many fruits, oils and other edibles have properties that are helpful to the skin. Fruits and veggies contain all sorts of vitamins, which are great for your skin and can even help it to retain moisture. Foods with lactic acid help exfoliate the skin, and oils can help the skin lock in moisture. It's easy to see why people all over the world have used food as a skin treatment for centuries. You can eat it, you can lather yourself in it -- what's not to love?
Some moisture creams claim to contain animal skin, animal excretions and other unusual animal extracts. Some of the strangest out there include ingredients such as crocodile oil, donkey hide gelatin, sheep oil, snake oil, cow dung, bear grease and donkey milk, just to name a few. What do these all have in common? Well, aside from being derived from animals, they are all claimed by some beauty companies to provide moisture to the skin and restore that youthful glow.
But using the natural oils or waste of animals to soften and smooth the skin is not a new idea by any stretch of the imagination. The ancient Romans used to use crocodile dung as a skin beautifier, and Greeks and Romans both are believed to have used the oil from sheep's wool -- lanolin -- as a moisturizer [source: Onion]. Oily substances can smooth the skin and help lock in moisture, and others such as dung, once they've been refined, can provide the skin with vitamins and nutrients.
Believe it or not, even urine has some natural moisturizing properties. One component of human urine -- and the urine of all mammals for that matter -- is what is known as urea. When proteins in the body are broken down, urea is produced as a waste product. Urea is produced in the liver, moves to the kidneys and passes out of the body through the urine.
Urea itself has properties that supposedly make the skin smooth and soft. Today, several cosmetic and skin care products such as moisturizing cream contain urea, but it's a form of urea that has been manufactured in a lab, not in the liver [source: Kois]. The catch is that for urea to be effective as a moisturizer, it needs to have time to penetrate the skin. So it's more effective as a cream or lotion that you rub into your skin than it would be by simply urinating on yourself, for example.
Learn about both common and unusual ways to moisturize your skin by visiting the links on the next page.
Having a cold is brutal on your skin. Getting a chapped nose can be painful, so follow our tips for treating a chapped nose.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Boville, W.B.F., and William Pascoe. "Hungary and the Hungarians." Methuen & Co. 1908.
- "Jojoba Supplements." Vitaminstuff.com (December 11, 2009).http://www.vitaminstuff.com/supplements-jojoba.html
- Kois, Dan. "Why Athletes Pee on their Hands." Slate. May 17, 2004. (December 10, 2009).http://www.slate.com/id/2100652/
- Maibach, Howard I., Saqib J. Bashir, and Ann McKibbon. "Evidence-Based Dermatology." BC Decker. 2002.
- Mayo Clinic. "Moisturizers: Options for softer skin." (December 11, 2009).http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/moisturizers/SN00042
- Oakley, Amanda. "Sebum." New Zealand Dermatological Society. (December 10, 2009).http://dermnetnz.org/acne/sebum.html
- Onion, Amanda. "Ancient Women Used Dung, Grease as Makeup." abcNews. (December 10, 2009).http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=97572
- Ophardt, Charles E. "Urea Cycle." Elmhurst College Virtual Chembook. 2003. (December 11, 2009).http://www.elmhurst.edu/~chm/vchembook/633ureacycle.html
- Stevenson, Jay, Ph.D. "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vampires." Alpha Books. 2009
- WebMD. "Choosing Skin Care Products: Know Your Ingredients." (December 17, 2009)http://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/cosmetic-procedures-products-2