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Beauty secrets of women in history

Aly Walansky is a freelance writer and editor based in New York City. She lives with her two Shorkie-Tzus, Scarlette and Max, and a display of pink polka-dot-themed home decor -- not to mention a selection of flavored vodka. Check out he...

Study the muses

While following today's beauty trends can be exciting, it's always a good idea to look back to beautiful women in history for timeless makeup tips that never go out of style. In honor of Women's History Month, we take a look at the most beautiful women through the ages — and their fabulous secrets!
Study the muses


We’ve heard she was the most beautiful woman of her time — maybe of any time before — but she worked at it. Cleopatra — ruler, beauty and temptress — had a few secrets to keeping dazzling.

“Almond oils (contain mandelic acid, found in modern chemical peels), apple cider vinegar (containing malic acid, another chemical exfoliator, smoother and wrinkle reducer), sea salt scrubs (exfoliate and smooth) and honey baths (moisturizing and antibacterial properties),” were among her secrets says Dr. Coyle S. Connolly, a board certified dermatologist.

Mary Ellen Cassman, founder and president of Dorey Aromatherapy, furthers: “Cleopatra was not only a beautiful and beguiling woman but a brilliant strategist as well. When she learned that she was to be summoned to meet Mark Antony, then King of Egypt, she sent her servants two weeks ahead of her by boat to cruise the Nile River. Their boats were elaborately decorated and filled with fragrant flowers and essential oils that wafted along the warm air of the river. (A prelude of good things to come!)

When Cleopatra finally arrived in Egypt, via the Nile, her boat was the most elaborately decorated and fragranced. Prior to her emerging from the boat, her scent preceded her. Who would do such a thing? Who is this mysterious woman? By the time Mark Antony met her, he was already enchanted. And the rest is history…

Rose, frankincense, cypress, neroli and myrrh were some of the fragrant oils and blossoms that Cleopatra employed to announce her arrival. Each has well-known aphrodisiac, uplifting yet grounding effects on the cerebral cortex by the release of neuro-peptides. (Also known as the feel good hormones!) Cleopatra is credited for bathing in milk and rose petals to keep her skin soft and fragrant.

Interestingly, the first liquid perfume (essential oil) as well as the first known chemist, a woman, has been credited to Egypt 4,000 years ago.

Study the muses

Helen of Troy

Through the ages, royalty, clergy, aristocracy and the common alike have used essential oils for healing, ritual and perfumery, and the ancient Greeks believed that essential oils “healed evil humors."

Since all in ancient Greece favored light complexions, women often wore very little makeup. Honey and olive oil were the favored ingredients in all cosmetics — and it worked. Aphrodite was the goddess of love, and Helen of Troy was so gorgeous that she started a war! You don’t get much better than that.

Painting: Helen of Troy by Evelyn de Morgan

Study the muses

Queen Victoria

“This legendary British queen perfumed her gloves with the pure essential oil of roses to keep less pleasing smells at bay,” says Cassman. Perfumed gloves soon became a fad and not only kept one’s spirits elevated but kept the immune system strong and skin of the hands soft as well as fragrant.

From there, the lawyers of the Old Bailey began carrying a nose gay (herbs and flowers put together) to ward off germs from defendants. The fad quickly caught on until everyone was donning the “tussie mussie.”

Study the muses

Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth was more than the daughter of the most infamous couple in history — King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn — she also was something of a beauty icon. People didn't wear makeup yet at that time — they believed it contributed to blocking energy — but they were all about having a pale and porcelain complexion akin to their beloved queen.

Study the muses

Coco Chanel

"The best color is the one that looks good on you,” is attributed to this epic woman from history. No truer words were ever spoken. It doesn't matter what eyeshadow is "in" or what lip color is popular. “Find your palette — for clothing, makeup and accessories and just wear that color! It will keep your costs down and have you looking your spiffiest,” says Vicky Oliver, author of The Millionaire's Handbook: How to Look and Act Like a Millionaire Even If You're Not (Skyhorse, 2011).

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Study the muses

Sophia Loren

Sophia's signature sun-kissed skin and nude lip exuded sex appeal and confidence. Try this look with a self-tanner and a natural gloss, advises professional makeup artist Meredith Hayman.

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Study the muses

Anna Held

Legendary showman Florenz Ziegfeld promoted his top star, Anna Held, as taking a daily milk bath to keep her skin healthy and moisturized, using gallons of milk per day. This bit of beauty PR contributed to a nationwide fad, recalls David Zyla, Emmy Award-winning stylist and author of Color Your Style: How to Wear Your True Colors.

Photo in the Public Domain

Study the muses

Brooke Shields

Take a look at this season’s New York Fashion Week’s runways — to this day, Brooke's full, natural brows are her most celebrated feature, and ours. “A fuller brow draws attention to the eye and frames the face. If you are the victim of over plucking, try to grow them in. Use a brow pencil a shade lighter than your hair color and use short strokes to fill in your brows where sparse,” says Hayman.

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Study the muses

Audrey Hepburn

When you have beautiful features, you don't need a lot of makeup. Stick to the classics and what looks good on you and you will always be on trend.

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