18 Till I Die

The quest for eternal youth has obsessed the world since time immemorial. Preeti Verma Lal takes us through the journey of mankind in finding that mythical 'elixir of youth'


She sat there with blood on her face. Fresh blood smeared on her chiselled famous face. There was a smile and behind it perhaps the longing for dewy, glowing skin. She is no Lady Macbeth. Not even a vampire on the prowl. But she, the famous Kim Kardashian West, calls it a Vampire Facial. Looks like a horror tale but technically the treatment is a combination of a microdermabrasion, followed by the application of PRP (platelet-rich plasma). Perhaps Kim K swears by the ‘Give me blood and I’ll give you youth’ slogan.

But she is not the only one trying to defy age. Hailey Baldwin swears by MC1 Blood Moisturize, a facial lotion in which her own platelets are used to reprogramme the skin and fight off signs of ageing. Gwyneth Paltrow opts for vagina steaming (yes, she steams the lady bits) in which she sits over mugwort steam (on a glorified toilet) to balance hormones, maintain internal health and keep skin looking young and healthy. Katie Holmes prefers snake slime to look young and beautiful while Victoria Beckham slathers her oft-photographed face with bird poo.

Men and women the world over are breaking their heads over breaking the age-curse. The French ate snails, Cleopatra bathed in the milk of donkey, former prime minister Morarji Desai began his day with a cuppa of his own urine, and beauty salons rub, scrub beauty-seekers with mango, cashew, potato. Just about anything from the kitchen and the orchard.

Beauty, however, is not a modern obsession. Not sure about the Cavewoman, but as far as history’s memory goes, humans have been obsessed with defying age and being 18 till they died.

Here’s a look at ancient age-defying methods. Most weird, a few outright appalling.

Crocodile dung: In the Philippines, the locals believe in a Croc Doc. They make the crocodile sisig and sell it as good for your heart, cholesterol, and magic for libido. I can never imagine the jagged croc as a doc or as lunch, but the Romans and Greeks went backwards. Literally. They picked crocodile dung and slathered it on the face for a forever-young skin. And the ones who could not shed crocodile tears dunked themselves in bathtubs filled with dung. Eeeww! Do not know about youth, but their skin must have puckered in stench disgust.

Fenugreek oil: The Egyptians sure were pretty patient with using oil to turn an old man into a young man. They sun-dried the fenugreek plant, threshed, winnowed, kneaded to make a dough which was then boiled in a pot of water. That’s not the end of the looking-young recipe. More work needs to be done. The dough was washed in river water, sun-dried again, ground in a millstone and then simmered on slow fire until fenugreek oil starts appearing around the corners. That oil was the old-man into a young-man potion.

Gua Sha Treatment: Chinese herbs represent an entire medical system and at a rough count there are 6,000 materials that fall in the Chinese herbs category - plant, animal and mineral substances. But Gua Sha is not a herb, it is a particular type of face massage with a special tool that induces the detoxification of the skin and results in the reduction of fine lines and wrinkles.

Swallowing tapeworms: Any ‘Tell me Why’ will tell you that tapeworms are parasites - flat, segmented worms that live in the intestines of some animals. How the heck does anyone swallow a tapeworm that can grow up to 30 ft? In the 1900s, tapeworms were like keto - a diet plan to shed weight. This is how it worked - swallow a tapeworm, let it grow within so that it absorbs food. And then, when the slim-measure is hit, take a pill and poo the tapeworm out of the system. Tapeworms were known to cause dementia and epilepsy but some preferred slim to sanity.

Oil & honey: As early as 10,000 BC, Egyptians were using oil to beat the desert heat and look young 24x7. According to author Judith Illes, who has done extensive research on ancient Egypt, men and women applied oil to their bodies regularly. Egyptians had access to and used, more or less, 21 different vegetable oils for a range of beauty purposes. Honey was added to olive oil to lighten the skin. Ancient Egyptian queen Nefertiti made her own blush using clay and crushed beetles.

Lead for fair skin: In ancient Greece, men often used lead for fairer skin. The number of fairer men grew but they died quickly due to slow poisoning. But love for fairness did not die with them - around 1,000 BC, chalk was used to maintain a fairer complexion. There was no buy-in-a-box rouge, so they crushed mulberries for cheek blush.

Nightingale poo: The nightingale is a splendid singer but no one ever sang paeans to the bird’s poo quality that makes for great facial cleanser and a greater face mask. It is said that Japanese geishas used the singing bird’s scat to clean their heavy make-up.

Wig cages & beef lard: Long, lustrous hair has always been a beauty essential. But not many come blessed with it. In the Middle Ages, women longing for long hair wore hairpieces and wigs. To keep in place a wiggling wig, they used beef lard to fix wigs. But the rats sniffed the lard in the hair and started devouring wigs. To fend off the greedy rats, ‘wig cages’ were invented. One woman’s beauty was another rat’s lunch!

X-rays for hair removal: Potentially permanent, but potentially deadly. That’s an X-ray machine for hair removal. When X-ray was discovered in 1895, science whooped in joy. When researchers talked of hair loss from X-ray exposure, hairy women - and quacks - whooped, too. Women started queuing outside X-ray hair removal clinics, and by the 1920s, according to author M Bookchin, many physicians, beauticians, and self-appointed ‘epilation specialists’ had begun to treat women with radiation for the removal of superfluous hair. This quack device is now outlawed in the US.

Dimple-making machine: You sure have heard of pasta makers and bread machines. Ever heard of a dimple-making machine? Yes, the cheek-y dimple that many find alluring. In 1936, a woman named Isabella Gilbert invented the Dimple Stamper, a spring-loaded contraption that promised to ‘make a fine set of dimples’ by pressing a pair of knobs into the cheeks. The Rochester-inventor advertised her Stamper as “dimples can now be made to order”.

A perfect-looking nose: Before rhinoplasty became a nose-fixer, there was Trados Nose-Shaper, an ugly, painful machine that could put the nose in order. Extremely popular in the early 1900s, the device was invented by ‘Pioneering Noseshaping Specialist’ M Trilety who offered ‘quick, painless and permanent nose correction’. Trilety claimed that his Model 25 “corrects ill-shaped noses quickly, painlessly, permanently and comfortably at home. It is the only nose-shaping appliance of precise adjustment….”

Vibrators. Vibrators everywhere: According to theatlantic.com, in 1910, the White Cross Electric Vibrator was advertised as a combination hip slimmer, dandruff buster and cure for ‘back lameness’. By 1950, the Electric Spot-Reducer offered a 10-day guarantee that the user would lose pounds and inches ‘without risking health’. Soon, there was a ‘multiple electric vibrator’ for the scalp that promised to stimulate circulation in the ‘scalp and brain cells’ in addition to removing dandruff and loose hair.

Electric face-moulding mask: In 1933, Dr Joseph Brueck introduced ‘an electric face moulding mask’ that contained a ‘battery of heating coils’ to warm the face and melt away wrinkles and lines. Much earlier, Dr Eugene Mack came up with the idea of a double chin reducer, a device that could efface double chins. Slenderising salons had massage chairs which massaged clients’ legs with metal rollers.

Glamour bonnet: In the 1940s, women thronged to buy the ‘glamour bonnet’, a helmet-like bonnet that claimed to lower atmospheric pressure around the face and grant a youthful, rosy complexion.

If that was not torture enough, beauty-seekers froze their freckles with carbon dioxide. In the popular treatment, patients’ eyes were covered with airtight plugs, their nostrils were filled in for protection, and they had to breathe through a tube.

Stay young the Japanese way

Exfoliate with azuki beans (used since 700 AD). Nourish skin with rice bran. Eat balanced food. Use green tea in lotions, scrubs, bath salts, hair masks. Bathe daily, go to onsen (hot spring) frequently. Use tsubaki (camellia) oil for skin, hair and overall wellness. Embrace Vitamin C.

The Japanese also believe in inner beauty. Called mienai oshare (unseen beauty), they include it as part of their daily beauty regimen.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is weirdest of all?

Demi Moore once specially went to Europe to try leech beauty therapy - she insists those slimy blood-sucking things can detoxify and make you look prettier.

Mila Kunis is okay sucking an ice cube while the aesthetician scrubs the face with anti-oxidant rich diamond/rubies. Looking dewy & younger comes with a $7,000 tag per sitting.

Top model Irina Shayk is happy paying $300 for a 24k pure gold leaf face mask which is said to renew cells, improve the skin’s elasticity and reduce wrinkle depth.

Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, used a bee venom face mask before getting married to Prince William.

Angelina Jolie is okay smearing caviar over her skin to keep it firm and moisturised.

Teri Hatcher pours goblets of wine in her bathtub. She calls it the perfect dose for skin cell renewal.



What they say of staying young

The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age. — Lucille Ball

There is a fountain of youth: It is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of the people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age. — Sophia Loren

The greater thing in life is to keep your mind young. — Henry Ford

You are never too old to become younger. — Mae West

He who is of calm and happy nature will never feel the pressure of age. — Plato

Don’t let ageing get you down, it is too hard to get back up. - John Wagner

We are always the same age inside. — Gertrude Stein



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