Defy Age Using a 3,600-Year-Old Face Cream Recipe With a Deadly Ingredient

Stanley Jacobs is a plastic surgeon whose hobby is Egyptology. He's studied many an ancient document, but one called the Edwin Smith Papyrus spoke to him in particular. It's 5,000 years old, and describes the surgical procedures of Egypt at the time.

A plastic surgeon himself, he found that most of the cases were about “really good reconstruction after traumatic injury, of the nose, the neck, the spinal cord,” and that its techniques were surprisingly well thought out for a millennia-old book. What really intrigued him, though, was a recipe at the back of the book, titled “Transforming an Old Man Into a Youth.”

This section of the papyrus is a long and complicated set of instructions for making what is, essentially, a face cream. The original translator of the papyrus, the Egyptologist James Breasted, hadn’t been much impressed by it, writing that the recipe “proves to be nothing more than a face paste believed to be efficacious in removing wrinkles.”

As a doctor who spends a lot of time thinking about skin, beauty, and age, though, Jacobs wasn’t so quick to discount it. “I realized that if they’re that serious about their surgical treatments, they’re probably serious about this,” he says.

The face cream recipe was difficult to translate, because one ingredient was called by a word nobody seemed to know. But Jacobs keep looking, and the answers he got led to other questions, which led to a possible new/old way to care for skin. Read the story of Jacobs and the ancient face cream at Atlas Obscura.

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