From natural resources to packaging, an interdisciplinary study of skincare products over time

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: School of Archaeology

Abstract

The human skin is our largest organ and envelops our entire body. It is a continuously regenerating barrier that protects us from our external physical environment but it is also the habitat of the skin's microflora. It can be seen as a 'lived environment' on which some microorganisms are commensal and others are opportunistic pathogens that can engender undesirable skin conditions including discolouration, discomfort and even disease. It is also a lived environment through which humans experience life through.
Since antiquity (if not earlier) and as attested by ancient literary and archaeological evidence, the health and overall appearance of an individual's skin has consistently been used to judge their health, hygiene and social status. The formulation of skincare products evolved over time but their role remained the same i.e. for general hygiene and aesthetics. Ancient civilisations realised the beneficial properties of the natural resources available to them but over time, the use of some of these substances declined or ceased entirely. Some of these disused substances could still have beneficial properties, and this is particularly pertinent now that the modern cosmetic industry is looking at utilising the skin's microflora and natural resources as an inspiration for new products. There is therefore an interest from academics and the industry in studying the natural substances that were used in the past, which is the main focus of this project.
This scoping project will start with the study of the collections of the Boots Archive and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's Museum, concentrating on skincare products produced in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that contained natural substances and were sometimes marketed as being inspired by antiquity. Due attention will be given to both the ingredients used in the formulation and also to the packaging and the commercial advertising of these products. In ancient societies, during which levels of literacy were low, apothecaries realised that containers play a role that goes beyond protecting and preserving the product. The packaging has also a psychological impact on customers.
By analysing trends of the use of natural substances, packaging and advertising, results of this project will be an important resource for academics studying healthcare and for the industry formulating new cosmetic products using natural substances. This project will also raise the interest of the general public about skincare through communication and public engagement events.

Planned Impact

This research will benefit a wide range of academics, non-academic stakeholders and members of the general public.
This interdisciplinary research focuses on the evolution of skincare products over time and will be an important resource of information for academics working in a wide range of different disciplines (i.e. pharmacognosy, botany, biochemistry, food technology, medicine, cosmetics, classics, ancient history, archaeology, anthropology etc.) and our research findings will contribute to the development their own research and/or inspire them to develop new interdisciplinary projects.
Boots and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's Museum (non-academic institutions) will be actively engaged in this research and will benefit significantly from our research findings which will have commercial interest and will add value to their collection.
The Boots Archive will be a primary beneficiary, as their collection is currently an underutilised source of information with respect to the development of skincare products from the nineteenth century to the present. This project will help the company to promote and further enhance the visibility of the archive collection to a wider audience and reveal some of its academic potential. As a business with a long history in the development and marketing of skincare products, Boots is interested to understand more about the ingredients chosen for those products and learn of the social drivers behind them. One of the long term aims of the company is also to create a heritage and learning centre focused on the development of health and beauty, to which this project could significantly contribute.
For the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum this research will improve the knowledge of their collection, increase the visibility of the collection and attract new members of the general public thanks to the organisation of a conference and a workshop towards the end of the project and to the hosting of an exhibition related to the findings of the project. More generally, this research has the potential to benefit different industries through the rediscovery of natural resources, their composition and properties.
This project also includes activities which are going to be of interest to the general public. These includes the conference and workshop planned at the RPS Museum towards the end of this project. We will also participate in May Fest 2017 (University of Nottingham) which will be an opportunity for the general public, patients, support groups such as the National Eczema Society and the Psoriasis Association and members of the healthcare sector to engage with us. These activities may also allow the general public to act as informed citizens. During these events, we will aim to explored the skin as a 'lived environment' through which human experience life through and alter using skincare products. This will give economic and societal impacts to our public engagement activity.

Publications


10 25 50
 
Description Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences Fellowship scheme
Amount £2,500 (GBP)
Organisation Keele University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 08/2017 
End 11/2017
 
Title Database of natural substances in ancient skincare products 
Description List of substances used in ancient skincare products by: - study of the literature - analyses on museum objects (Petrie Museum) 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact By the end of the project, this database will be a crucial resource for people studying ancient cosmetics but also for the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. 
 
Title FTIR library for natural substances 
Description Before analysing museum samples, we did run a series of reference samples on the FTIR spectroscope to build our reference library. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This helps with the identification of natural substances present in the museum samples. This database will also be useful for other users of the instrument in the Research Lab for Archaeology. 
 
Description Collaboration with Boots Archive, Nottingham 
Organisation Boots UK
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Study of their archive for valorisation of their collection through publications and conferences
Collaborator Contribution Access to their archive for this project
Impact Publications in preparation: - Palmolive - Packaging / Adverting material Material for the Wonder 2017 event
Start Year 2016
 
Description Collaboration with the Petrie Museum, London 
Organisation Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Learned Society 
PI Contribution Dr Thibaut Deviese and Dr Szu Wong visited the Petrie Museum in January to look at objects from the Petrie Museum which could be related to skincare in ancient Egypt. The object were selected by Dr Thibaut Deviese in collaboration with Dr Alice Stevenson from the Petrie Museum by looking at the objects exposed in the museum and by searching the museum database. In total, 14 objects were selected and samples taken for analysis after getting the authorisation from the curatorial team. The analysis of these samples using FTIR, SEM and GC/MS is ongoing at the Research Laboratory for Archaeology (Oxford).
Collaborator Contribution - Ignacio Faccin and Alice Stevenson authorised us to come and study their collection. - They helped us to established a list of objects which could be relevant to our research. - They also took the objects out of storages and showcases for us to study them and we jointly decided if wether or not sampling was feasible. This represent a lot of work as some of these objects were in storages or in museum showcases. Because of the fragility of some of these objects, there handling require a lot of time. - Last (but not least), they authorised us to sample some of these objects and helped us during the sampling session.
Impact - Results of analyses to be added to the museum database - Publications (Not started yet)
Start Year 2016
 
Description Collaboration with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, London 
Organisation Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Learned Society 
PI Contribution The project team organised two visit at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. During the first visit, the team explained to colleagues from the RPS the objectives of the grant. Following the initial conversation, we selected a series of objects from the RPS collection to look at (in link to the objectives of our AHRC grant). During the second visit, we looked at the selected objects and sampled the contents of 20 of them for analysis. The samples have been analysed by FTIR and SEM and will be analysed by GC/MS by Dr Thibaut Deviese at teh Research Lab for Archaeology (Oxford) A report is in preparation for the RPS to summarise the findings of the analyses. An article was also written on the Pharmaceutical Journal of the RPS on the Marriage a l a mode by William Hogarth. See URL below for more details.
Collaborator Contribution Colleagues form the RPS shared their enthusiasm and expertise. There knowledge of the RPS collection is exceptional and they managed to let us study objects which are very relevant for our project. They also offered to support us for the conference at the end of our project.
Impact - Results of the analyses on objects from the RPS Museum - Article on the blog of the Pharmaceutical Journal
Start Year 2016
 
Description Blog on the Pharmaceutical Journal 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The article published by Szu Shen Wong, Thibaut Deviese, Jane Draycott, John Betts and Matthew Johnston on the Pharmaceutical Journal blog did generate interest from people who follow this blog. We also received a couple of questions from people who did read this article.
Printed in : The Pharmaceutical Journal, Vol 297, No 7893, online | DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2016.20201755
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.pharmaceutical-journal.com/opinion/blogs/syphilis-and-the-use-of-mercury/20201679.blog
 
Description Communication by Twitter 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A series of tweets highlighting specific objects from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's collection that demonstrated the use of Classical Reception in skincare advertising in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and providing photographs and product information. In total, the tweets were seen by 2588 people and engaged with 74 times.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Facebook post by British Society for the History of Pharmacy 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The British Society for the History of Pharmacy reposted the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum's Facebook post on the article published in the Pharmaceutical Journal on 'Syphilis and the use of Mercury'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=918036791635480&id=104586329647201
 
Description Facebook post by Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Facebook post by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum highlighting the publication of the article 'Syphilis and the Use of Mercury' in the Pharmaceutical Journal.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1149715968437118&id=276119592463431
 
Description Facebook post by University of Wales Trinity Saint David 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact University of Wales Trinity Saint David posted on Facebook highlighting the University's involvement in this project and posted a link to the publication in the Pharmaceutical Journal on 'Syphilis and the Use of Mercury'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.facebook.com/trinitysaintdavid/posts/1423232754359340
 
Description Humanities Blog Post by University of Wales Trinity Saint David 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Humanities Blog post by the University of Wales Trinity Saint David announcing the "From natural resources to packaging, an interdisciplinary study of skincare products over time" award and providing information about the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://humanitiesblog.uwtsd.ac.uk/?p=527
 
Description Press release by the University of Wales Trinity Saint David 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact See URL link below
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.uwtsd.ac.uk/news/press-releases/press-2016/uncovering-the-secrets-of-healthcare-in-the-an...
 
Description Wonder 2017 (17th of June 2017) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We propose a two-part activity where children and their families first identify materials and substances (eg. herbs/oils/honey/beeswax) used to formulate a pre-made skincare product (eg: a cream/ointment). Materials would be kept in clear sealed tubes which participants are able to manipulate without coming into direct contact with the substance/material. Fragrances would be applied on tester strips for participants. Part 2 would involve participants designing packaging and posters to advertise a skincare product (e.g. for the item demonstrated in part 1). Laminated examples would be available to participants for inspiration and stationery would be provided. Finished work would then be photographed / scanned and participants would be able to take the item home as a souvenir from the event.
Subject to ethical committee approval, we would like to publish the work gathered from Wonder 2017. We believe this is a fantastic activity as it combines sensory experience and encourages creativity and discussions relating to skincare in a family friendly setting.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017