A Wrinkled History; Aging Through the Ages

A Wrinkled History; Aging Through the Ages

Concern about aging is something humans have dealt with for millennia. But have we always dealt with it the same way? 

Since the time of the pharaohs, humans have been tinkering with ways to look younger. It’s a quest that is both charming and, depending on the fashion of the time, a bit perplexing. Let’s take a trip through time and see how our beauty ideals—and anxieties—have played out.

Ancient Egypt (3100 BC–332 BC):

Let’s start way back in ancient Egypt (3100 BC–332 BC). How did the Egyptians perceive aging and its effects on our looks? Well, they were primarily concerned with preserving everything, and that included their youth. Cleopatra herself was rumored to bathe in donkey’s milk (yikes!), and both men and women used kohl to accentuate their eyes.

Roman Empire (75 BC–476 AD):

The Romans had a complex relationship with aging. Some Roman writers, like Cicero and Seneca, praised the wisdom and experience that came with age. 

However, Roman society also valued physical prowess and youthful beauty. For men, public life and political careers often peaked in middle age—so there weren’t too many older celebrities in the limelight. Wealthy Roman women were also preoccupied with looking youthful, using a variety of cosmetics, and even dying their hair. 

Renaissance (1300s–1500s):

Skip ahead quite a bit, past the dark ages (let’s assume aging took a back seat to bigger problems like the plague or the Spanish Inquisition), and look at aging during the Renaissance. 

The Western World saw a significant shift toward trade and commerce. Towns and cities flourished. And decent artwork depicting iconically beautiful men and women came back online. Suddenly, there was a conversation about what beauty meant. 

Pale skin, rosy cheeks, and full lips became the hallmarks of beauty. Women used lead-based cosmetics (not great!), while men sometimes plucked their eyebrows. 

Elizabethan Era (1558–1603):  

Since looking youthful can project vitality, strength, and even power, youthfulness has always been a critical pursuit for rulers. Queen Elizabeth I was a master of makeup, using white lead and ceruse to create the coveted pale complexion. However, these methods were often toxic and could have disastrous consequences.

Also, keep in mind that people didn’t live as long back then. So the definition of “old” has changed. The average life expectancy during the Elizabethan era hovered around just 40 years old! Elizabeth herself, with every financial advantage, died at the age of 69. 

Victorian Era (1837–1901): 

This era was obsessed with modesty and a youthful, angelic appearance. Women were expected to be pure, gentle, and submissive—qualities often associated with youth. A youthful appearance symbolized innocence and virtue. 

Appearance also played a big role in social standing. For women, particularly those from the middle and upper classes, maintaining a youthful and delicate look showcased wealth and leisure—illustrating that these women didn’t have to perform manual labor. Their pale skin and light clothing became status symbols.

Women used powders and creams to lighten their skin and achieve a delicate, almost porcelain look. Again, safety wasn’t always a priority.

Turn of the Century (1900s):  

What happens when it’s not just the upper class using makeup and other youth-enhancers to preserve their looks? The dawn of the modern age saw the rise of cosmetics companies. Suddenly, thousands of cosmetic products were in stores for every housewife, secretary, and school teacher to access. 

Actresses like Clara Bow popularized bold makeup looks, while hair dyes became a way to hide pesky grays. The pressure to maintain a youthful appearance was definitely on.

Mid-Century (1940s–1960s):   

Enter Hollywood glamor. Think Audrey Hepburn and Carey Grant. Women embraced red lips, dramatic eyeliner, and flawless complexions. Men started using hair products to keep a youthful style. What we might think of as “aging gracefully” wasn’t exactly in vogue. 

Also, the post-war American economy was booming, and youthfulness was equated with progress and optimism. Advertisements heavily promoted beauty products and hairstyles that promised a youthful appearance. The cosmetics industry took off, churning out an increasing number of creams, lotions, and potions promising to erase wrinkles, tighten skin, and restore a youthful glow.

Modern Era (1970s–Present):  


So where are we now? 

The modern era (1970s–present) is a kaleidoscope when it comes to aging standards. But here are some things that definitely set today apart from previous eras:

Diversity of Beauty Standards: Gone (mostly) are the rigid ideals of what an older person should look like. We see a celebration of wrinkles, gray hair, and all the beautiful variations of aging bodies. This is due in part to the rise of social media and a much more diverse modeling industry.

Focus on Wellness: There’s been a shift toward healthy aging rather than simply looking young. Staying active, eating well, and prioritizing mental well-being are all part of the equation. Fitness trackers, healthy meal-prep trends, and the rise of mindfulness practices all reveal a desire to be youthful inside and out.

Preventative Measures: People are more proactive about taking care of themselves as they age. This includes measures such as regular health screenings, skincare routines (with a focus on sun protection!), and anti-aging supplements.

Botox and Beyond: Perhaps the biggest addition to the line up of anti-aging tricks is the rise of plastic surgery. Cosmetic procedures are more accessible and normalized than ever before. For example, Botox injections, fillers, and even plastic surgery are seen by some as a way to boost confidence, not necessarily to erase every wrinkle.

The “Forever Young” Myth: Despite the progress, societal pressures to look young persist. Airbrushed images and unrealistic portrayals in media can fuel anxieties about aging. There’s also a growing pressure to stay active, travel, and appear youthful well into your later years, which isn’t realistic or attainable for everyone.

So, while there is a growing appreciation for diversity and natural looks, there is also a pressure for everyone to look perpetually young thanks to advancements in cosmetics, plastic surgery, and Photoshop.


Clearly, humans have long concerned themselves with aging and slowing it down. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look and feel your best at any age. 

At LifeTime, we focus on helping you maintain your health and vitality for the long haul. That means taking care of your body and mind so that you can plan on enjoying your life now and in the future.

What do you think of the methods we use to combat aging today? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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