It’s an often-cited story that one of the things which the ancient Egyptian Queen Cleopatra did to keep her renowned beauty was to take daily baths in donkey milk.
Cleopatra wasn’t alone in believing that donkey milk was good for the skin though. The Roman author Pliny also described the benefits of donkey milk for the skin:
“It is generally believed that ass milk effaces wrinkles in the face, renders the skin more delicate, and preserves its whiteness: and it is a well-known fact, that some women are in the habit of washing their face with it seven times daily, strictly observing that number.
Poppaea, the wife of the Emperor Nero, was the first to practice this; indeed, she had sitting-baths, prepared solely with ass milk, for which purpose whole troops of she- asses used to attend her on her journeys.”
Aside from the obvious technical difficulties Cleopatra would have had in having daily milk baths (some sources say that about 700 donkeys were said to be needed to provide enough milk for her baths), would it actually have done her skin any good? Maybe yes.
Scientific studies have found that because of the vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and a bioactive enzyme which it contains, donkey milk is good for the skin. It’s used today in a number of skin products.
Sour donkey milk could have been even more beneficial for Cleopatra, though also smellier… Why? When milk sours, the sugar lactose in the milk is converted by bacteria into lactic acid. When alpha hydroxyl acids, such as lactic acid, are applied to the skin they cause the surface layer to peel off, leaving new smoother blemish-free skin underneath.
Though it is debatable whether sour milk has enough lactic acid to refresh the skin. Meanwhile some modern cosmetics contain at least 8% alpha hydroxyl acids, and this level has been shown to be enough to reduce minor wrinkles.
Maybe Cleopatra’s milk baths weren’t so strange an idea after all!