Each young woman’s turn came to go in to King Ahasuerus after she had completed twelve months’ preparation, according to the regulations for the women, for thus were the days of their preparation apportioned: six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with perfumes and preparations for beautifying women (Esther 2:12, NKJV).
Before a girl’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics (Esther 2:12, NIV).
Why did the young women go through such a lengthy beauty preparation?
The scripture does not answer the question of why the long beauty process, but it stresses that the procedures were “according to the regulations for the women.” Were the procedures known and practiced by women in general? Did mothers pass on recipes for soothing oils and perfumes to their daughters? It is likely women used oils and scents to some extent and taught their daughters how to make fragrances. But only the women inducted into the king’s harem would have had the luxury of a twelve-month beauty program.
Hegai, the king’s eunuch in charge of the harem, required all the candidates to undergo the twelve-month regimen; one could not opt out of the treatment. The words that form the basis of “beauty treatment” are translated “to scour, polish” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 804). In a dry climate subject to drought and water shortage, people did not bathe frequently. The twelve-month process might be thought of as a cleansing, hygienic exfoliation, followed by a refinement with fragrances.
Candidates for queen came to the king’s palace in Susa from “all the provinces of his kingdom” (Esther 2:2). The Persian Empire extended east toward India and west toward Greece. It encompassed expansive deserts and a sub-tropical area along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The climate in most of the kingdom was hot, dry, desert or semi-desert. Droughts and shortage of rainfall were common. Weather along the two rivers was humid, but regions distant from the Tigris-Euphrates plain suffered blistering heat. Southern winds blowing off the Persian Gulf kicked up sandstorms, and dry winds blew down from the north.
One of Hegai’s objectives was to ameliorate the effects of heat, wind and evaporation. His plan placed skin care first. Six months of oils addressed troublesome conditions such as cracking, wrinkling, wind damage, sunburn, healing of sores and skin diseases. Several of the oils available in Esther’s time had disinfectant and anti-fungal properties. Because every young woman underwent a thorough oil exfoliation, skin disorders were noted and treated. The king was protected from picking up skin diseases and infections that could have been introduced into the harem.
After six months of basic skin health care, Hegai’s attendants incorporated oils, spices and fragrances to enhance (polish) each girl’s natural beauty. The scriptures do not say whether the cosmetics of Egypt such as kohl for the eyes, henna for hair color, pomegranate juice for blush and lip stain figured in the finishing process.
What oils were used in the beautifying process?
Although scripture doesn’t reveal much, it is thought that the women had daily massages with olive oil, cassis oil, myrrh oil and honey to moisturize, heal, disinfect and promote uplifting emotions.
The on-line website Vision Smart Center in an article entitled “Super Cassis Power” states that cassis oil expressed from cassis berries has properties of settling PMS emotional flare-ups, bloating and cramps. It is used to relieve joint and body pain.
Olive oil is touted for its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities. It soothes inflammation and heals burns. It softens skin texture and is thought by some to cure dandruff (Shop.Newsmax.com, “The Healing Powers of Olive Oil”).
As a natural humectant or moisturizer, honey plays a role in natural cosmetics today as well as in Esther’s time. It retains moisture, is mildly antiseptic, and has been found helpful in healing acne caused by hormonal changes (Benefits of Honey, “Favorite Tips on Natural Skin Care With Honey”).
Scripture lists myrrh oil first in the list of oils, and it may have been the most important ingredient in the regimen. In a YouTube presentation, Kenneth Gardner states that of the essential Biblical oils, myrrh is “top of the list” or “close to it.” He states that myrrh oil increases spiritual awareness and strengthens memory. It is effective in treating candida, yeast and ringworm (Young Living Essential Oils, “Myrrh Oil”).
Myrrh oil is derived from a resin that bleeds from a wound in the bark of a commiphora tree, native to Arabia and the eastern Mediterranean. The resin has been used for thousands of years as an ingredient in perfume, as incense and as a wound dressing (Wikipedia, “Myrrh”).
Ancient Egyptians “carried cones on their heads that contained myrrh to prevent sunburn and repel insects” (Experience-Essential-Oils.com, “Myrrh”). Myrrh is believed to have anti-aging and hormone-like properties. It is reported to stimulate circulation, decrease inflammation, soothe inflamed skin, prevent wrinkles, heal fungal infections, heal mouth sores, alleviate stretch marks, and repel parasites and insects (Women of Valor, “Skin Care in the Bible,” and Easy-Essential-Oils.com, “Myrrh oil”).
What is known about fragrant oils?
To make fragrant lubricants, women placed resins of myrrh, or any of a number of aromatic peels, leaves, petals, or spices such as cinnamon and saffron into stone bottles of oil. The bottles sat in the sun for several days. Each morning the aromatic matter was refreshed, until the scent had sufficiently infused the oil (Women of Valor, “Skin Care in the Bible”).
Are the ancient oils used beauty products today?
Many people believe the oils are effective, safe and desirable. The natural oils are free of carcinogens and chemicals that disturb metabolism. A number of the oils and aromatics listed in scripture are incorporated into lotions and creams.♥ Mary Hendren