Nestled within the delicate washi pages of our ancient beauty bible, we found an intricate wood block print of an ancient distillation system – a sort of alchemical still.
Known as an alambus, the apparatus resembles a stack of tea kettles. The bottom level was filled with coal or wood and burned to heat the water above to boiling – just like a tea kettle. The third layer contained the plant or flower to be extracted, and the essence was captured in the top layer by a container of cold water. The resulting pure botanical distillations were the first “facial waters”, applied to the skin for intense hydration and refreshment. To fully concentrate the mixture, geisha would sometimes place a swath of leftover kimono silk atop the alambus, allowing it to be saturated with the extract. These saturated masks would then be placed upon the face for 15-20 minutes to sooth and infuse the skin with the beneficial extract - thus the first facial masks were invented.
This technique allowed these sophisticated women to take advantage of the healing, nourishing benefits of many local plants. In addition to facial masks, the nutrient-rich extracts were often sprayed on via perfume misters.
The elegant process depicted in the 200-year old text is considered extremely advanced for its time, another illustration of how inventive these women were. The continued effectiveness of their facial masks and mists – featured in our new Water Collection – reminds us that beauty comes from the most natural of sources.