Medieval times are generally renowned for their lack of cleanliness and hygiene. However, only a few who know that Muslims, as early as the 7th century, developed a sophisticated hygienic lifestyle that was as popular among the ordinary masses as it was with the nobles and royals.
Perhaps one of the great manifestations of Muslim cleanliness is the invention of soap. They made soap by mixing oil (usually olive oil) with al-qali (salt-like substance), which was boiled to achieve the right mix, and left to harden before using it at home or in the hammams or bath houses. Different recipes for different types of soap were written by various scholars including Al-Razi. A recently discovered manuscript from the 13th century details more recipes for soap making; take some sesame oil, a sprinkle of potash, alkali and some lime, mix them all together and boil. When cooked, they are poured into moulds and left to set, leaving hard soap.
One of the leading cosmetologists was the famous physician and father of surgery, Abuâ€™al-Qassim al-Zahrawi, or Abulcassis (936-1013 CE). He wrote a monumental work, a medical encyclopaedia entitled Al-Tasreef (see surgical instruments), in 30 volumes, which was translated into Latin and used as the main medical textbook in most Universities of Europe.
In the 19th volume of Al-Tasreef a chapter was devoted completely to cosmetics and is the first original Muslim work in cosmetology. Zahrawiâ€™s contribution in medicated cosmetics include under-arm deodorants, hair removing sticks and hand lotions. Hair dyes are mentioned turning blond hair to black and hair care is included, even for correcting kinky or curly hair. He even mentioned the benefits of suntan lotions, describing their ingredients in detail.
Zahrawi considered cosmetics a definite branch of medication (Adwiyat al-Zinah). He deals with perfumes, scented aromatics and incense. There were perfumed stocks rolled and pressed in special moulds, perhaps the earliest antecedents of present day lipsticks and solid deodorants. He used oily substances called Adhan for medication and beautification. There are many a hadith of the Prophet (pbuh) which refer to cleanliness, management of dress, and care of hair and body. On this basis, Zahrawi described the care and beautification of hair, skin, teeth and other parts of the body, all within the boundaries of Islam.