GirlTalk: An Interview with Ancient Preparations Founder, Nefernil

GirlTalk: An  Interview with Ancient Preparations Founder (and modern day tomb raider) Nefernil. 



Founded by grad student (and all around bad-ass) Nefernil, Ancient Preparations is unlike any cosmetics line we’ve ever seen. Why? Using ancient beauty techniques as the foundation, AP has sifted through the historical records of six millennia to bring us the best of cosmetics. Cleopatra would be proud. 

HF: What made you fall in love with archeology and pursue it as a career?

N: The short answer is probably just that I never stopped playing in the dirt. While other kids played with plastic toys, I had a rock collection.

If I’m more open about it, I always felt like an outsider growing up between China and California. I never quite fit in either opposite because I was always caught between two. I became obsessed with ancient Egypt as a child, and that’s perhaps because it was a cultural bridge between the east and west. So from an early age, I had already begun to study cultural inheritance and investigate the where, why, when.

There are so many ideas passed onto us from history which we accept as truths and it creates suffering. I’ve felt it personally in the form of racism and it can be seen very clearly today in attitudes towards the Middle East. Archaeology is a science and I pursued it as a career to retrace these ideas because they’re powerful. For example, Nazi racial ideologies were founded on their pseudo-archaeological program and we all know how that played out. The discovery of earliest cave art in Europe was used to justify the idea that the Aryan race is superior because it evolved first. But just two years ago, much older cave paintings were discovered in Asia proving that evolution is not linear and superiority was just an idea. There are still many more truths to be rediscovered. In order to move forward, we must reflect back on the past.

HF: At what moment were you first inspired to create your cosmetic line, Ancient Preparations?

N: The idea for Ancient Preparations began a few years ago when I was studying in Italy. I was intrigued by the tiny pharmacies attached to centuries-old churches. They were run by nuns who also handcrafted the soaps and tinctures being sold there. This comes from a long tradition which can be traced back to ancient Egypt where cosmetics, medicine and ritual were one in the same. It was what I had specialized in, and to see the legacy inspired the creation of Ancient Preparations.

HF: What sets your line apart from other cosmetic brands?

N: I don’t necessarily strive to be like or unlike other cosmetic brands but there are certainly aspects of Ancient Preparations which I hope our clients will identify with on a personal level because it’s about more than just products.

HF: What was the production process of creating your own line? Creative process?

N: The production process begins with a lot of research. I’m currently with the University of Edinburgh pursing a Master of Science in historical research. It has been a great resource in terms of accessing original sources, such as ancient Egyptian medical papyri.

For some of the products, like Elizabeth Bathory’s Blood Bath, I had to be more creative and rely on oral traditions. I actually found my way to Cachtice Castle as part of the research but slipped on its icy ruins. Fortunately, that was the only bit of blood involved in the process. Eastern Europe has long pursued anti-aging in natural ways, besides the legendary blood bath. I interviewed village women and their grandmothers and found that they bathed with oranges, rich in vitamin C, to keep their skin looking young. That’s where the idea for a blood orange bath was formed.

HF: What resources did you use to recreate these historical products?

N: Many resources are used to create the products because each artifact is more like a super product of several known formulas rather than a simple replication. Ancient medical instructions, like Edwin Smith Papyrus, and the life works of early scientists, such as Pliny the Elder, have been essential. Physical evidence is also a key resource, which included the chemical analysis of mummies and ancient cosmetic jars. Residue of black seed oil, for example, was found in King Tut’s tomb. Coming from a background in archaeology, I work by matching text with material. 

Modern scientific research also went into ensuring the maximum effect of each formulaic combination. This is perhaps the most unique aspect in recreating historical products for Ancient Preparations. The line doesn’t sell novelty products or souvenirs, each artifact truly has scientific backing in its proposed usage and results.

HF: Ancient Preparations is a vegan, cruelty-free, fair-trade line that donates a portion of it’s sales to UNESCO, in an effort to preserve world heritage sites. Why is preservation and responsible production so important to you?

N: It was really important to me that the line be completely authentic to its historical background. In the past, there was no mass production, deforestation or animal testing like we know it today. This is also the reason for why products always begin with 100% organic ingredients and end in glass and resin-based jars rather than plastic.

Because many of the ingredients are sourced from the products’ ancient origin, I take social responsibility very seriously. That means ensuring fair trade with modern locals. It also meant addressing environmental sustainability which is why animal ingredients, such as honey and beeswax, have been carefully replaced with historical and compositionally appropriate substitutions. This was actually one of the hardest aspects to achieve.

Given the current events surrounding the destruction of World Heritage Sites, a proceed of the sales are donated to UNESCO in order to help to raise awareness. We live in a historically transitional time. As the world continues to digitize, culture is overshadowed by western hegemony. And despite the reach of the World Wide Web, people feel less and less connected to each other everyday. One reason for my forming of the line was to renew popular interest in our history and its many cultures. After all, the study of archaeology is a passion for humanity itself.

HF: What do you consider to be the pièce de résistance of your line?

N: The piece which started it all was Gift of the Nile Night Oil and it remains my personal favorite. This is the type of beauty regimen Cleopatra or Nefertiti would have practiced, and the science behind the formulation reveals that it was for a good reason.

HF: Where do you hope to see your company in five years?

N: There’s quite a journey ahead. I have plans to expand the catalog of products significantly, and also take the company beyond the realm of skincare.

It’s also my hope that Ancient Preparations will help start a conversation about the sustainability of contemporary manufacturing practices. The chemical industry has monopolized on our health and beauty concerns over the last century, but organic solutions has been all history has known for the past six millennia. In order to move forward, we must reflect back on the past.

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