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Did Cleopatra bathe in milk?

At last, healthy feet

It has been widely reported, although not confirmed, that Cleopatra bathed in milk. The practice may seem eccentric and somewhat bizarre, but close analysis indicates that bathing in milk or washing the skin with milk has some merits.

At room temperature, milk is fermented by bacteria that produce lactic acid. Such bacteria are commonly found in yogurt. Lactic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid with the chemical formula CH3CH(OH)COOH. Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA) are used extensively in the cosmetics industry in products claiming to reduce wrinkles, fade age spots and improve the overall look and feel of the skin. They are also used by dermatologists in chemical peels, and by beauty spas and home kits in lower concentrations. The effectiveness of alpha-hydroxy acids for improving the skin is well documented, although there are many cosmetic products with exaggerated claims. It is quite reasonable to expect that washing the skin with milk could promote the growth of lactobacilli bacteria that would help to remove dead skin cells by the action of the acid generated. In addition, the butterfat in milk would act as a moisturizer to prevent the skin from becoming dry.

Recent studies have revealed that many microbes inhabit the skin and mucosa of the digestive system of healthy humans. It is estimated that there are at least ten times as many bacteria as human cells in the body and that these bacteria are beneficial by preventing the growth of pathogenic organisms.[1] In view of this, we should question whether the use of antibacterial soaps is useful or harmful. Killing the beneficial bacteria on our skin could leave us vulnerable to infections by fungi and disease-causing bacteria.

I recently read Mycophilia: Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms by Eugenia Bone. This book describes the life cycle of fungi and the lengths to which people go to find edible wild mushrooms. The book points out the pervasiveness of fungi throughout nature, the fungal infections that afflict humans, and the intricate and delicate balance of conditions required to culture mushrooms.

I decided to integrate some of the ideas of the human microbiome and the knowledge that I had gained from reading this book to fight a minor, but persistent athlete's foot infection that I had had since my early twenties. For more than 40 years, I had used antifungal powders and creams to keep the infection in check, but nevertheless, I still had scaly feet and rough heels.

My new treatment consisted of scrubbing the feet with a lava stone to remove dead skin while showering. After the shower, I rubbed about one tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide to each foot so that the bubbling action of the hydrogen peroxide could loosen flaky skin. While the feet dried, I mixed one teaspoon of plain yogurt with a quarter cup of milk and stirred. Once the feet were dry, I applied the milk inoculated with yogurt to my feet making sure to rub the feet thoroughly, including between the toes. I allowed the milk to air dry, and applied a little bit of coconut oil to the feet as a moisturizer. My feet looked healthy with no sign of fungus infection after two weeks of this daily treatment, as shown in the picture above.

I feel that this experiment, although not scientifically rigorous, demonstrates that the milk-yogurt mixture changed the environment of my feet to promote the growth of bacteria that inhibited the persistent fungus. Looking at Cleopatra's milk baths from this perspective makes a lot more sense now.

[1] Human microbiome, Wikipedia

© Copyright  - Antonio Zamora