Medical studies and deciding on a career in cosmetics
In addition to being involved in theatre, aesthetics and nurturing plants, Elisabeth Sigmund was also interested in medicine. She discovered this interest while on holiday with her family in Waidhofen an der Thaya (Lower Austria) in 1927. During their stay, she accompanied the local priest, Father Eßmeister, on his visits to remote, impoverished farms in his parish and helped him provide medical care to the cottagers (small farmers) who lived there. The experiences left her feeling so fulfilled that she wanted to become a doctor.
After training to be a Red Cross nurse in 1933/34, Elisabeth Sigmund studied medicine for two semesters at the University of Vienna before having to take time out as a result of illness. During this enforced interruption to her studies and after reading Rudolf Steiner’s paper “The Arts and their Mission”, she decided to become a cosmetician. Steiner said that a thing of beauty is something that reveals its inner being in its outer appearance (GA 276)*. With the help of these words, Elisabeth Sigmund’s love of both nourishing plants and aesthetics came together to form the passion for cosmetics that shaped her life.
Autodidactic cosmetics studies
From then on, Elisabeth Sigmund only attended selected medical lectures at university and began to devise her own cosmetics studies. There was no independent training to become a cosmetician. She attended courses at large cosmetics firms and worked at the Vienna cosmetics institute, Pessl, where she discovered all of the disadvantages of conventional treatments. She observed how facial massages weaken the facial muscles and how cleansing the skin with Vaseline (petrochemicals) blocks the pores. She realised that it was time to start creating her own skin care products based on nurturing plants.
Elisabeth Sigmund gained great knowledge of nurturing plants with an effect on the skin by reading the chapters on skin diseases in old medical books. She obtained the medical books from the Vienna university and national library, where her uncle, Edmund Pribik assisted her greatly. As a library employee he was able to pick out books that were not normally available to the public. She also visited the libraries of many convents where old medical books were simply gathering dust at the time. In the years leading up to 1939, she also completed a course in a Paris cosmetics laboratory in order to learn the trade of cosmetics development.
But what did Elisabeth Sigmund’s mother think of all this? She was extremely unhappy with the new path that her daughter had taken. Back then, for a girl from a good family to become a cosmetician was considered improper. As such, Elisabeth Sigmund was not allowed to mention to the profession she wished to pursue to her mother’s friends or acquaintances. But this did not stop her from following her dream.
Once Elisabeth Sigmund had decided on a career in cosmetics, she created her first serious cosmetic preparation: a face lotion based on a strong daisy tea that she made herself. She chose daisies because she found these meadow flowers described in a medical volume as a nourishing plant for women and for beautiful skin. With a little alcohol added, the tea improved her skin, which tended towards impurity at the time. Elisabeth Sigmund later expanded on this face lotion with other nurturing plants to create Dr. Hauschka Clarifying Toner. Daisy and nasturtium minimise the appearance of blackheads and blemishes, visibly refine pores and reduce excessive oiliness. Anthyllis balances skin for a calm, even appearance.
“All of my attempts at creating skin care products were always motivated by an interest in finding the plants that are good for and have a quasi healing effect on the skin.”
– Elisabeth Sigmund
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