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A Brief History Of Makeup

Women, and occasionally men, have been applying different kinds of makeup and cosmetics for most of recorded human history. From the Ancient Egyptians and Romans to Post-Renaissance England, makeup and cosmetics have been used to address health concerns and imitate the ideal standard of beauty in that time period – Not always in a way similar to that of today’s cosmetics.

Makeup in Ancient Cultures

In 10,000 BC, the people of Ancient Egypt used perfumed oils and creams to cover body stench and moisturize skin – which was necessary in the hot desert sun and winds. The people also utilized scents or perfumes during religious rituals. The more common ingredients included: Almond oil, aloe, cedar, chamomile, lavender, lily, marjoram, myrrh, olive oil, peppermint, rose, sesame oil, and thyme.

Around 4,000 BCE new products are invented for the women of Ancient Egypt. Galena Mesdemet and Malachite were used for color, the former being made of the ore of lead and copper, and the latter from various green copper minerals. An ancestor of common eyeliner called Kohl was also invented at this time. It combined ash, burnt almonds, different-colored copper ores, lead, ochre, and oxidized.

Chinese people in 3,000 BCE began wearing a kind of nail polish, a stain made with beeswax, egg, gelatin, and gum arabic. Grecian women of about the same time period would lighten their skin with a white lead paint and rouge their cheeks with crushed mulberries. These same Grecian women would also use fake eyebrows, oftentimes made with oxen hair, to look fashionable. In 1,500 BC Chinese and Japanese people would whiten their faces with rice powder, paint their teeth black or gold, shave off their eyebrows, and use henna to stain their faces and hair. Around 1,000 BCE, people of Greece would also whiten their faces, but they used a white lead powder or chalk. They also began to form an early form of lipstick out of red iron and ochre clays.

Pre-Renaissance Cosmetics

Romans of 100 AD would put a mixture of butter and barley flour on their acne, and sheep blood and fat was used as a stain to color their nails. It also became fashionable for Roman men to dye their hair blonde. Between 300 and 400 AD henna was used both in India and some North African cultures both as hair dye and a skin dye in elaborate painted designs on the women in their culture. Women in Elizabethan England began to dye their hair red and lighten their faces with egg whites.

Renaissance and Post-Renaissance Makeup

Between 1400 and 1500 AD the aristocrats of Europe alone are permitted to use cosmetics, and they use powders made of lead or arsenic and perfumes. Queen Elizabeth of England famously used white lead for her “Mask of Youth”, although in the 1800s lead would be replaced with zinc oxide. This is also the time period in which blond hair became more popular, and a dye of alum, black Sulphur, and honey was used to lighten it.

After this time, Queen Victoria announced that makeup would be seen as obtrusive and only acceptable for the use of actors on stage. However, since beauty standards did not decrease with this declaration and women were still expected to look youthful and ideally flawless, the use of cosmetics and beauty salons did not die out in post-Renaissance England.