The history of cosmetics dates back to at least 7,000 years and is present in almost every society on earth. Cosmetic body art was the earliest form of a ritual in human culture. Early humans used red mineral pigments (red ochre) for body paint. In ancient Egypt and Greece, Romans used castor oil as a protective balm, beeswax, olive oil and rosewater as skin cream. Cosmetics were also mentioned in the Old Testament—2 Kings 9:30 where Jezebel painted her eyelids—approximately 840 BC—and the book of Esther describes various beauty treatments as well. Lead-based formulas were applied to whiten the skin and kohl was used to line the eyes.
Let’s take a look at how cosmetic were used in certain parts of the World.
In Ancient Egypt people were already worried about their age. Wrinkles were treated with frankincense and moringa. For scars and burns, a special cream was made of red ochre, kohl, and sycamore juice. To improve breath, people chewed herbs or frankincense. Archeologists found remains of lotion making tools with traces of beeswax and resin on them. They also used these products for the mummification process, which was a common process to make the dead invulnerable in their afterlife.
In Persia (today known as Iran), kohl was used widely to darken the edges of the eyelids similar to eyeliner. The rise of Islam restricted the use of cosmetics in this area, however, there is no absolute prohibition on wearing cosmetics according to the Islamic law. In the Al-Tasrif medical encyclopedia, which was written in the 10th century, a whole chapter is dedicated to cosmetics as the Medicine of Beauty. This chapter details the creation and use of perfumes, scented aromatics and incense.
Chinese people painted their fingernails with natural ingredients as early as 3000 BC. The colours represented social class: Chou dynasty (first millennium BC) royals wore gold and silver and the forthcoming royals wore black or red. The lower classes were forbidden to wear bright colours on their nails.
Flowers play an important decorative role in China. According to a legend, a plum blossom left a floral imprint on Princess Shouyang’s forehead while she was resting under the plum trees in the garden of Hanzhang Palace. The court ladies were so impressed, that they started decorating their own foreheads with a small delicate plum blossom design. This is also the mythical origin of the floral fashion, that originated in the Southern Dynasties (420–589) and became popular amongst ladies in the Tang (618–907) and Song (960–1279) dynasties.
In Mongolia, women of royal families painted red spots on the center of their cheeks, right under their eyes. In Japan, geisha women created blush from safflower petals and they used it to paint their eyebrows, the corner of their eyes and their lips. They used wax as makeup base and made foundation from rice powder.
In the Roman Empire of Europe, the use of cosmetics was common among prostitutes and rich women. In the Middle Ages, however wearing makeup was claimed to be sinful and immoral by the Church. From the Renaissance up until the 20th century, pale face became an indicator of high social status. This was, because typically low-class workers spent more time outside in the sun, so those in noble positions were less tanned. Thus, many people tried to lighten their skin by using white powder. Apart from that, a variety of products were used, including poisonous white paint with arsenic which led to severe injuries or even to death.
Native American tribes painted their faces for ceremonial events or battle and similar practices were followed by the Australian aboriginals.
We can now see how many things were associated with cosmetics before. The wider access of information brought enlightened thinking and freedom was granted for makeup too. Today we can use quality makeup in various styles, so we should be thankful for all these early inventions.
During the early 1900s, makeup was not excessively popular and women hardly wore makeup at all. Around 1910, make-up became fashionable in the United States of America and Europe owing to the influence of ballet and theatre stars. The Daily Mirror was one of the first to suggest using an eyeliner to elongate the eye and an eyelash curler to accentuate the lashes. In the 1920s, actress Theda Bara had a substantial effect on the makeup industry by wearing mascara. This was seen as an opportunity by the mass-market, especially by Max Factor, Sr. and Elizabeth Arden. World War I made cosmetic surgery popular while during World War II, cosmetics were in short supply. During the 1960s and 1970s, the rise of feminism promoted the make-up free movement and this was essential for the new level in the makeup evolution: the natural look.
Beauty products are now widely available both online and offline and we love all of them.
Although makeup was seen as many things in the past, one thing is for sure: Makeup is power. We, as women have to tame this power and learn how to use it for our own good. Makeup evolution turned out pretty well as I couldn’t imagine a better look than a natural makeup with a nice dress on.