Evolution of Cosmetics
THE ancient practice of putting on make-up is just as relevant today as it was thousands of years before.
The first evidence of cosmetics was found in the excavated tombs of Ancient Egyptian pharaohs. The high class and royalty enjoyed a selection of cosmetic products including face creams, perfumed oils, eyeliners, hair paints, castor oil, lipsticks and lipgloss. Unlike today, it was the social norm in Ancient Egypt for both men and women to wear make-up. The statutes of gods and goddesses had painted faces and the more make-up they wore the higher their status. A huge emphasis was placed on the eye area. Kohl, a mixture of soot and the natural mineral, galena, was used to achieve an almond eye look. Green eye paint was made from the toxic chemical, lead. Apart from cosmetic reasons, eye make-up was also used for medicinal and spiritual purposes. Kohl was believed to prevent eye diseases and the green eye make-up was said to evoke the eye of Horus, the God of the Sky and the Sun. The dye, henna was used to paint nails and colour hair.
Cosmetic products were traded by Egypt to the Mediterranean countries. The wealthy and high class wore white powder on their face and wigs and women wore rouge on their cheeks. Only some Roman men wore make up. Modern ingredients including beeswax, olive oil and rosewater were used in Ancient Rome to moisturise the skin. A British invention called the cosmetic grinder was used to abstract dye from plants by grinding them. The dye was then used to paint the eyebrows.
Make up was used mostly for adornment of the features. Dark, extended eyebrows, pale face, red cheeks and lips made up the popular look of Ancient Rome.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, cosmetics became less popular. Poverty and sickness was rampant throughout Europe while the rise of Christianity prevented the make-up trend from spreading. During her reign, English Queen, Elizabeth I caused a brief resurgence of make up among the royalty and aristocrats. She wore brightly coloured lips and white powder on her face.
Make-up would have appeared as face paint in texture and look. Women whose complexions were darkened by the sun used a whitening substance on their face. Often cosmetics were harmful to the body and contained poisonous ingredients such as mercury and lead. Vermilion, an orange red, was a popular shade of lip colour. The colour pigment was applied using egg whites. To make the eyes brighter some women washed their eyes with orange or lemon juice. The idolised pale look persisted into the late 18th and mid 19th century.
Excessive make-up was pushed aside for the natural look in the late 19th century. Bright facial make up and nail paint were associated with prostitutes. In particular, lip and cheek rouge were scandalous. Beauty tips of the time encouraged women to bite down on their lips and pinch their cheeks to add some colour to their face. In the last part of the 19th century, safer and more varied cosmetics were produced due to the Industrial revolution and advancements in chemistry. A noteworthy advancement from the era was zinc facial powder, a safer alternative to the previously used lead/copper based powder.
The 1920’s marked the turning point for cosmetics. Due to affordable mass marketed cosmetics, make-up was no longer exclusive to the higher classes. Also the ingredients in cosmetics were much safer for human use. The 20’s saw the re-emergence of brightly coloured lipstick, including the kiss-proof range. The first liquid nail polish, the rouge blush and the powder compact were introduced also.
More significantly, the tanned look took off. People sunbathed to achieve the ‘healthy’ bronzed look. Being tanned was a symbol of wealth as only the rich travelled and lay out in the sun all day. Coco Chanel popularised the tanned look and was quoted in 1929 as saying “A girl simply has to be tanned.”
In the 60’s, the bigger the eyelashes were the better. The eyes were always the main focus. Mascara was heavily applied to the lashes and the eye shadow was often green or blue. A dark shade for the lips was generally avoided and pale or glittery lip gloss used instead. In the 21st century we have the greatest choice in terms of cosmetics. We can purchase organic make up or non-animal tested cosmetics. Unlike our 18th century ancestors who unknowingly poisoned their bodies with lead face cream, we enjoy safer alternatives such as dermatologically tested moisturisers. It appears make-up trends change more rapidly now then in former centuries. Maybe this reflects the fast paced, hectic lifestyle of this era.
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