A brief history of makeup

People used to paint their faces since prehistory, as evidenced by archaeological excavation that attest to this information. Most likely it was not made for decorative purposes as we do nowadays but either they painted their body to mark something, to write down a status, either as protection against spirits, or to belong to a certain group.

Evolving we reach Ancient Egypt. Ever since we learned about them in school, I have seen those drawings on the walls or sculptures with Tutankhamun, Cleopatra, Nefertiti and so on. That’s how I could see what these Egyptians looked like. Egyptians have always been fans for more makeup, they used it regardless of social status or gender. They were known for the use of perfumes, perfumes to remove unpleasant odors. About them we can say that they are the ones who “invented” the eyeliner. Because there was at that time the “Eye of Horus” which was supposed to have all kinds of magical and protective powers, they always wore this cat eye makeup, I would say.

They also discovered or invented the Kohl pencil, with a composition of ash, lead sulphate, if I remember correctly , and stibnite, burnt almonds, oil and other essential ingredients that I obviously don’t master so well.As makeup, they had two essential colours such as Galena black and Melakite green.

The eye of Horus

Arriving in Ancient Rome, they were not as “democratic” with makeup. Makeup was part of the daily routine only for prostitutes, a dubious social category. In other words, it was considered immoral. Even in the twentieth century, but throughout history, it was reserved only for those women.

Instead, on the skin care side, they had all kinds of ointments and jars of care products and wealth women hired what is called in Latin “cosmetae”, a kind of beautician who helped them perform the care ritual of the day

For the Greeks, things are a little different. The ideal of beauty was the man, not the woman. Women had no rights and the man was considered superior. They used a lead carbonate to whiten their faces, but this substance was very toxic, very often the men who used it died. For the eyes they used a kind of charcoal and a paint obtained from henna to colour their lips. In that period, the ideal of beauty represents the single eyebrow or the united eyebrows.

For Asians, the very white face of women was considered a sign of nobility. They used a kind of rice powder that they combined with water or other substances. The eyebrows were outlined in black and the lips were given a very strong red, but the lips were were drawn somehow smaller like those of the geishas we all know . Also in this period Asia, but especially in China, women used nail polish to mark the social status. The rich Chinese used golden nail polish while the poor did not have any colour.

A tradition I had no idea about, but which has been practiced since antiquity and till somewhere in the eighteenth century, it was considered beautiful in Asia for women to have black teeth.

The make-up of a Chinese noblewoman in the 17th century

Going further, we arrive shortly after the Middle Ages. Makeup during this period has lost some its popularity.

Queen Elisabeth, on the other hand, is the one who, using quite toxic cosmetics, died of mercury poisoning. Because she wanted a very white face and used all sorts of compositions with mercury, lead and other toxic substances, this is supposed to have killed her. It was also fashionable with a very wide forehead and some women even pulled their hair out.

The white skin was considered a sign of nobility, of the aristocracy because at that time those who had tanned skin were those who dealt with physical work. Also during this period, this passion was created for red cheeks, precisely because red leads to an area of youth, of freshness. It is also a very sexual colour.

If we talk about french Revolution and about Marie Antoinette who appeared represented in most paintings and not only her, we can see about the same charasteristics: a very white skin, the blush we were talking about a little above and the lips in a reddish colour. Then all short of white, grey wigs appeared, but during this period man could also enjoy makeup.

1783 Marie Antoinette holding a rose by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun on Versailles

In the Victorian Age, speaking here of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), it was a very serious, very austere period. Queen Victoria was a lady who did not wear makeup., so clearly makeup was immoral, something that only prostitutes used and actresses.

That was the brief history of makeup, until somewhere in the twentieth century. After this period it amplifies and develops extraordinarily much. The twentieth century is the strongest moment in the development of the beauty industry.
In the following article I will talk about some important pioneers in the history and evolution of makeup.

Sources: the vlog of Andreea Balaban – “The history and evolution of makeup”


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