Understanding The Background Of Makeup

Brief history of makeup

Makeup or cosmetics, are substances or products used to enhance the appearance or fragrance of the body. Many cosmetics are designed for use of applying to the face, body and hair.
They are generally mixtures of chemical compounds; some being derived from natural sources (such as coconut oil), and some being synthetics. Common cosmetics include lipstick, mascara, eye shadow, foundation, rouge, skin cleansers and skin lotions, shampoo, hairstyling products (gel, hair spray, etc.), perfume and cologne.

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates cosmetics, defines cosmetics as “intended to be applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance without affecting the body’s structure or functions”.

Women and men have been wearing cosmetics for centuries, although the styles have certainly undergone some dramatic changes over time.
The earliest historical record of makeup comes from the 1st Dynasty of Egypt (c.3100-2907 BC). Tombs from this era have revealed unguent jars, which in later periods were scented.
Unguent was a substance extensively used by men and women to keep their skin hydrated and supple and to avoid wrinkles from the dry heat.

The women of Egypt also decorated their eyes by applying dark green color to the under lid and blackening the lashes and the upper lid with kohl. Which was made from antimony (a metallic element) or soot.
It is believed that the Jews adopted the use of makeup from the Egyptians. Since references to the painting of faces appear in the New Testament section of the Bible.

Romans widely used cosmetics by the middle of the 1st century AD. Was used for darkening eyelashes and eyelids, chalk was used for whitening the complexion, and rouge was worn on the cheek.

Depilatories were utilized at that time and pumice was used for cleaning the teeth.

Women wore white lead and chalk on their faces in Greco-Roman society. Persian women used henna dyes to stain their hair and faces with the belief that these dyes enabled them to summon the majesty of the earth.
During the European middle ages, pale skin was a sign of wealth. Sixth century women sought drastic measures to achieve that look by bleeding themselves, although, in contrast, Spanish prostitutes wore pink makeup. Thirteenth century affluent women donned pink lipstick as proof they could afford synthetic makeup.


Cosmetics were seen as a health threat in Elizabethan England. Although women wore egg whites over their faces for a glazed look.

During the 1800’s, women would use belladonna to make their eyes appear more luminous, even though they were aware it was poisonous. Many cosmetics were made by local pharmacists, known as apothecaries in England, and common ingredients included mercury and nitric acid. Hair dye was made from coal tar, which is now illegal in America.
Victorians abhorred makeup and associated its use with prostitutes and actresses (many considered them one and the same). Any visible hint of tampering with one’s natural color would be looked upon with disdain. At that time, a respectable woman would use home-prepared face masks. Most of which were based on foods such as oatmeal, honey, and egg yolk. For cleansing, rosewater or scented vinegars were used.

The real evolution actually began during the 1910’s. By then, women made their own form of mascara by adding hot beads of wax to the tips of their eyelashes.

Some women would use petroleum jelly for this purpose.

During this decade, the first pressed powders were introduced which included a mirror and puff for touchups. Pressed powder blush followed soon after. The lipstick metal case, invented by Maurice Levy, became popular.

However, the Victorian look remained in fashion until mass makeup marketing came about during the 1920’s. During this decade, lip gloss was introduced by Max Factor. New shades of red lipstick were developed, although were soap-based and very drying. The first eyelash curler came on the scene, called Kurlash.
From the 1930’s through the 1950’s, various movie stars proved to be the models for current trends in makeup. With the ’60’s and the hippies came a more liberated makeup look.

In today’s world, a woman has literally hundreds of cosmetics to choose from, with a wide variety of colors and uses. For a younger look, the options available are as simple as skin hydrators and rejuvenators, advancing to chemical skin peels, the now-popular Botox, collagen injections, and ending with the more-drastic surgical facelift.