We’re kicking off Friday Favorites with one of my favorite subjects: makeup. In that regard, I’m posting below an article I wrote on the history of makeup, which has been by far my most popular article. It’s even been republished in the book Exploring Beauty by Joanne Strobert. Hope you enjoy!
In order to understand the constantly changing trends in cosmetics, it is interesting to take a look at the evolutation of makeup. Women and men(!) have been wearing cosmetics for centuries, although the styles have certainly undergone some dramatic changes over time. Let’s take a look at how cosmetics evolved.
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.
Roman philosopher Plautus (254-184 BC) wrote, “A woman without paint is like food without salt.” Of course, Plautus was a dramatist, which would explain his preference for the look of a “painted woman” at that time.
Romans widely used cosmetics by the middle of the 1st century AD. Kohl 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.
During the Italian Renaissance, lead pain was used to lighten the face, which was very damaging to the wearer. Aqua Toffana was a popular face powder named for its creator, Signora Toffana. Made from arsenic, Signora Toffana instructed her rich clientele to apply the makeup only when their husbands were around. It’s interesting to note that Tofana was executed some six hundred dead husbands later.
Cosmetics were seen as a health threat in Elizabethan England, although women wore egg whites over their faces for a glazed look.
During the reign of Charles II, heavy makeup began to surface as a means to contradict the pallor from being inside due to illness epidemics.
During the French Restoration in the 18th century, red rouge and lipstick were used to give the impression of a healthy, fun-loving spirit. Eventually, people in other countries became repulsed by excessive makeup and claimed the “painted” French had something to hide.
During the Regency era, the most important item was rouge, which was used by most everyone. At that time, eyebrows were blackened and hair was dyed. To prevent a low hairline, a forehead bandage dipped in vinegar in which cats dung had been steeped was worn. Most of the country dwellers’ makeup recipes made use of herbs, flowers, fat, brandy, vegetables, spring water and, of course, crushed strawberries. During this era, white skin signified a life of leisure while skin exposed to the sun indicated a life of outdoor labor. In order to maintain a pale complexion, women wore bonnets, carried parasols, and covered all visible parts of their bodies with whiteners and blemish removers. Unfortunately, more than a few of these remedies were lethal.
The most dangerous beauty aids during this time were white lead and mercury. They not only eventually ruined the skin but also caused hair loss, stomach problems, the shakes, and could even cause death. Although these dangers became known through the death of courtesan Kitty Fisher, the majority of women continued to use these deadly whiteners.
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.
It might interest you to know that men wore makeup until the 1850’s. George IV spent a fortune on cold cream, powders, pastes, and scents. However, not all men wore makeup, as many looked upon a man with rouged cheeks as a dandy.
Here are some beauty-tip recipes utilized during the late 1800’s:
*For freckle removal: bruise and squeeze the juice out of chick-weed, add three times its quantity of soft water, then bathe the skin for five to ten minutes morning and evening.
*As a wash for the complexion: one teaspoon of flour of sulphur and a wine glassful of lime water, well shaken and mixed with half a wine-glass of glycerine and a wine-glass of rose-water. Rub on the face every night before going to bed.
*To keep hair from turning gray: four ounces of hulls of butternuts were infused with a quart of water, to which half an ounce of copperas was added. This was to be applied with a soft brush every two to three days.
*For wrinkle removal: melt one ounce of white wax, add two ounces of juice of lily-bulbs, two ounces of honey, two drams of rose-water, and a drop or two of ottar of roses and use twice a day.
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. As a beauty regimen, a woman would pluck her eyebrows, massage castor oil into her eyelashes, use rice powder to dust her nose, and buff her nails to a shine. Lipstick was not used, but clear pomade would be applied to add sheen. However some of these products contained a dye to discretely enhance natural lip color. For a healthy look, red beet juice would be rubbed into the cheeks, or the cheeks would be pinched (out of sight, of course). For bright eyes, a drop of lemon juice in each eye would do the trick. When makeup began to resurface, full makeup was still seen as sinful, although natural tones were accepted to give a healthy, pink-cheek look.
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. The first mascara formulated was named after Mabel, the sister of its creator, T. L. Williams, who utilized this method. This mascara is known today as Maybelline. In 1914, Max Factor introduced his pancake makeup. Vogue featured Turkish women using henna to outline their eyes, and the movie industry immediately took interest. This technique made the eyes look larger, and the word “vamp” became associated with these women, vamp being short for vampire.
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. Also, during this time, lipstick was tattooed onto the lips by George Burchett, who was also known as the “Beauty Doctor”. This method did not always work, and you can imagine the terrible consequences.
The earliest version of an acid peel was utilized at this time, which was a combination of acid and electric currents applied to the skin. Also, a needle would be used to insert paraffin to the eye area and cheeks, although this, too, was not very successful. Nivea cream made its appearance in Germany, and companies, in order to compete, began creating creams consisting of Vaseline mixed with fragrance.