The use of makeup and beauty products can possibly be traced all the way back to the Stone Age, some 100,000 years ago, where evidence of red pigments that have been found that are believed to have been used in a primitive makeup. Though no one can be sure that those Stone Age pigments were used on the body, we can be sure that makeup was certainly used by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians.
Makeup has been used throughout the years, both as a way to adorn the body, and often for its mystical or religious significance. Today, makeup is a multi-billion pound industry and cosmetics are readily available, but in ancient times, they had to make do with what they had to hand. Those early forms of makeup, though, lead to what we use today, so here are 12 interesting facts about the history of makeup.
1. Nail polish was invented in China
The ancient Egyptians are known to have coloured their nails with Henna, but it is believed that the first nail polish was used in China in around 3000 BC. This early form of nail polish was a lacquer made from gum, beeswax, egg whites and coloured pigments.
2. The ancient Egyptians used kohl for eye makeup
The ancient Egyptians used kohl, which was made with sheep fat, lead and ash, to decorate their eyes. The use of eye makeup in Egypt had practical benefits and religious significance, as well as being just a cosmetic. The darkened eyes were believed to ward off evil spirits, but they also helped to deflect the glare from bright Egyptian sun and stop dust and bacteria from getting into the eyes.
3. In Victorian times, ladies did not wear makeup
There was a period in the Victorian era when upper class ladies didn’t wear any makeup at all. This was because the ladies of breeding thought the only women who wore makeup were either stage actresses or prostitutes!
4. The Romans and Greeks stained their cheeks
Both the Romans and the ancient Greeks prized a pale complexion, combined with rosy cheeks. They invented the forerunner to modern day blusher. The Roman women used to stain their cheeks with red wine, while the Greeks stained their cheeks with juice they extracted from berries.
5. Women went to extreme lengths to look pale
Women strived for a pale complexion for centuries, because a sun tan suggested that you worked in the fields. In the ancient times, women would use leeches, or other forms of bleeding, to make them look pale. Later on they began to use chalk and other whitening ingredients, including hydroxide and lead oxide. The tan didn’t really become popular until the 20th century.
6. The hairless look was the trend in the 1400’s
If you’ve ever wondered why the Mona Lisa has no eyebrows, it’s not because she got a bit carried away with the tweezers! It was fashionable in the 1400’s for a woman to have no facial hair at all, so they shaved off their eyebrows completely, and they shaved their foreheads too.
7. Makeup was very toxic in the 1800’s
We worry about the toxic ingredients in modern cosmetics, but in the 1800’s, makeup was really, seriously, toxic stuff. Many of the ingredients used in makeup were poisonous, including lead, mercury and arsenic. The price that some women paid to look beautiful included hair loss and more serious medical conditions.
8. The Romans hated wrinkles too
Anti-ageing products are nothing new and the ancient Romans are known to despise wrinkles and skin blemishes. To keep their skin wrinkle free and young looking, they used, amongst other things, asses’ milk, snails’ ashes and swan fat.
9. The Elizabethans use tar as makeup
The Elizabethans used tar for makeup. They used the sticky black tar as their equivalent of eyebrow pencils, eyeliner and mascara. The problem with it was that tar smells awful, it’s a sticky mess to try and get off again and it is highly flammable. Tar is also very toxic; it was known to cause blindness too, as well being a sticky mess to remove.
10. The first red makeup was made out of beetles
To colour their lips and nails bright red, the ancient Egyptians used the ground up bodies of cochineal beetles. Before you breathe too much of a sigh of relief that you don’t live in ancient times, it might interest you to know that cochineal is still used in cosmetics today to make red makeup, and fish scales are still used to add shimmer. Makeup has come a long way, but we still use some of the same ingredients that have been used for centuries.
11. Modern mascara is invented by Rimmel
During the 1900s, the commercial cosmetics industry began to grow substantially. In 1913, mascara that’s packaged as we know it today was developed by the French chemist and perfumer Eugène Rimmel. The product was a bit messy and inconsistent, but it was non-toxic and became popular across Europe. Worldwide acceptance of mascara came when T.L. Williams developed a similar packaging for his new company, Maybelline. In the later 1900s, makeup became a way for women to express themselves. Women wore makeup that suited their style and taste, and didn’t strictly stick to the trends.
12. The Super-Curled Lashes
While there’s discrepancy over who exactly invented the eyelash curler, a 1931 patent claims it was William McDonell who called it the Kurlash. It wasn’t too different from the curling wonders of today—made of stainless steel and modeled after scissors. They become very popular as they curled the lashes within seconds and were relatively inexpensive. In 1933, the term mascara came into play and Maybelline designed a 10-cent package sold in drugstores.