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The Origins Of Cosmetics

Info: 2617 words (10 pages) Essay
Published: 1st Jan 2015 in History

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Have we come full circle with materials from the earth that has given as the basis for cosmetics as they did thousands of years ago? This can be answered by exploring the history of how cosmetics began. I have little knowledge about the history of cosmetics, but do have some knowledge of why people choose to wear cosmetics today. I know that most people choose to wear makeup today because they are influenced by people that wear makeup on TV, movies and magazines also, cosmetics are the easiest and most common way to enhance facial features. There is so much for me to learn about makeup but first I want to learn why people chose to wear makeup and what the purpose the purpose of cosmetics was.

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I began my first search at El Dorado County Office of Education where I search online for the history of makeup. The first site I visited was makeup-artist-world.com, which was about the history of makeup. This website had information on how Egyptians were the first to document the importance of face makeup as an important part of culture as seen in the discovery of ancient Egyptian tomb paintings. There was also information about natural ingredients Egyptians used like unguent, a hydrating substance, and kohl soot, to beautify the skin and appearance. Egyptians were not the only ones well aware of the beauty of soft skin and seductive eyes. The Romans also showed the use of Kohl for eye and eyelash makeup. The Romans also used chalk as a skin whitener and rouge. I visited another website named makeupsuccess.com. On this website I learned that women of Egypt decorated their eyes by applying dark green color to the under lid and blackening their lashes and upper lid with kohl. It is believed that Jews adopted the use of makeup from Egyptians, since references to the painting of faces appear in the New Testament in the bible. This website was also about how the Roman women wore white lead and chalk on their faces. Persian influences added the use of henna dyes to stain their faces and hair with the belief that these dyes enabled them to summon the majesty of the earth. I went to one more website, cyonic-nemeton/cosmetic.html. This site had information about dyes and paints Egyptians used to color the skin, body, and hair. Egyptians rouged their lips and cheeks, stained their nails with henna, and lined their eyes and eyebrows heavily with kohl. Kohl was a dark-colored powder made of crushed antimony, burnt almonds, lead, oxidized copper, ochre, ash, malachite, chrysocolia, a blue-green copper. The upper and lower eyelids were painted in a line that extended to the sides of the face for an almond effect. It was believed that kohl eyeliner could restore poor eyesight and reduce eye infection. This website was also about cosmetics Egyptians used for hygiene and health. Oils and creams were used for protection against the hot Egyptian sun and dry winds. Myrrh, thyme, marjoram, chamomile, lavender, lily, peppermint, rosemary, cedar, rose, aloe, olive oil, sesame oil and almond oil provided the basic ingredients of most perfumes. Perfumed oil was used to prevent the skin from drying out in the harsh climate. I also learned that Egyptians believed that cleanliness is godliness, and that bad breath and body odor was grounds for shame. Perfumes made the body function perfectly. Egyptians believed that to smell beautifully was a sign of holiness, and only perfect-smelling people would be received by the gods when they died.

The next search I did was at my home. I started by searching “Cosmetics”, and the first site that I visited was webmd.com. This site explained homemade cosmetics used by women. Women used burnt matches to darken their eyes, berries to stain their lips and young boy urine to fade their freckles, and swallow ox blood to attempt to improve complexions. The site was also about how a lot of the homemade cosmetics were toxic and deadly. Women used arsenic, lead, mercury and leeches to give themselves the pale appearance. In the 18th century makeup got heavier then and medical complications occurred. Tooth decay, adverse skin conditions, and poisonings were often caused by the use of dangerous makeup. Lead and sulfur, mercury, and white lead were frequent difficulties in the medical world. I also learned that in Elizabethan England, cosmetics were seen as a health threat because many thought that cosmetics would block vapors and energy from circulating properly. I continued searching for more information and found a website called cometicshistory.com. On this site I found that in the relics of Babylon, experts had unearthed white lead that was most likely applied as a foundation to make the face look lighter or whiter. The Greeks were found to have been using the white lead for the purpose of enhancing their skin tones. I found that on this site that to make their eyes bright women would eat small amounts of arsenic or washed their eyes with orange and lemon juice or even rinsed their eyes with the juice of the poisonous nightshade.

The third search I did was at the public library. I could not find many books on cosmetics but I did find one called The Beauty of Color by IMAN. In this book I read that pale skin was a mare of gentility, it meant that a lady could afford not to work outdoors getting sun tanned which was then considered vulgar and coarse. Work in the sun and harsh weather coarsened the skin then as it does now. To protect the complexion, parasols were used and rooms were shuttered with dark heavy velvet curtains to keep out sun rays. At times effort was made to keep the neckline in good condition as it was often exposed in evening dresses. Fine blue lines would be painted on the skin to increase the appearance of delicate translucent skin showing veins. It became fashionable to look as though you were suffering from Tuberculosis. The white skin, flushed cheeks, and luminous eye of the illness was imitated with white lead and rouge. Pale skin became known as a sign of wealth and stature in society. Fashionable women would achieve the look by making themselves bleed. Spanish prostitutes wore pink makeup to contrast with high-class women’s pale faces and Italian women wore pink lipstick to show they could afford synthetic makeup.

To find more information about the pale look I decided to use one of the library computers. The first website I visited was vintageconnection.net. On this site I read that Grecian women painted their faces with white lead and used crushed mulberries for rouge. In the Roman Empire, women applied pastes of narcissus, lentil, honey, wheat, and eggs to achieve pale complexions. For evening wear, chalk and white lead were applied to the skin, along with rouge. By the middle ages, women were still striving for the fashionably pale look. The “Great Cover Up” was when first, white paint was applied, and then white powder, then a brownish rouge, and red lip color. Another type of “The Great Cover Up” is beauty patches. Beauty patches were pieces of velvet or silk cut into the shape of stars, moons, hearts, and similar figures. These patches were applied to the face and body to cover smallpox scars, and similar marks. Another use of these patches was “secret language”. A patch near the mouth meant you were flirtatious, one next to the right cheek signaled you were married, one on the left cheek announced you were engaged, and one at the corner of the eye meant you were somebody’s mistress.

I visited one more site, and it was an article about the history of makeup, it was on buzzle.com. In this article it says that women in the Far East, especially the Japanese and Chinese, stained their faces with a powder derived from rice to make their complexions pasty white, while both men and women of the aristocratic classes in Europe applied white lead and chalk powders to achieve the same ghostly effect.

I did another search at the Tanglewood Village office on the computer. This time I searched for makeup in during the Victorian times. The first site I found was fashion-era.com. The site talked about women in the 19th century. It said that these women liked to be thought of as fragile ladies. They compared themselves to delicate flowers and emphasized their delicacy and femininity. They always tried to look pale and interesting. For these women paleness could be induced by drinking vinegar and avoiding fresh air and sometimes used a little rouge on the cheeks. Makeup was frowned upon in general, especially during the 1870’s when social etiquette became more rigid. However, actresses were allowed to use makeup and famous beauties could be powdered. This website also said that in the 19th century natural makeup became fashionable. Victorian propriety denounced excessive makeup as the mark of “loose” women. Lip and cheek rouge were considered scandalous; instead of their use, beauty books of the era suggested women bite their lips and pinch their cheeks vigorously before entering a room. The Victorian face was in fashion until mass makeup marketing hit in the 1920’s. American women gained the vote, and the newly liberated woman showed how free she was by displaying her right to speak out; red lipstick practically became a social necessity. Lipstick grew redder throughout the 1930’s changing color every year.

The second site I visited was lifestyle.iloveindia.com. This site was about the history of lipstick. I learned that the origin or lipstick can be cited as 5000 years ago, in the ancient city of UR, near Babylon. During this time, semi-precious stones were crushed and smeared on the lips as lipstick. The ancient Egyptian women squeezed out purple-red color from iodine and bromine, leading to serious diseases. It became known as ‘the kiss of death’. It is said that Cleopatra’s lipstick was made from carmine beetles mixed with ant eggs, to provide shimmer to the lipstick fish scales were used. During the 16th century, the lipstick became quite popular in England, under the rule of Queen Elizabeth I. She introduced the trend of chalk white faces, teamed with blood red lipstick. At this time, lipstick was made from beeswax and plants. I learned that in 1770, England’s parliament passed a law against lipstick, stating that women who seduced men into marriage by means of makeup could be tried as witches. However, lipstick became a craze after World War II, owing to the encouragement given by the film industry. In 1930 Hazel Bishop introduced the kiss-proof lipstick. During this time lipstick was made out of waxes, emollients, pigments, and various oils.

The fifth search I did was at Borders bookstore. I found a book named Allure by Linda Wells. In this book I read that the 20th century finally brought about the use of softer cosmetics. Doctors began working with cosmetic companies to ensure safer standards, and safety became a popular selling point in advertisements. The turn of the century also brought about a new freedom of choice to wear “excessive” or “natural” makeup as the wearer desired. The 1920’s also brought about another revolution, the tan. Women no longer strived for the pale look. While the wealthy prided themselves on not working, and therefore staying indoors, resulting in a pale complexion, the wealthy of the 1920’s prided themselves on not working and going outside to play. The rich now laid about in the sun, making their skin golden. Suddenly everyone longed for that “healthy” bronzed look. I read that with the rise of mass media, television, cinema pictures, and transportation, the makeup industry grew by leaps and bound. By the 1930’s makeup was available to women of all social classes. Today’s multibillion dollar cosmetic industry must meet strict government regulations about what it can and cannot include in products and must follow safe manufacturing guidelines. The last thing I read was that even though makeup has been used one way or another for thousands of years, makeup as it is today really got its foundation from one man. He is referred to as the “Father of Modern Makeup”. He was intimately associated with the making up of many Hollywood actresses and in fact, gave them their signature looks and created makeup specifically them. His name was Max Factor. Max Factor created many of the modern products we still use today; he is even credited with inventing the phrase “makeup”.

The last search I did was an interview with a makeup artist about women wearing makeup today. The makeup artist I interviewed was Shauna Hixenbaugh. Shauna explained that the reasons why women wear makeup are to make themselves more attractive and to be more feminine and sexually appealing. She said it’s to express their creativity, their beauty, to hide what they don’t like about themselves and accentuate what they do like about themselves. There is no correlation between makeup and self-esteem, while there are women who wear makeup that also have bad self-esteem, which can be said of any group, including women who wear no makeup at all. There are also women who wear makeup and love themselves, for exactly who they are. “Just because I wear makeup, it doesn’t mean that I have low self-esteem, am ugly, am high-maintenance, have something to hide”, said Shauna. Shauna believes it’s time to stop these negative stereotypes. She says to talk highly of yourself, mention how you like your lips, whether they have lipstick or not, and if someone talks badly about you or other women who wear makeup, give them a swift talking-to!

From Egyptian’s homemade earthy, deadly and toxic cosmetics to today’s mineral, earthy, formulas that are environmentally safe have dominated the face makeup industry, we’ve come to a full circle with cosmetics. All the information I learned about the origin of makeup helped me come to a better understanding of why people chose to wear cosmetics in the first place and why people still chose to wear them. I also understand that there are many purposes of cosmetics. The interview with Shauna inspires me to want to go and not only do peoples makeup but to help them realize that with or without makeup it doesn’t matter what they look like, what matters is what they know about themselves that makes them beautiful.


“History of Lipstick.” Life Style Lounge. Iloveindia.com. Web. 2010.

“History of Makeup.” Makeup-artist-world.com. Web. 2006.

“History of Makeup.” Makeupsuccess.com. Web. 2011.

“Modes In Makeup.” Vintageconnection.net. 1990. Web. 2004.

Hixenbaugh, Shauna. Personal Interview. 8 Oct. 2010

IMAN. The Beauty of Color. New York, New York; 2005. Print.

Narada, Ty. “Ancient Cosmetics and Fragrances.” Cyonic-nemeton/cosmetics.html. Web.

Rupkalvis, Michael. “The History of Makeup.” Buzzle.com. 2000. Web. 2010.

Spicoli, Al J. “Makeup Now and Then.” Cosmeticshistory.com. 2010. Web. 16 April. 2010.

Thomas, Pauline Weston. “Makeup Fashion History before 1950.” 2001. Web. 2010.

Wells, Linda. Allure: Confessions of a Beauty Editor. New York, New York; 2006. Print.

Wheately, Michael J. “Skin and Beauty.” Webmd.com. 2005. Web. 19 Sept. 2009.


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