Whether you hate it or love it, Im sure make-up has entered your life at some point and with the numerous commercials, magazine advertisements and billboards its hard to escape its grasp. I for one have always loved the art of make-up and from a young age was constantly sucked in to buying the latest innovations in foundations and mascaras or anything. This glamorous and at times unattainable industry constantly sucks me in and makes me want to look like the models walking down the runways or to try and conform to what society deems to be beautiful in fashion at that time. Some people might find that shocking or some feminists might tell you its an industry created by men for women and men our indadvertedly telling us women what to look like, but for me its not about that, its just fun. I have decided to write a blog post on the origins of make-up and I hope all my fellow beauty addicts enjoy it!
The first origins of make-up dated as far back as the ancient Egyptians in 1332BC. Everything about the ancient lives of Egyptians had some connection or interlinking to their spiritual beliefs or their spiritual afterlives – even their use of makeup. The Egyptian uses of makeup are much more than just enhancing their features or protecting their skin. In tombs, cosmetic palettes were found buried with the deceased as grave goods which further emphasised the idea that cosmetics were not only used for aesthetic purposes but rather magical and religious purposes.
Ancient Egyptians wore cosmetics regardless of gender or status, as they believed that cosmetics had magical power. They made green eye-paint by using malachite, which is a copper ore, a carbonate mineral, copper carbonate hydroxide, which has a very vibrant green colour. they used this green eye paint to ward off evil spirits and protect their eyes from eye-diseases. They also lined their eyes with a wooden stick using galena and kohl – which created a black eye-liner. This idea of lining the eyes was purposely done to create an almond eye shape which represents the falcon eye of the God of Horus. The eye of Horus was believed by the Egyptians to have magical protective powers from the myth of the battle of Horus.
Moreover, the ancient Egyptians, especially royalty, wished to preserve their youthfulness and be always depicted in an ideal state of art as part of their divine nature. They used oils such as castor oil, sesame oil and Moringa oil in their daily skin care regimen to fight wrinkles and for personal hygiene. Their favourite colours were black, green and purple.
If you look closely at this gold bust of Tutankhamun, you will notice exaggerated winged black kohl liner surrounded by green eye-paint. Even to this day we take on bored the art of make-up from the ancient Egyptians with our own use of eye shadows and black eye-liners to accentuate our own eyes. We may not use it for spiritual reasons but I think we owe a lot to the Egyptians for inventing eye-liner!
Another ancient civilisation which has records of the use of make-up to enhance women’s features and to make them more empowered was during the Qin and Han dynasties in China 206BC.
The ancient Chinese began to associate a pale complexion with wealth and power giving women the ability to hide her faults behind a powdered face. They created a toxic mixture of lead and white powdered chalk dissolved in water then applied to their shoulders, neck, face and arms.They began to darken their eyebrows and kept their figures small and petite. These elements were what created a strong feminine beauty during ancient China.
During the Han dynasty a Chinese women’s most desirable feature was her lips. With rouge (lipstick paint) they decorated their lips in heart and blossom shapes. This is said to have originated from the story of Princess Shouyang. It is said that a plum blossom drifted down onto her fair face, leaving a floral imprint on her forehead that enhanced her beauty further.
Ancient Greek Civilisations
It is believed that even as far back as 1500BC the beautiful women of Greece were using make-up to enhance their natural beauty. Evidence of women using makeup can be seen in wall paintings and palace fresco’s. The Greeks put a lot of emphasis on natural beauty and would do anything to achieve it. As in most ancient cultures pale skin was what was seen as desirable and a sign of prestige. To lighten their complexions, women would paint their face with white lead, which we know nowadays would have been toxic and may probably have shortened their lives. In addition, they used to take care of their skin by moisturising it with honey. Olive oil was also used on their skin to make it look shiny.
The Grecian women were very advanced when it came to make-up. As natural beauty was the desired goal they they wanted to stay as pale as possible so their lipsticks were a paste made with red iron oxide and ochre clays or olive oil with beeswax. A red powder was also used on the cheeks but never excessively.
Golden hair was also another desired trait in ancient Greece. It was seen as youthful and to be fair skinned and fair haired was the desired look. Apparently only slaves had short hair and free women would have long flowing hair. When Grecian women got married they wore their hair usually in a bun. Their hair was then decorated with a diadem, jeweled combs, hair pins, scarfs and other accessories. During Hellenistic times, Greek women also started to artificially wave and curl their hair. It is also apparent that ancient Grecian women would try to lighten their hair, of course because of their ethnic origins most women had dark hair and dark skin. To do that, they would apply vinegar on their hair and then spend time in the sun. Archaeologists have found broad-brimmed hats with a hole in the middle which were probably used to lighten hair while keeping skin in the shade so that it would remain pale.
During the European Middle Ages (sixth century) women went to drastic measures to create this pale look. It has been recorded that women went as far as bleeding themselves to achieve the washed-out complexion, although, in contrast Spanish prostitutes wore pink make-up. During the Italian Renaissance, lead pain was used to lighten the face, which was very damaging to the wearer and Aqua Toffana was a popular face powder named after its creator – Signora Toffana – this was 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!
As we move further down the ladder into the 18 century, rouge (red lipstick) and rosey cheeks were common place as they represented a healthy and fun spirit. In opposition to this Queen Victoria diminished make-up as she linked it to prostitutes and lower working class people. In Victorian England royalty and higher classes never wore make-up for this reason. Queen Victoria only deemed it suitable for actors to wear make-up on stage when performing. In contrary to this women around the world were falling in love with make-up and as time goes by make-up and cosmetics become apart of life, with the same ideals as todays society. Everyone wishes to be desirable or to conceal their insecurities.
Food for Thought…
During the French renaissance in a further attempt to cover small pock-marks and scars, black velvet beauty patches were extremely fashionable. Often cut into shapes such as moons, stars and love hearts, these patches were placed upon the cheek near the eye or above the lip. It is often reported that Marie Antoinette applied them near the corner of her mouth as a signal that she wished to be kissed…cheeky!
The First Foundation
The first commercially available foundation was Max Factor’s Pan-Cake. Originally developed for use in film, actresses were so taken with the results that Max Factor was overwhelmed with demand for the product for their personal use. Although foundation make-up was widely available and used within the film industry, the use of cosmetics in general was still somewhat disreputable, and no one had tried to market foundation (although lipstick, blush and nail polish were popular for daily use) as an everyday item. By 1940, it was estimated that one in three North American women owned and wore Pan-Cake. As of February 2009, Procter and Gamble, the brand’s current owner, confirmed the original formula for Pan-Cake is still sold today.
The First Mascara
The first non-toxic mascara was surprisingly invented by Rimmel! Yes, we all need to thank Mr Eugene Rimmel for setting up his perfumery ‘House of Rimmel’ and creating an amazing product. In fact, this invention became so wildly popular that in many languages, the word for ‘mascara’ is “rimmel.” Below is an image of the first Rimmel mascara, strange to think how far Rimmel have come and in general how far the cosmetic industry has grown.
This is a photo of instructions to use a Maybelline mascara and eyebrow pencil. It is amazing to think how these inventions were so groundbreaking for the average woman’s life in the 19th century and how quickly the notions of being a perfect version of what your society told you to be impacted these women’s lives as much as our own.
As you can probably guess from these early stages onwards, we have created what has come to be the ever changing and ever growing cosmetics industry. With the hundreds of different make-up brands to the stores that sell them and the lively hoods its created, make-up has definitely had a huge impact on the lives of everyone from modern times back as far as ancient Egypt. The ideals to enhance and conceal are still same now has they were 10,000 years ago.
I hope you enjoyed this if you have any comments or thoughts please feel free to comment below.