Make-up

The History of Makeup

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With all the billions of pounds spent every year worldwide on beauty cosmetics, sometimes we find ourselves asking, “How and why has it got to this point? When did it become the norm for me and majority of everyone else to have to wake up every morning and before I even think about going anywhere, I get to paint my face from top to bottom? Surely this wasn’t the daily routine for a woman way back in history. She didn’t just wake up one day and apply primer, foundation, false eyelashes, lipstick, eyeliner, mascara and blush.

For the Egyptians, which were over four thousand years ago. Cleanliness and appearance were important to the Egyptians. They believed your appearance was in direct connection with the health of the soul and inner being. They tried to always smell and look good and with a culture who appreciates their appearance, you’re inevitably going to have individuals who are going to make themselves stand out from the crowd. But the Egyptians, being the inventive people they were, used makeup for reasons that were even cleverer than just trying to look good.


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Mesdemet was the earliest type of eye shadow- an element made of copper and lead ore. The darker shades they believed would ward off evil eyes. It was also a great antiseptic and insect repellent. Kohl was a dark powder and this was also applied around the eyes in an oval outline. It was a mixture of lead, ash, ochre, copper and burnt almonds. To enhance their appearance, they would mix water and red clay and apply to the cheekbone area. They would also paint their nails orange and yellow with a material called henna which is popular to this day.

As the years moved on and cultures were knows to each other, the Greeks began to pick up on the many techniques of the Egyptian’s use of makeup. They would have a pale colour with a foundation that had lead in it. This turned out to be fatal on more than one occasion. As the Romans began to pick up the makeup practice, the chase of beauty became much less about function and took a turn into much more unusual routes. The Romans would use a mixture of sheep’s blood and cooked body fat to paint their nails. Not a nice thought I know! Apparently an ancient Roman man once said, “A woman without paint, is like food without salt.”


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For many years after the Egyptian empire faded, the fashion around the world was to have a pale complexion. A tanned, sun-dried face was related with being a commoner who worked out in the field all day together with her husband. The upper class ladies of course did not partake in physical labour so they stayed indoors and had white faces.

A white, pale complexion was also a symbol of prosperity and wealth. If you had plenty of money, you didn’t have to work. So a pale complexion was tremendously important to some people. To get this look, women (and men too) would use a mixture of hydroxide, carbonate and lead oxide in a powder formula to paint their faces and bodies. This wasn’t healthy and unfortunately, this lead to a sometimes fatal side effect, lead poisoning.

To cure this, chemists in the nineteenth century invented a mixture of zinc oxide that didn’t block the skin from breathing. It functioned so well that it’s still used today by cosmetics manufacturers around the world.

Around the turn of the century 1900, in the Edwardian era of London, society women with a throwaway income would hold lavish parties and do a lot of entertaining to show off how wealthy they were. As hostesses of the party, it was very important for them to be the best looking woman at the event, so it was extremely important for them to look the youngest they could. Women around this time who lived these extravagant lifestyles didn’t eat well; they didn’t exercise and breathed in the heavily polluted air from the city. They would trust on products like anti-aging cream and face cream to help hide their imperfections and blemishes.

They would also go to their beauty salon but it wasn’t like the beauty salons we have nowadays. Women would sneak into the back of the salon and cover their faces so nobody would see them going in. House of Cyclax which was on South Molton Street, London was known to be one of the discreet beauty houses which would sell creams and rouges to ladies. The owner, Mrs Henning, sold and made many beauty products for her desperate and anxious clients who didn’t want anyone to know that they were getting old.


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The beauty cosmetics craze continued throughout the years into the 1900’s and began to see the original of the cosmetics industry being formed. Mrs. Henning’s House of Cyclax on South Molton Street, London sold products that you can still buy today from famous companies like Avon. Another beauty salon owner found herself growing her products to meet the demands of her upper class clientele from face cream that protects women’s skin from the sun to lipstick and even face powder. Today, you can find a variety of beauty cosmetics from Helena Rubenstein.

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As the years went on, the admiration of beauty salons continued to increase. In 1909, Selfridges store in London began to sell cosmetics out in the open over the counter, this wasn’t heard of and due to this, Women’s attitudes began to change and their confidence grew.  When the Russian ballet came to London, the effect of high art was obvious on many designers. A man named Paul Poiret was one of the first people to come out with a more vibrant and colourful look. It was also the first time that permanent cosmetics were seen. Women could now tattoo their lipstick and eye shadow permanently on their faces so it would never come off.

During the 1930’s, the fashion of lipstick went to a darker shade with an assortment of shades. Around the time of WWII, elements for making the cosmetics were at a shortage and women experienced a kind of make-down. This ended when the war did and demand for cosmetics grew more than ever. Competitors began manufacturing a number of goods to meet the demands.

Today’s woman is the supporter of all these years of trial and error with an almost unlimited choice of products for any look they want to accomplish. There are literally thousands of businesses who have beauty goods in this now billion dollar yearly industry. Cosmetic products sell year round, whatever the weather and even in times of recession.

So ladies, thank your ancestors and their apprehension for their own appearance for your own that you have today. They probably had their days when they woke up and didn’t really feel like going through the bother of putting on their face either!


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