Cosmetics have become part and parcel of the common human vanity. The use of various substances on the skin or hair to make women and men highlight beautiful parts of the body, to hide other certain imperfections or just smell better has been around for ages.
This is why it is perhaps fitting to look back on the history of cosmetics and how far the makeup habits in general have come since its very beginning more than 6,000 years ago (some even argue that cosmetic habits were amongst first human rituals, dating even 100,000 years ago).
Cosmetics in ancient times
The beginnings of civilization saw humans use paintings on their skin to imitate nature for various purposes such as camouflage.
In the years that followed, this behavior continued, with Egyptians using cosmetics consisting of mixtures of copper and lead powders to add color and definition on their faces as well as their lips. They would use variations of eyeshadow on their eyes for beauty, and they also used kohl (a mixture of burnt almonds, animal fat and even ash) to adorn the eyes, giving it that very famous almond shape.
This was not only believed to protect one from evil, but it was also considered very desirable.
Cosmetics during 3000BC – 500BC
During this period of time there was a surge in the use of make up for beauty from all over the world. In cultures such as Chinese, women stained their fingernails with beeswax, egg and gum Arabic, and thus were the beginnings of nail polish.
Over in Europe, pale skin was considered beautiful, and chalk or lead face powder was all the rage on people’s skin and faces. Henna was also becoming very popular in the Indian and Arabic culture.
Egyptian people would use mixtures derived from mineral elements to keep their hair looking dark as it was not only a sign of youth but also of wealth.
Cosmetic habits in the Middle Ages
It is at around this point in time that hair dye began to be popular. In Europe, blond hair dye was a very popular sign of affluence, and pale skin was widely considered to be beautiful. Chalk and lead powder was no longer enough, as some women resulted to blood – letting to keep their skin looking pale.
Towards the end of the Middle Ages began the rise of Queen Elizabeth I, who became a role model for women with regard to beauty. Many adored her vivid red hair and her pale white skin. She had a high forehead and barely noticeable eyebrows, and many women plucked their hairlines and eyebrows to resemble her.
Thus began the age of tweezing.
Cosmetics during the 18th – 19th Century
The Victorian era ushered in the focus on natural beauty, as the use of makeup was frowned upon and women who used it considered of low moral standing.
Queen Victoria was a great inspiration, with her focus on natural beauty being a great influence on many women of her time. Completely pale skin was a thing of the past as women sought to put a bit of color on their faces.
Many would often bite their lips and pinch their cheeks for that little extra color. Long hair was the highlight of a woman’s head, with many extravagant hairstyles showcasing the much adored length.
The 19th century saw an almost complete turnaround for women across the board. Makeup such as lipstick, mascara, foundation and even eye shadow became an acceptable sign of femininity.
Technological advancement also saw more and more make up made available to the masses and women donned dark eye shadow, rouged their cheeks and applied lipstick on their lips to look beautiful.
Cosmetics and makeup since the 20th Century till today
While in the past pale white skin was all the rage, with the 20th century, many women began to prefer tanned dark skin. Skin tan and foundation became even more popular to help achieve this look, and many women wanted to have thin eyebrows.
A miriad of hair dyes and other hair care and improvement products are available, while, the perfume industry is flourishing.
Cosmetics across the world are a multi-billion industry with a few major corporations like L’Oréal, Unilever Procter & Gamble or Estée Lauder dominating the scene. Europe is leading in sales and usage.
So, cosmetics continue to be diverse and different across the world, and the history of cosmetics continues to evolve to this day, although there is a trend of turning back to more natural and less cruel alternatives (not tested on animals).
- WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/beauty/history-makeup
- Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmetics#Industry
- Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_cosmetics#Recent_history
- The Webster Dictionary: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cosmetics
- Essay UK: http://www.essay.uk.com/free-essays/history/cosmetics.php