Why do we wear make-up? The uses and history of cosmetics.
What is it about the history of cosmetics that's so fascinating?
There's so many reasons why we choose to wear make-up and this subject delves into a crude and often toxic past. Cosmetics are used for such a long list of reasons and there are obvious answers to the question "why do we wear make-up" but if we look a little deeper and even delve back in history there are some not so obvious and revealing points. Cosmetics have come such a very long way in terms of health, application and ingredients.
Body art goes back thousands of years and has been recorded in most societies in history, even as far back as 3100 B.C. ancient societies of Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Greeks, Romans and Hebrews started using body decorations like tattooing with clays and oils as protection against the heat and sun. Practical needs as well as desire for beautification with heavy eye make-up to protect them from sweat running into their eyes.
Eye shadows were created from crushed minerals and rocks like lapis and malachite to provide blue and green colours and cheeks and lips were adorned with red clay or iron oxides. Black kohl for lashes, eyebrows and to line the eyes was created from crushed lead, carbon or charcoal. Eyes were bold and dramatic and lined heavily as were the eyebrows.
These ancient societies adorned both their men and women to show health and beauty. Ancient Greeks and Egyptians used oils to darken the skin whilst the ancient Romans sometimes made their skin pale to white with dangerous lead to show their profession or upper class or sign of social status.
The Middle Ages: 5th - 15th Century:
In the 5th century cosmetics nearly vanished completely due to the fall of the Roman empire and lack of bathing and cleanliness and washing and grooming was considered vain and sinful. Around the 6th century tattoos and self-decoration re-emerged in Scotland to show family crests and noblemen in France began to groom themselves.
Soldiers from the Crusades would bring back recipes for cosmetics from distant lands as gifts for their women. Pale faces made up with lead, chalk or white lead mixed with vinegar was used and very dangerous to one's health. Sulfur and borax was also used and lips were made red with mercuric sulfide making women ill and bringing about early death. A terrible and crude time for cosmetics considering the consequences of what it did to the skin and body.
The 16th Century:
Make-up application became more fanciful and elaborate, especially during the reign of Elizabeth I. Hair dyes became very popular which made hair fall out and therefore wigs became the norm. Everything became tweezed and plucked to have no eyebrows and a high forehead. A new product called "Spanish Papers" came about at this time and they were thin tissues or strips of wool or felt with powdered pigments inside them, easy to carry around as a cosmetic at the time. Again many of these were made with dangerous and poisonous ingredients. The paper would be made moist and rubbed onto the lips and cheeks to provide colour.
The 17th Century:
The beauty mark emerged at this time and became a regular accessory for both men and women. These 'patches' or 'love spots' as they were known were created from pieces of leather and cut into various shapes and glued to the skin near the mouth and eyes. Before long these patches became political and used all over the face in certain patterns and shapes to indicate connections to certain groups.
Toxic white lead base continued to create sores and illness and patches were sometimes used to cover these infections. Ladies in high society often wore numerous patches and would carry a few spares on them incase some fell off. Rose and pastel colours were on the rise and often more expensive than the common red. Plumpers emerged at this time and they were balls of wax carried around in the mouth to hide the fact that many teeth had been lost and cheeks needed to be made to look round again. This must have made speech difficult.
The 18th Century:
White lead base was still popular and egg white would now to added on top of the application to make it hard and set the finish. I can only imagine how hard this must have been as an egg white mask gets very hard, so to wear it for an extended length would be terribly uncomfortable!
Besides the obvious outcome of death, white lead paint on the face made the eyes swell, become irritated, cause sores and ruptures and turn the skin black...very toxic! Patches in France became very popular at this time and people would wear large trees, birds and flowers on their faces.
The 19th Century:
Considerably less make-up became worn in this century, and heavy reds and other bright colours became shunned. By 1820 the lead white skin was out of fashion as was red cheeks. Victorian England became more subtle with their application of make-up and it became very unpopular for men to wear cosmetics. In Europe however men continued to wear make-up.
By the century's half way mark line of street make-up was being made and a wide range of cosmetics started to emerge for women.
The 20th Century:
Cosmetic styles changed very quickly. French women used cosmetics more openly than anyone and by the 1920's mainstream make-up like mascara, eyeshadow, eyebrow pencil and lipstick became widespread. Eyebrows were being tweezed and red lips emerged with 'bee-stung' lips. Sun-tanned faces became popular and for the first time dark powders were being made, the first bronzers for those that did not want to lie in the sun. A tanned skin became a status symbol. Pale skin had been all the rage for centuries, but now it meant you were sickly or stuck in a factory or office and were not able to travel or have time to tan.
Orange blush emerged as did blue eyeshadow and by the 1930's, Hollywood had a huge influence on fashion and beauty. By the 1940's and 50's varieties of foundations in cake and creme were available in many colours and looks became more natural than the 20's and 30's.
By the 1960's however make-up went back to being extreme and out there with bold designs and colours. Eye make-up became heavy with thick eyeliner and lashes and shades of metallic colours like silver and bronze were worn. This continued into the early 1970's and then went back to a more natural look.
The 1980's and into the 1990's became a mix of previous decades and each person really started to experiment and develop their own look and not really follow any fashion trends. Magazines, film and television threw out ideas across the board and no one trend would last very long.
The 21st Century:
Our modern choices are vast when it comes to cosmetics, ingredients and ideas. We live in age of technology and learning tools at our fingertips in our homes. The internet allows us a whole world of information on beauty and everything there is to know about this ancient tradition of applying cosmetics. Blogs, YouTube videos, tutorials, articles and trends around the world are right at our disposal.
The development of healthier choices and added natural benefits of wearing certain cosmetics has emerged and not only do we have the ability to beautify our looks, but also add long term benefits to the health and well being of our skin. There are standards to be met now and we demand a higher quality due to our knowledge and history. As you can clearly see from the history of cosmetics, our ancestors were unfortunately not given that wide range of choice and very little was known about the effects that crude make-up would have on them at the time with ultimately deathly consequences.
Our vast choices of powerful and natural supplements like gluten free, vegan, natural oils, vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and botanicals protect and help the skin stay healthy. It's pleasing to know the evolution of cosmetics and skin care keeps moving forward in leaps and bounds, whatever the reason may be for wearing make-up. Cosmetic companies keep pushing, searching and reinventing new and exciting ideas and we're fortunate to be able to span the globe to any and all choices!
Until next time, thanks for stopping by.