There’s a lot of talk about how today’s society is obsessed with appearances. There is this underlying belief that there was less pressure to change your appearance for beauty’s sake before modern society. When you actually look at the habits of people hundreds or thousands of years ago, you will see that appearance has always been important to society.
Around 10,000 BCE, the Ancient Egyptians were developing almost every kind of cosmetic that we would use today. They had creams for stretch marks and to fight aging. They used oils to moisturize their skin and they had an array of perfumes. To them, looking attractive was the best way to get close to the gods.
Around 4000 BCE, the women wore copper and ore, known as mesdemet, around their eyes to make their eyes stand out. They also put malachite, a mixture of copper minerals, on their cheeks, and Kohl became the main product for lining their eyes. A lot of their cosmetics had multiple purposes. Their eye makeup helped keep bugs at bay. Some cosmetics could be consumed to fight different ailments. The cosmetics weren’t just for women; men used them as well.
Around 3000 BCE, Greeks and Chinese began whitening their faces. The Chinese used rice powder and the Greeks used white lead. Greek women would apply berries on their cheeks as rouge. The Chinese would paint their nails using a variety of ingredients. Each color meant you were of a different social class. Around 1500 BCE, the Chinese began painting their teeth black or gold and shaved off their eyebrows.
Around 100 AD, Romans used butter and barley powder to get rid of pimples. They also used sheep fat and blood to paint their nails. Mud baths became popular and some Roman men died their hair blonde. The people of India began using Henna around 300 AD as a way to dye their hair as well as for religious decorating of the body.
In England in the Middle Ages, it was popular for women to dye their hair red or to wear egg whites on their face to whiten it. During the Renaissance, around the 1400s, only the Aristocracy used cosmetics. They began using arsenic instead of lead in some powders. Around 1500 AD, European women used a variety of products, some quite dangerous to their health, to lighten their skin. Blonde hair became more popular due to its angelic appearance.
Around 1800 AD, it is found that zinc oxide, which is commonly used in today’s cosmetics, is much safer than lead for use on the skin. Queen Victoria denounced makeup as vulgar. It lost some popularity and was only acceptable for use by actors.
In Edwardian society, around the 1900s, makeup regained its appeal. As hosts, women were expected to have a youthful appearance. They turned to buying cosmetics at beauty salons in secrecy to avoid anyone knowing that they needed the products to look young. Around the 1920s tanned skin gained popularity. By 1930, there were several products to tan your skin without the sun.
Today there is a wide variety of cosmetics for every need of which anyone could imagine. There are a variety of brands, with each having its own variances of colors and styles. There are different types of brushes for applying different types of makeup. Makeup is not only a way to enhance one’s beauty; it has become somewhat of an art. It is the foundation for the fashion world. Most people won’t leave home without having first applied several different cosmetics, whether it’s soap, lotion, or makeup.
The price of looking beautiful is something nearly every human being, going back to the earliest of societies, has paid. It’s in human nature to want to look and feel attractive. The next time you think today’s society is superficial, remind yourself of the products used by Ancient Egyptians and Renaissance women. At least our products today are relatively safe.