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Who would have thought that a practice dating back to the ancient Egyptians would endure and become a multi-billion-dollar industry? There are literally thousands of makeup brands available around the world today, all to aid people in the pursuit of looking their best. There’s much to be found when delving into the history of cosmetics, so read on and enjoy learning about how this product isn’t just another pretty face.
Evidence of early cosmetics has been discovered around the globe. If you think modern makeup can sometimes leave the skin a bit irritated, it’s nothing compared to the good old days. Ancient Romans and Egyptians used substances that contained copper, lead ore, and mercury to cover blemishes. Modern eyeliner can trace its roots back to kohl and henna in northern Africa, which also frequently caused bouts of conjunctivitis, or pink eye. Early use of makeup has also been found in Middle Eastern cultures, where a 24-volume medical encyclopedia written by teacher Abulcasis contained a chapter on, you guessed it, cosmetics and perfumes.
Makeup usage is prevalent within the Asian cultures, whose traditions involving geishas (Japan) and caste systems date back thousands of years. In China, certain colors were used to indicate one’s place in the social hierarchy; royals have traditionally worn metallics or black and red, while lower classes were historically forbidden from painting their nails in bright colors.
During Europe’s Middle Ages, church officials deemed makeup to be sinful, but many women donned it regardless. The paler your skin, the more wealthy you appeared, since those with fair complexions obviously didn’t put in a hard day’s work outside. In the Americas, Native Americans used facial paint for centuries in honor of battles or ceremonial events.
The theatre and film industries popularized cosmetics throughout the United States and Europe in the 20th century. Stylists such as Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein instantly saw an opportunity to make serious money in a growing industry, as did L’Oreal founder Eugene Schueller. This interest continued to grow until the 1960s, when sales were somewhat stymied by feminist movements.
Sales rebounded, however, and the 1970s saw a style compromise as more natural looks were promoted for daytime wear, and heavily made up fashions were reserved for evening events. Also occurring in the ’70s was a movement of increased attention to cosmetics for African-American women. Until then, choices were extremely limited for women with darker skin tones; companies such as Astarte, and Fashion Fair recognized this market deficiency and acted accordingly by releasing several makeup lines that provided a more natural match.
Fast forward to the present. Inventions like the high-shear mixer have become immensely helpful in blending makeup and matching women’s exact skin tones. Some men have have begun to use concealer in attempts to get clear-looking skin, so who knows, maybe makeup and gender equality aren’t mutually exclusive terms.