From the black kohl that lined Cleopatra’s eyes to the arsenic that whitened Elizabethan cheeks to the rouge that pinked the cheeks of pin-up girls, make-up has been a part of culture and fashion since recorded history began.
Sometimes used to mask beauty, sometimes to enhance it and even sometimes to downplay it, applying color to flesh is an art form that began in antiquity and has survived to modern day.
Archaeological evidence shows that Egyptians used cosmetics as far back as 3500 BC, and the usage quickly became in vogue for Ancient Greeks and Romans. It was also commonplace in the kingdom of Israel where the Old Testament described Jezebel accenting her eyes with cosmetics (roughly around 840 BC).
Throughout the medieval era, cosmetic usage was a privilege for the rich and the nobility. This trend reversed itself in the Victorian Era when cosmetics were associated with prostitution and vulgarity.
In the 20th century, with the epoch of Hollywood starlets, bee-stung lips and Marilyn Monroe-esq beauty marks, cosmetic usage became part of the feminine cultural norm as well as a rite of passage for teenage girls.
The Age of Antiquity
Cosmetic concoctions were very secretive in Ancient Egypt. They had a recipe for a powder matte to smooth complexions and hide blemishes, the recipe of which, to this day, remains a mystery. Daily cosmetics included black powder that was applied liberally to the eyes, as well as a whitewash mixture, so women could lighten their skin.
Around this same time, Romans blackened eyebrows with soot, while also using vegetable oils and animal fats to create colored ointments.
In the East
In India, men and women alike used coal as forms of eye shadow and vermillion to color the cheeks. But it is henna, specifically “mehndi,” which refers directly to the art of painting henna on the body, which is perhaps the most well-known cosmetic application from this exotic landscape. The henna plant is believed to bestow love and good fortune onto a person, hence its common usage in wedding ceremonies.
Today, henna has entered American culture as a painless alternative to tattooing.
Meanwhile, in China, women, who could afford it, used saffron to create blushes, while others simply used grass, leaves and berries to give a green tint to their eyebrows.
In this era of corsets and rigid etiquette, make-up was seen as something that only prostitutes used, so women of social standing used rouge discreetly. Otherwise, an alabaster complexion was in vogue and was achieved by avoiding sunlight.
Cosmetics were acceptable among actresses like Sarah Bernhardt, but using make-up was risky. With no FDA regulating committee, make-up was often composed of chemicals in unsafe mixtures. The kitchen was often a source for products; berries and beetroot were commonly used to create a natural blush for the cheeks.
Modern culture make-up categories include:
Lipstick, lip gloss, lip plumber, lip balm
Foundation, bronzer, concealer
Rouge, blush, blusher
Mascara, false eyelashes
Eye liner, eye shadow, eye putty
While the definitions and distinctions vary, there are some general ways to tell the difference between natural products versus organic.
“Natural” make-up can be narrowed down to make-up where all of the ingredients are unprocessed.
“Organic” make-up has a firmer, definition thanks to groups such as the Organic Trade Association of Canada (www.ota.com). Under their jurisdiction, organic make-up is manufactured without antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering and irradiation.