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The History of Makeup

Looking at glossy magazine ads of beautiful women touting “the latest cosmetics news,” “the best mineral foundation,” or “the most glamorous eye makeup that’s around,” you might also think that makeup is a modern invention. But the fact really is that makeup has been around since ancient times. Through thousands of years of history and different countries and cultures, one thing remains constant: people like to look good. Of course, the types of makeup they used have changed over the years, from dangerous substances like arsenic and iodine to today’s safe, natural mineral makeup, which uses naturally-occurring minerals.

Even in Biblical times, makeup was used to enhance appearance. We know this because makeup is actually mentioned in the Bible several times. For example, King 9:30 says, “When Jehu came to Jazreel, Jezebel heard of it, and she painted her eyes and adorned her head.” Jeremiah 4:30 says, “What do you mean that you dress in scarlet, that you adorn yourself with ornaments of gold, that you enlarge your eyes with paint?”

Archeologists have uncovered evidence of eye makeup in ancient Egyptian tombs dating from 3,500 B.C. The ancient Egyptians used kohl as eyeliner. It was made of copper, lead, soot, burned almonds, and other ingredients. By the first century A.D., the available makeup also included powders to make the skin whiter and rouge made of red ochre for the cheeks. In ancient Rome, cosmetics were made by female slaves called Cosmetae.

It’s interesting to note that, just like in  makeup brushes manufacturer  modern times, there in China, there was even a legend that promoted a makeup fashion: it was said that Princess Shouyang, the daughter of Emperor Wu of Liu Song, was resting near some plum trees by the palace when a plum blossom drifted down onto her face and left a beautiful imprint on her forehead. It was said that the ladies of the court were so impressed by the beautiful mark that they began to decorate their foreheads with a delicate plum blossom design. This legend led to the makeup trend called meihua zhuang, which literally means “plum blossom makeup”, which was popular during the Southern Dynasties (420-589), the Tang dynasty (618 – 907), and the Song dynasty (960 – 1279).

In the Middle Ages, the rise of Christianity (which disapproved of cosmetics) somewhat dampened the popularity of makeup. Still, some women still used it, especially among the upper class. Being pale indicated wealth and status, because the poor folk had to work outside all day in the sun while the upper classes lived lives of leisure indoors. Thus, women used white lead, soluble paints, white powder, or even bled themselves to get that fashionable pale look. Queen Elizabeth 1 used white lead to achieve a pale look known as “The Mask of Youth. “In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the popularity of makeup again rose among the upper classes. Being extremely pale remained the most popular look. Unfortunately, many of the ingredients in makeup of that time were dangerous and caused serious health complications. Makeup of that era included white lead, mercury, and sulfur. To make their eyes sparkle, some women put drops of poisonous belladonna in their eyes, or tried to achieve white skin by swallowing chalk or iodine. Skin ulcers, poisonings, and blindness were sometimes a side effect of these dangerous makeup ingredients. It wasn’t until recent years that safe, natural cosmetics, including today’s popular mineral makeup, began to come to market.

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