Cosmetics Through Time: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

LotionsDo you ever wonder what it would be like to live without your lipstick?

Cosmetics have been around for thousands of years, promising to make our lips rosier, eyes brighter and complexions clearer.

In 4,000 B.C., Egyptian women used to line their eyes with leaded paints and copper. This was poisonous to their health but they didn’t know it. For nail polish, the Chinese used beeswax, egg whites and gelatin, dating back to 3,000 B.C. Certain colors were restricted to royalty and using the wrong color nail polish was punishable by death.

In Greco-Roman times, the Middle Ages, and Elizabethan times, pale faces were much more desirable for women than any skin touched by the sun. A tan was considered crude and reserved for women who worked the fields. Unfortunately, this led to various creams applied to the face to reduce blood flow, such as lead paint or arsenic face powder, which caused illness.

On the Western frontier, wearing no makeup was often the preferred look, but there were little tricks women used to make themselves look better. Makeup that looked natural was usually the goal.

Blush: Pinching the cheeks made them rosier, also pinching the lips. Rouge was available to buy in small tins.

Mascara: Some women used beeswax on their lashes to make them look thicker. Kohl is a mixture of soot and other ingredients and was used on the eyelids and eyelashes to darken them—first used by Egyptian queens. Darkening the area around the eyes also helped protect the eyes from sun glare.

In France, Eugene Rimmel was the first to develop a non-toxic mascara in the late 1800s, sometime before his death in 1887. It was a cake-like substance. Modern mascara as we know it was invented in 1913 by T.L. Williams, a chemist, for his sister Mabel. He saw his sister applying coal dust and Vaseline to her lashes, and so he made and marketed the stuff. He named his company Mabelline as a combination of her name and Vaseline.

Eyeliner: Some women used burnt matches once they cooled.

Petroleum jelly: Vaseline petroleum jelly was patented in the 1870s.

Hair removal: From about 3,000 B.C. women were removing body hair with scary ingredients they made from things like arsenic and starch. By 500 B.C., Roman women were removing body hair with razor blades and pumice stones, and using tweezers to pluck their eyebrows. By the early 1800s, European women were making homemade depilatories—walnut oil was one popular ingredient. From 1895 to 1904, Mr. Gillette perfected the development of his safety razor.

Underarm deodorant: Mum deodorant was the first invented in 1888 by an unknown inventor from Philadelphia.

Lipstick: Egyptians used a type of henna to stain their lips—back then it was a poisonous substance made of plant dye, iodine and bromine. Cleopatra wore lipstick made from crushed carmine beetles, which gave her a deep red pigment. Lipstick became popular as we know it during the 16th century by Queen Elizabeth I, where lipstick was made from a combination of beeswax and red plant stains.

Acne fighters: Pharaohs in Egypt used a combination of mineral water mixed with sulphur. Ancient Romans bathed in hot sulphurous mineral water. During the 1800s, sulphur treatments were applied to the skin but it was very drying and didn’t always work.

Hair: Sheen was created by brushing the hair a hundred times at night, using lemon rinses, or adding eggs to shampoo. Hennas have been very popular since Egyptian times to color the hair. Hair dyes were often used discreetly in England and America during the 1800s, although one didn’t admit it in public.

Max Factor is often referred to as the father of modern makeup. He was born in Poland in the 1870s (original name was spelled Faktor). Later, he moved to Moscow and worked with theatrical groups, where he created cosmetics, fragrances and wigs. He became the cosmetic expert for the Russian royal family. In 1904, he immigrated to New York with his family, and that year at the St. Louis World’s Fair, he introduced his handmade rouges, lipsticks, wigs and creams to American women. His items became so popular he developed his own line of cosmetics.

Besides my list, do you know of anything else women used for personal makeup and grooming? Do you recall anything your grandmother used? I once found an old curling iron in a trunk that didn’t have an electrical cord, but it was obviously intended to be heated in coals. I was shocked they thought of that way back then.

Is there a certain cosmetic that you couldn’t live without?

Below is a photo I took of a Roman Bath when I visited Bath, England.

Roman Bath

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