Ancient Uses of Makeup – it hasn’t changed much!

Makeup started ... 7,000 years ago

Spending quality time in front of a mirror is a daily ritual millions of women can't do without, whether they're preparing for an average day at work, a big event, or a date with that special someone. It all goes back to the ancient Egyptians, who were the first women to wear makeup.

The history of makeup or cosmetics spans at least 7,000 years and is present in almost every society on earth. Cosmetic body art is argued to have been the earliest form of a ritual in human culture. The evidence for this comes in the form of utilised red mineral pigments (red ochre) including crayons associated with the emergence of Homo sapiens in Africa.

Archaeological evidence of cosmetics certainly dates from ancient Egypt and Greece. According to one source, early major developments include the use of castor oil in ancient Egypt as a protective balm and skin creams made of beeswaxolive oil and rosewater described by the Romans. The Ancient Greeks also used cosmetics. Cosmetics are mentioned in the Old Testament—2 Kings 9:30 where Jezebel painted her eyelids—approximately 840 BC—and the book of Esther describes various beauty treatments as well.

Cosmetics were also used in ancient Rome, although much of Roman literature suggests that it was frowned upon. It is known that some women in ancient Rome invented make up including lead-based formulas, to whiten the skin, and kohl was used to line the eyes

In a way, the basic motive back then was the same as it is today- just like modern day supermodels, the well-to-do women of ancient Egypt wanted to look their best and saw the careful application of face-paint as a means to that end.

Cosmetics were used in Persia and what today is Iran from ancient periods. Chinese people began to stain their fingernails with gum arabicgelatinbeeswax and egg white from around 3000 BC. The colors used represented social class: Chou dynasty (first millennium BC) royals wore gold and silver; later royals wore black or red. The lower classes were forbidden to wear bright colors on their nails. In Mongolia women of royal families painted red spots on the center of their cheeks, right under their eyes. However, it is a mystery why. In Japan, geisha wore lipstick made of crushed safflower petals to paint the eyebrows and edges of the eyes as well as the lips, and sticks of bintsuke wax, a softer version of the sumo wrestlers' hair wax, were used by geisha as a makeup base. In the Middle Ages it was thought sinful and immoral to wear makeup by Church leaders, but many women still did so.

Ancient Egypt, ca. 4,000 years ago

But unlike today's modern women, they weren't trying to impress that cute guy at work or the guy at that important job interview. And the Egyptian women weren't trying to catch the eye of the burly construction foreman working on the pyramids or the local pharoah either. Their sights were aimed a little higher. They were trying to impress the gods.

Archeological evidence shows the Egyptian ladies were dolling themselves up as early as 4000B.C. This was mainly, or at least in good part, to please the gods, as the women felt their appearance was directly related to their spiritual worth. So the Egyptians created the first cosmetics (no word on whether they received makeovers at malls along the Nile).

They applied eye makeup called mesdement (from the ancient Egyptian word <>msdmt) a mixture of copper and lead ore, around their eyes. Green shades went on the lower eyelids; black and dark gray were applied to the lashes and upper eyelids. Dark colors were said to ward off "evil eyes".

To complete the ornate look around the eyes, they added almond shapes of dark-colored powder (later called kohl) that might have been a combination of ingredients such as burnt almonds, oxidized copper, copper ores, lead, ash, and ochre. Kohl was believed to have medicinal benefits as well.

Egyptian women put a mixture of red clay or ochre and water or animal fat on their cheeks and lips- the first blush and lipstick- and applied henna to their nails. When it came time to remove all of these cosmetics at the end of the day, they used a type of soap made from vegetable and animal oils and perfumes.

Although these earliest beauty products the ladies put on were originally intended to please the gods, it doesn't take much imagination to consider the effect these doses of makeup had on the local Egyptian men (probably similar to the first cave girl who realized the effect her short animal skin dress had on the cavemen and boys she walked by).

Makeup with the Romans

The connection between beauty and spirituality remained for centuries, until the Romans gained power. The Romans adopted many of the Egyptians' cosmetic formulas, but their primary motive was to improve their appearance for each other (especially the Roman men). The "god factor" did not enter into it.

Makeup, or better i this case cosmetics, first used in ancient Rome for ritual purposes, were part of daily life for women, especially prostitutes and the wealthy. Some fashionable cosmetics, such as those imported from Germany, Gaul and China, were so expensive that the Lex Oppia tried to limit their use in 189 BCE.These "designer brands" spawned cheap knock-offs that were sold to poorer women. Working-class women could afford the cheaper varieties, but may not have had the time (or slaves) to apply the makeup as the use of makeup was a time-consuming affair because cosmetics needed to be reapplied several times a day due to weather conditions and poor composition.

Cosmetics were applied in private, usually in a small room where men did not enter. Cosmetae, female slaves that adorned their mistresses, were especially praised for their skills. They would beautify their mistresses with cultus, the Latin word encompassing makeup, perfume and jewelry.

Scent was also an important factor of beauty. Women who smelled good were presumed to be healthy. Due to the stench of many of the ingredients used in cosmetics at the time, women often drenched themselves in copious amounts of perfume.

Christian women tended to avoid cosmetics with the belief that they should praise what God gave them. Some men, especially cross-dressers, did use cosmetics, although it was viewed as effeminate and improper.

All cosmetic ingredients were also used as medicines to treat various ailments. Lead, although known to be poisonous, was still widely used.

And ever since then, from the earliest Egyptian women and the earliest Roman women to the high-school cheerleader to the teenage girl working her first job at the mall, the more things change the more things stay the same. As the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, the sight of a beautiful woman or girl turns heads, captures attention, and causes a great effect.

It brings one that most precious of all commodities: admiration. And in the end, isn't that what we all want?

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