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The History of Makeup: From Controversy to Mainstream

Makeup has come a long way form the lead and copper ore based pigments that were used by ancient Egyptians. Today’s miraculous products can do everything from defining your features to giving you flawless skin.

For thousands of years, human beings have used makeup to enhance their features and conceal their flaws. Eyes were stained with burnt matches and lips and cheeks darkened with berries. Women attempted to improve their complexions with honey, clay and even ox blood. In the past, they risked their health by using substances such as lead, arsenic, and mercury in their homemade cosmetics. They did this in the hope that they would be able to achieve the look that was deemed beautiful in that particular era. Fortunately, today’s makeup products have come a long way from these toxic concoctions of the past.

The History of Makeup

The ancient Egyptians first used makeup. The application of cosmetics to enhance one’s looks can be traced back to them. Makeup pigments and kits have been discovered in Egyptian tombs. Women used clay and pigment from ground carmine beetles to stain their lips. Cleopatra used makeup and inspired other people to do the same with her legendary beauty and poise.

Egyptians were also known for the use of Kohl to rim their eyes. It was made by mixing copper, lead, burnt almonds and ash. Both men and women would use this pigment to paint circles around their eyes. Apart from its cosmetic applications, Kohl was believed to deflect the harsh rays of the sun and ward off harmful spirits.

Recently scientists have discovered that the lead in the cosmetics used by Egyptians may have also protected them from harmful infectious diseases. However, while the lead destroyed bacteria, it had many adverse effects on their health as well.

Powders made from ground-up stones and minerals were used by ancient Romans and Greeks, who painted their faces with these. With time makeup evolved from the use of colorful pigments and dyes and women started to opt for a more austere look.

Pale skin and bare lips were considered the standards of beauty from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. Loud makeup became associated with the lower classes and prostitutes, who used pigments on their cheeks, eyes, and lips. Queen Victoria declared publicly that makeup was improper and vulgar.

Upper-class women eschewed color in favor of a mixture of vinegar and lead called ceruse. They used this to cover their chests, necks, and faces. Elizabeth I of England popularized this look with her broad forehead and white face.

This look remained popular for centuries but came with a serious downside. The lead in the ceruse caused severe hair fall and even lead to conditions like muscle paralysis. It was much later that the harmful, debilitating effects of lead were discovered.

It was only at the beginning of the 20th century that the makeup products we know today like mascaras, lipsticks, and blushes became mainstream.

The Divisive Effect of Makeup

In modern times, women still face judgment for wearing or not wearing makeup. People have strong opinions on the “right kind” of makeup and what is “too much” or “too little.” There are plenty of arguments about whether or not wearing makeup is the right choice to make. However, there’s no right or wrong when it comes to wearing makeup. It is an entirely individual choice that’s up to each woman to make.

The Current Scenario

Today, makeup is a multi-million dollar industry. In the past, the cosmetics that women used were unregulated and had severe health implications. This isn’t the case anymore since companies are required to meet strict government regulations regarding the ingredients used and their manufacturing processes.
Decades of testing have made makeup products pretty
safe to use. There is also a move towards the use of more natural ingredients and chemical-free products.

There has been a marked shift in the way men perceive makeup and the rules of gender presentation have become more flexible. Cosmetics have begun becoming a part of men’s everyday routines in both subtle and more significant ways. Products like brow gels and concealers are being seen as more gender neutral. Leading brands are now marketing their products to both genders, and makeup is no longer viewed as a purely feminine endeavor.

Brands are being held accountable for the marketing messages and the products they put out in the market. They cannot get away with offering limited shade ranges or pushing a concealer as a “must wear.” The industry no longer drives us to look a certain way to aspire to a specific ideal of beauty. Makeup is all about embracing the skin you’re in and is no longer only meant for women. While we still have a long way to go, it’s exciting to live in these progressive times.


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