Makeup has been used by humankind since time immemorial. It has gone through many mutations to become what we know today.
By Walter Raymond
The first traces of makeup can be found in cave paintings. They usually consist of images of Paleolithic (Stone Age) women with portions of their body colored with reddish-brown tones. These body paintings served to express different moods, sexual maturity, mourning, or social circumstances such as conflicts between groups.
Beyond its apparent function to beautify the body, makeup has always represented a source of communication and expression.
ancient makeup and tools
The use of makeup began to gain importance in the old Mesopotamian cultures, when the Sumerians, Assyrians and Babylonians developed cosmetic makeup to accentuate the expressive details in their faces.
Thousands of years ago, Egyptians developed the idea of social beauty as a sign of power. It consisted of tanned skin with large eyes outlined with thick, dark lines, and lips tinted with reddish colors. To create their cosmetics, they used different types of clay, ash, iron oxide and inks which they applied with small brushes.
Left: a take on Cleopatra's makeup choices, including bold colors on the eyes and lips and dark rimmed eyes
Right: Angelina Jolie as Olympias in the film Alexander, showing the makeup style of Ancient Greece
On the other hand, women in ancient Greece preferred to display their natural beauty and only added subtle details to accentuate their eyebrows and eyes with dark shades.
The Roman canon of female beauty was a very fair skin and slightly flushed cheeks, incorporating eye shadows in dark tones and outlining eyes and eyebrows.
In the first part of the Middle Ages makeup was considered somehow vulgar, but regained its place during the Renaissance. It became fashionable to outline the eyes and eyebrows with a fine black line, and—on a very fair skin—the cheekbones were emphasized with a dark garnet colored blush. Later, the emergence of extravagant fashions led to the use of heavy makeup, black lines outlining eyes and eyebrows, strident reds on the cheeks, blue or green eyelids and heart-shaped dark red lips outlined on a face covered with white powder. A popular practice was to incorporate a large dark mole near the mouth.
A typical look of the Marie Antoinette era
In India, women preferred a much simpler makeup, eyes highlighted in black and slightly red lips.
East Asian cultures brought the concept of heavy handed and rigid makeup. In Japan, the Geisha's makeup is especially noteworthy: a white paste-like foundation covering the entire face and upper torso— but careful not to reach the hairline, forming a sort of mask— the eyes and eyebrows strongly highlighted in black, and red heart-shaped lips.
The makeup in China was very similar to the Japanese, with very pale or white faces, eye enhanced with ink, dark up-swept eyebrows and red lips.
1920s makeup focused on dramatic eyes
The 19th century favored fair skin, pink cheeks, and crimson lips. In the early 20s, we saw the birth of the cosmetics industry and the emergence of the best-known brands. More often the foundation was light colored and came in powder form, and the eyes were outlined in black. For the eyelids, there were black, red and violet shadows; pink blush on the cheeks; dark pencils for the eyebrows and abundant mascara for the eyelashes.
With its variants in different cultures and times, makeup has been used by humankind since the beginning of time. ■
More on this topic
Perfume: A History of Seduction and Power
From Cleopatra to Marilyn Monroe, perfume has been associated with beauty and seduction, though its earliest uses in history are related to rites dedicated to the gods.
Women's Fashion in the Court of Marie Antoinette
The French court could be considered the birth of what we call today the fashion industry.
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