A History of Cosmetics, Part 1


 A History of Cosmetics, Part 1

The history of cosmetics has existed for as long as we have evidence. The Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all used different methods to beautify themselves in addition to fashioning a variety of perfume scents. Cosmetics have been used most famously by women but men too, such as Alexander the Great were said to have taken great care with their appearance. 

In what we know now as the Industrial Revolution - starting in Europe around 1750 - the technology required for mass production became accessible leading to the boom of consumer goods and an increased need for labor led to an emergence of industrial factories replacing home-production. During this time, cosmetics were mostly used for the purpose of maintaining a good appearance.

Early cosmetic products and tools were usually connected to the ancient ideas of medicine and healing. These ingredients were beneficial to health and well-being, but they also had aesthetic purposes; these apothecaries created specialized concoctions to prevent aging, heal scars, increase libido or even hair growth. Although it is a widely accepted fact that the Egyptians created and used cosmetics as far back as 4500 BC, but the earliest known surviving record of these early contents is found in a tomb discovered in Saqqara in 1898. 

The use of cosmetics prospered in ancient Egypt, and is one of the first examples of a global industry. Egyptians found it necessary to treat their skin with special ointments in order to stop the effects of exposure to the harsh desert climate. In addition, they also used makeup to create social status like beauty mark known as kohl for creating an elongated, often exaggerated appearance. These cosmetic needs were met by traveling apothecaries from all over Egypt who used natural ingredients and mixtures. 
The early Egyptian cosmetic products were mainly used for facial makeup and designed for women that were considered beautiful at the time. They also covered their hair in wigs and headdresses which made them resemble gods or goddesses. They also used rouge, ground myrrh, beeswax and plant extracts to help keep their skin soft and supple. They would also use mineral pigments for their eyeliner and pupils and pigments made from minerals like copper for their eyebrows.

Egyptian Women were actually granted certain rights that had been denied to them since the earliest time of recorded history. These rights were granted within the scope of beauty and well being where beauty was considered a part of this status which many women who were physically or mentally handicapped fought to be considered beautiful. The two most notable rights were the right to control their own financial assets and the right to divorce. These cosmetic products were as important to the ancient Egyptians as it is today in modern times. It was no doubt that these ancient people had a much different view of cosmetics and makeup than what we have today, but they bucked salon trends by going as far back as possible in history to make women appear more beautiful than ever before.

Cosmetic use first became popular in Greece around 500 BC, when women would use it to lighten their skin tone. Around 300 BC, ancient physicians and pharmacists in Egypt began to create adornments made of metal or painted with a variety of colors and they were meant to be placed on the eyes and lips as either jewelry or decoration. Their use was mainly ornamental, however; they did not improve the wearer's appearance in any way. 

The Ancient Greeks are widely considered to be the first civilization to embrace cosmetics as we know them today. They are responsible for establishing what products should entail, how they should look, and how they should be used. They were responsible for developing the foundations of modern beauty standards including lipstick, mascara, eye shadow, powder foundation, rouge applicators makeup brushes and creams. 

During this time there were many cosmetics types being offered to customers in the Greek marketplace. The most widely used for the ancient Greeks was white lead which was considered to be a miracle-working substance. This product would be covered with colored powders and oils, and then applied to the face, eyes and lips. This cosmetic was commonly used by women going through menopause or who had some skin conditions such as dermatitis. Medical practitioners of this time also used it to treat gynecological problems.

Another popular cosmetic product that was used during this time was red lead. Its popularity stemmed from the fact that, unlike white lead, it actually improved one's appearance. It would be applied to the lips and face for optimum coloring effects.

The list of mentions of cosmetics in Greek literature proves their great importance in society. In Aristophanes' play "Lysistrate" (388 BC), the character Lampito uses cosmetics to seduce Lysistrate through an elaborate scheme to try to prove that women are superior to men. Another famous play by Aristophanes called "The Women at the Thesmophoria" is where cosmetics are mentioned as a gift that an Athenian citizen might give his wife. This gift was given in an attempt to appease the goddesses who are the origins of women's cosmetics.

The Greek culture also introduced many different cosmetics types to mass consumers during this time. Scents were created using specific plants and oils including poppy, iris, rose, cedar and myrtle which were all meant to make one smell more appealing. Cosmetics were turned into a spectacle and people would pay money to watch other women put on makeup and to see the latest trends that would be popular among their peers. 

The Greeks also pioneered the art of cosmetics by creating their own cosmetic types. One such type was a very light oil called "Otium" which was made from olive oil and rosewater. These types of cosmetics were a great innovation for hair care and skin care and were used to keep one's skin soft, supple, smooth and radiant. This product was so popular that its smell became very recognizable to people even today. Another type that the Greeks made influenced what we know as the "natural look" in the modern world. This natural look is made up of applying mineral pigments like copper to the eyelid, eyebrows and lips which makes them look more alive.


Due to the fact that women were only allowed to use cosmetics in the privacy of their home and not socially, there was a stigma attached to using them. Cosmetics were also considered to be a type of cheating, which was held against men who used them. 

Prior to the invention of cosmetics, it was severely criticized in ancient religious texts such as The Bible's Book of Leviticus where women are banned from wearing cosmetics and jewelry and from having tattoos and beauty marks. In general, beauty contests were heavily discouraged because they were seen as an example of disordered sexuality and improper sexual behavior between opposite genders.

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