A History of Cosmetics, Part 2


 A History of Cosmetics, Part 2

Cosmetics have been used for many centuries. Ancient Egyptians were the first to mention them in their writings, using skin whiteners made from crushed seashells, egg whites, and lime.

Despite the fact that there is little hard evidence of how cosmetics were used by ancient societies, we know they existed. Archeological sites contain a variety of cosmetic artifacts such as pots containing traces of red lead oxide - an ingredient in rouge still used today, as well as sticks with charred ends which may have been used for applying eye makeup. There are also necklaces with small containers affixed to them that may have held perfume or other beauty products that would be slathered on by hand before going out into public.

In the East, cosmetics made of ground and polished rice have been discovered in China as well. The Shang Dynasty (16th century BCE) in China also utilized makeup and body care products made from animal bones.

Egyptian women powdered their faces with a mixture of sand and ochre, while both men and women dyed their hair with henna. Around 3,000 BC, sheep's wool was discovered to be excellent for makeup manufacturing when it was found that soaking it in water softened the wool fibers to make them more pliable. After soaking, carders would then spin individual fibers into a thread that could be spun into yarn or further processed by spinning wheels to make strong threads for weaving or sewing fabric. The threads were then dyed and used all over the body, especially by men, to decorate clothing and keep warm during the cold winter months.

Ancient Egyptians also used kohl as a cosmetic. Kohl is a powder of crushed antimony oxide mixed with water, which was applied around the eyes to protect them from the sun. Ancient Egyptian men also styled their hair using beeswax and henna, while both sexes beaded their hair with gold dust. The Ancient Egyptians would also mold their skulls into a conical shape by wearing tightly bound linen headgear that flattened the tops of their skulls. This fashion was known as "top-knotted", and created a fashion trend among many Middle Eastern cultures after it became more widespread.

During the reign of the Empress Wu Zetian (624-705 CE), makeup was used to distinguish people from different communities. However, after she died, makeup fell out of popularity and was not mentioned again until the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE).

Chinese courtesans would apply a white powder called "mian" on their faces to protect their skin from the sun. They used musk and civet as perfumes. This is also around the time that kohl started being used by both sexes in Egypt and Syria too.

The Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) was the last Chinese dynasty to make use of face powders and body cosmetics for everyday use. Daintiness was idealized in their culture, and makeup was an important part of it. Most people used very little of these products because they were considered too expensive, or reserved for special occasions like weddings and the imperial court.

A major step forward in cosmetics came with the great Islamic civilization in the early Middle Ages (7th-11th centuries) when the application of oils on one's face became fashionable as a means to preserve youthfulness.

In the 12th century, al-Sikkitah (Algiers), a Berber kingdom, was frequently referred to as the "theater of women" since its women were renowned for dressing in colorful makeup. Around this time, makeup was used as an aid to disguise oneself from the authorities. But around the 13th century, it became more of an art form than a practical necessity. During this time period, highly trained artists developed a system of cosmetics that utilized different colors of Indian kohl as well as minerals to create thousands of colors available in every possible shade and tone. The accurate application of cosmetics required years and years of training which could only be given by special classes and schools. In fact, Egyptian women, who were famous for their makeup and skin care techniques, were some of the most expensive courtesans and prostitutes in the world.

Ancient Roman women used foundation to cover blemishes on their skin. But cosmetics did not become an important aspect of their makeup until the early Middle Ages (hundreds of years later) when they became more available, thus increasing their desirability. The Roman woman would also use a metal ring called a "cabinet" to apply powder to her face. This was actually a small metal house that was placed over the woman's face and used to apply powder and rouge to her cheeks and chin for achieving an even skin tone. It is not known whether these Roman women also used eye shadow and blush, but it is likely that they did.

In the Middle Ages, cosmetics was a tool for beautification and masking everyday life. It also functioned as a form of entertainment and an art form. Glittering eyeshadow was worn by both men and women, while makeup with rich colors would have been reserved for special occasions (weddings, court functions).  It became a fashion trend in ancient Rome to cover up one's face with long-lasting face paint. This was accomplished with the use of white glues made from milk proteins as well as charcoal (which had been imported from Baghdad).

The use of beauty products, especially perfumes, became a major cultural issue under the Roman emperors. Although their methods of making perfume had improved greatly in the first century AD, they were still not as good as those in today's world. They used oils to create perfumes with herbs and spices (like a mixture of cinnamon, cassia and cardamom). The Romans also discovered that if oil was cured in a vase until it turned into vinegar, it would produce an intense perfume. In addition to using these means of fragrance production, the Romans also popularized the use of different soils such as mulberry leaves that were soaked and dried onto women's garments. The Romans also used ashes of horses' hooves and wheat heads to produce perfumes.

The most important historical event for cosmetics was the widespread use of makeup in Ancient Egypt, from around 3000 BC until the Roman conquest in 30 BC. This civilization is credited with inventing the practice of applying cosmetics (or maquillage) to skin and face. This established a legacy that would last for many centuries. The Classical Greeks were great admirers of Egyptian culture, which can be seen in their artworks, architecture and even political power structure. As a result, they used makeup as an expression of their cultural identity: this is known as Alexander's blood.


Cosmetics have always been a part of humanity's need for self-display, whether this was as a form of entertainment or adornment.





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