Humans have used cosmetics and makeup to embellish their looks and cover up blemishes since times immemorial. The life like bust of Queen Nefertiti is perhaps one of the best known portrayals of the makeup skills of the ancients. But the Egyptians were not the only ones to use various natural products to highlight their best features. Al Zahrawi, a teacher in the ancient times in Persia, authored a medical encyclopedia which had an entire chapter dedicated to cosmetics and their proper use. The Chinese painted their nails and adorned their faces with delicate designs. The Japanese actually had a kind of makeup foundation made from wax plus lipstick from safflower petals and other cosmetics. In every part of the world we can find evidence that modern makeup has evolved from roots that were very much in existence even in the ancient times.

The Egyptians show the way

Although the first account of ‘face painting’ can be found in the old Testament, true credit for giving cosmetology and makeup its due attention, for the very first time, goes to the Egyptians. Even back in 10,000 BC, Egyptian men and women knew about oil massages and creams to make their skin soft and supple. The use of perfumes, body lotions, kohl, face colors and many other cosmetic items was very popular with these ancient people.

The Egyptians believed that to be accepted by the Gods in their afterlife they needed to look good. This explains why we find beautifully painted faces on the sarcophagi unearthed from Egyptian pyramids. Busts and friezes of reigning pharaohs and his consort were also artistically decorated so that facial features were heavily highlighted to match the real person’s regular makeup. The religious connotation attached to one’s appearance ensured that perfect makeup and skin care was a very important activity in daily Egyptian life.

The many cosmetics used by Egyptians

The Egyptians used a surprisingly large number of makeup and skin care products. Rouge colored their lips and cheeks, while dyes and paints hued their body and facial skin. There is enough evidence to show that the Egyptians even colored their hair.

Perhaps best known of all is their extravagant use of kohl to accentuate the eyes. This dark colored powder was made with many different naturally occurring substances that gave different hues and different textures. Some of these are crushed antimony, lead, copper, burnt almonds, ash, malachite, copper ore, ochre and many others. Both the upper and lower lids were heavily accented with kohl and a line extended to the side of the face too.

The use of kohl protected the eyes from excessive sunlight and the Egyptians believed that it cured eye infections as well. The use of aromatic oils, unguents and lotions to improve skin tone and color while giving the wearer a pleasant fragrance was quite common. In fact, the Egyptians even used cleansers (animal fat mixed with powdered lime and perfume). We still follow many of the skin care and makeup techniques the Egyptians used in these ancient times.

How makeup evolved in other parts of the world

The Greeks were heavily influenced by Egyptian customs which soon found their way into Greek homes too. Both Greeks and Chinese painted their faces white with different ingredients. Greek women used berries as blush while Chinese focused more on their nails, painting them in line with their social classes.

The Romans were not far behind and they probably used some of the very first pimple cures with their butter barley mixes. Mud baths (a precursor to today’s facial masks) and hair dying were also quite common with the Romans. In the middle Ages, English women dyed their hair and whitened their face with egg whites.

Sadly, many of the cosmetics used by these people were quite harmful to the skin and to overall health as well. Today, we have the choice to identify products that are tested stringently to prove that they are harmless. We have the opportunity to pick only those cosmetics that will truly give our skin glowing health from the inside as well as outside.

In modern times

In the recent past, the movie industry gets the credit for ensuring that makeup has not ‘lost its sheen’. The presence of an entire industry that was willing to pay for cosmetics and skin care advice and similar products encouraged many entrepreneurs into entering this field. Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubinstein and many others launched their immensely successful product ranges in the 20th century thanks to the appeal and demand for these drummed by movie stars.

The introduction of the internet has made the world a global village. It is now possible to cater to clients across the world with ease. Both men and women in every part of the world are growing more and more aware of the importance of looking good. Given this, the cosmetics and skin care industry is all set to enter its golden age.

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