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The use of makeup can be traced back to as far as 10,000 BCE in human history. Throughout humanity’s growth, makeup has mostly been a consistent presence. How makeup was used, however, has changed tremendously over the years.

For a long time, people were unaware of the dangers hidden inside their makeup. Use of harmful substances like lead and mercury in makeup created adverse health problems, which could even result in death. Over time, people found ways to overcome these problems.

The makeup industry today is a power player in the world market. With millions of consumers and thousands of brands, makeup is now a normal part of our everyday lives. But this wasn’t always the case.

Makeup in Antiquity (10,000 BCE to 100 CE)

Ancient Egypt:

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The earliest people have been able to trace the use of makeup to, was in 10,000 BCE in Egypt. Around that time, residents of Egypt had already started to use makeup in their everyday routines. The two most popular kinds of makeup include kohl and henna.

Kohl didn’t become popularly used in Egypt for thousands of years yet. But Egyptians loved to use scented oils and creams to protect their skin. They believed that these oils and creams kept their skin soft, helped protect their skin against the harsh sun rays, and fought body odor. Common ingredients for creating makeup included peppermint, aloe, lily, rose, and rosemary. Sesame oil, olive oil, myrrh, and other ingredients were commonly used as well.

Around 4000 BCE, the use of kohl became popular. To make kohl, people mixed together ash, burnt almonds, ochre, oxidised copper ores of various colors. The resulting colors of the kohl varied from dark green to blue. Egyptians believed that wearing kohl around their eyes would protect them from the evil eye. There were also certain health benefits to wearing kohl. It contained health benefits and had anti-bacterial properties. This kept people healthy as well.

China and Japan:

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By 3000 BCE, makeup was used in China and Japan as well. In China specifically, painting fingernails was a trend. But this was a trend only the wealthy and aristocratic could participate in.

While the wealthier classes painted their fingernails with gold or silver colors, poorer people couldn’t.

Aside from gold and silver, the wealthy also used gum, beeswax, and even gelatin to paint their fingernails. Eggs became popular as well, as they could provide a shine to the nails.

In Japan, makeup involved painting the face white using rice powder, and painting the teeth black. Often, the eyebrows were shaved off. This practice became popular around 1500 BCE. Around that time, the use of rice powder to paint the face white became popular in China as well.

The practice of painting the teeth black, in Japan, is known as ‘Ohaguro’. It was usually reserved for special events. Geisha makeup of the time also included a form of rudimentary lipstick. Safflower petals had to be crushed and ground. The lip stain obtained from this gave color to the lips.


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Makeup was popularly used in Europe. Alexander the Great used makeup during his adventures. He wore kohl around his eyes, and believed that the kohl protected his eyes from the sun’s glare. He also used makeup for aesthetic reasons.

Alexander the Great also tried to build a garden full of ingredients used in makeup. During his travels, he would collect cuttings from plants that he could use in makeup. These cuttings were sent back home. At home, his friend would collect the cuttings and use them to create a garden full of exotic makeup ingredients.

The use of lead as a base to make the complexion appear paler was also common in Europe. The British popularly used the color blue in their makeup. This led to British warriors being nicknamed as ‘Picts’. The Romans gave them this name due to the color of their makeup. In Greece, women used lead powder or white chalk to paint their faces white. They color their lips with ochre clay.

Makeup and the World (100 CE -1500 CE)

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For a long time in history, including this period, pale complexion was in demand. The reason behind this was that pale skin was considered an indication of aristocracy.

Especially as civilizations became more pronounced, people had to go to work to earn enough to survive. Most people were day labourers and spent hours working in the fields or in the markets. This meant that their skin would appear tanned. Only those who stayed at home and had the privilege of not needing to work would have pale skin.

This meant that pale skin was popular, and many people tried to emulate the complexion in their daily lives.

In Rome, around 100 BCE, people started to use makeup to solve skin problems as well. The use of a mixture of butter and barley flour to treat pimples can be traced back to this period. Around this time, blonde hair also grew popular in Rome. Men tried to dye their hair using natural ingredients available to them.

Between 300-400 CE, the use of henna in makeup can be found in India. The henna plant was made into a paste. This paste was used to color the hair, or make elaborate decorations called Mehendi.

Makeup is Exchanged in the World

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Around 1200 CE, an important event happened in the history of makeup. The Crusades led to a mixing of cultures between the Europeans and the Middle Eastern people. During this time, perfume was brought to Europe from the Middle East. This played an important role in the development of one of the most important commodities in the European makeup market. Within the next few hundred years, perfumery would begin in Italy and France. Earlier on, these scents were made using naturally available ingredients.

Over time, processes were developed that reduced the labor-intensive nature of making perfumes. This made perfumery flourish even more.

Elizabethan and Victorian England

Even as makeup was developing in different parts of Europe, the story in England was a little different. Elizabeth the First loved makeup. Her power ensemble included the use of elaborate makeup to give her white skin. This white skin has always been associated with the monarch and her reign.

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During Elizabeth’s reign, makeup was still in use. Red hair had become popular, and society women tried to appear fair as well. But in Victorian England, everything changed. Queen Victoria thought makeup was vulgar. This meant that people now had to be more discreet when it came to using makeup.

In Edwardian England, things changed again. Now, older women had to appear more youthful. This was a necessary part of their hostess duty. This meant that makeup was becoming mainstream again.

The 1900s and Modern Makeup

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During the 1900s, the use of makeup really took off. During this century, makeup became more than just a tool that made people look good. When the century was beginning, makeup was seen as something only prostitutes or big Hollywood actresses wore.

By 1920s, Hollywood had become even more popular. Makeup artists made actresses appear glamorous. Women wanted to look glamorous like that as well. They tried on makeup in their homes, even if they didn’t flamboyantly wear it outside.

Aside from the growth of Hollywood, the women’s suffrage movement had taken off as well. Makeup became a symbol of this movement, especially the red lipstick. It was suddenly seen as a symbol for women empowerment.

During the World War, makeup was scarce. But portable and compact makeup were developed during this time. The women’s rights movements between 1960 and 1970 tried to show makeup as something that was unwanted. They portrayed makeup as something that was used by men to objectify women.

However, the greater consensus during this time was that makeup was an industry that gave women jobs. Women were entrepreneurs, creators and distributors of makeup.

In the 1970s, makeup became glamorous. Extravagant eye makeup and large hair were in vogue. This was also the decade of glam rock. Popular rock artists like KISS and David Bowie used makeup as well. Around this time, both men and women were beginning to use makeup. The 1980’s saw bold eyes and lips become mainstream.

The 1990’s were a decade when people loved natural colors, mattes and nudes. In stark comparison to the colors and brightness of the 1980’s, the 1990’s were more subdued.

The 2000s to Today: Makeup Today

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During the 2000s makeup changed in how accessible it was. Metallic and glittery colors were popular and people across the world were wearing them. The growth of the internet created a cohesive Outlook to makeup. Online beauty vloggers on YouTube also taught people how to use makeup.

In the 2000s, makeup became accessible, alongside the knowledge of how to use that makeup. At the same time, gender equality movements created an environment where men and women can both wear makeup. Today, makeup is seen as a part of a person’s self -expression. Trends such as eyebrow focused and eye focused makeup also became popular. Makeup today is focused on individuality, self-expression, and invoking self-confidence in people.