The ancient Egyptians were believed to be some of the first to use cosmetics as far back as 4,000 B.C. They painted their eyebrows and lined their eyes with Kohl made from sheep fat mixed with powdered lead, antimony or soot. The Romans used wine as a cheek stain and painted their faces and bodies with chalk. They made acne treatments by combining barley flour and butter. The Romans also dyed their hair using lye, causing many people to lose their hair and forcing them to wear wigs. The Ancient Greeks stained their cheeks and lips with vermillion and the juice from berries and darkened their eyelashes with black incense.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, members of royal courts were the only people using cosmetics. Fragrances were becoming popular in France and whitening agents were being used on faces. These were made of carbonate, hydroxide and lead oxide, ingredients that accumulated in the body causing problems that sometimes resulted in muscle paralysis or death.
By the 1800s, almost all social classes wore cosmetics, but many products still contained toxic ingredients. Eyeshadows and lip stains contained poisonous ingredients like mercuric sulfide and belladonna. Zinc oxide, which is still used today, was introduced as a facial powder to replace deadly arsenic versions.
Eugene Rimmel’s (1820-87) great invention was mascara – but his first big success was a product called ‘toilet vinegar’, an aromatic vinegar used to moisturise the skin. Here’s the recipe: oil of bergamot, oil of citron, tincture of benzoin, extract of lavender, and white vinegar, infused for ten days and filtered. Dilute with water, then apply to coarse skin or use as a shampoo. (You could also use it to shift stubborn stains from your lavatory, and it would work perfectly well, but that wasn’t what Rimmel had in mind.)
His mascara was the first industrially produced, non-toxic eye make-up and became very popular as a result. It consisted mostly of coal dust and petroleum jelly. These days, there’s an urban myth that mascara contains bat guano. It doesn’t. It does, however, contain guanine, which is made of fish scales.
Rimmel was very forward-thinking. He invented the ‘perfume vaporiser’, which was designed to spread the smell of flowers throughout a room – an early version of the air freshener. Queen Victoria kept one on her yacht. At the Great Exhibition in 1851, Rimmel exhibited a perfume fountain.
Rimmel perfumed cushions, theatre programmes and Valentines cards. He wrote a book on the history of perfume and scented the pages. He even perfumed particular scenes in popular plays. The programme would mention that the smell of a particular scene was provided by Rimmel.
Cosmetics is a boon to every woman, but a girl's best beauty aid is still a near-sighted man.
In Greek and Roman theatre, makeup was usually unnecessary. Actors wore masks allowing them to portray another gender, age, or entirely different likeness. The Ancient Greek, Thepsis (6th century BC) is considered to be the first actor playing a character rather than speaking as himself, used white lead and wine to paint his face. In medieval Europe, actors altered their appearance by painting their faces different colours. Actors portraying God painted their faces white or gold, those playing angels painted their faces red. During the Renaissance, actors used lamb's wool for false beards and flour as face paint.
Advances in stage lighting required stage makeup to evolve beyond one over-all face color to a multidimensional craft. Originally, theatres used candles and oil lamps, dim lighting that allowed for crude, unrealistic makeup. Once gas lights, limelight and electric light were introduced to theatres, a need emerged for new makeup materials and more skillful application techniques. In 1873, Ludwig Leichner, a Wagnerian opera singer, began commercially producing a non-toxic greasepaint stick.
Through the use of makeup, specifically highlighting and shading, the apparent shape of an actor’s face can be changed. Because stage actors are seen from far away their makeup needs to be ‘dramatic’.
A computer scientist has developed false eyelashes and conducting eye-shadow that allow her to launch a mini drone when she winks.
Cow placentas are used to make cosmetics.
Nail-varnish was illegal in Afghanistan under the Taliban.
Roman women wore nail varnish made from lizard's blood.
The names of 16th century lipsticks included ape’s laugh, smoked ox, chimney-sweep and dying monkey.
People in Japan have used nightingale poo facials since the 1600s.
There is an expensive face cream available that includes ingredients derived from young human foreskins.
In Elizabethan England, dyed red hair became the fashion.
A husband is a guy who tells you when you've got on too much lipstick and helps you with your girdle when your hips stick.
Queen Elizabeth I used white lead to create the look known as ‘the Mask of Youth’.