B like Beginning History of Makeup Artistry Part 1

History of Makeup – Ancient Societies

Part 1 Ancient Societies

Part 1 Ancient Societies

Part 1 Ancient Societies

“A woman without paint is like food without salt.”  Roman philosopher Plautus (254-184 BC)

Ever wonder how cosmetics got started — and when? Believe or not, but cosmetics have been around since 500,000 B.C., when cave dwellers in Africa and South America would cover their bodies in decorative patterns using mud. Incredible, right? 


EGYPT C 3000 – 31 BC

In c. 3000 BC the Egyptians were using over 30 different types of cosmetic balms and ointments (made from beeswax, vegetable oil and animal fat). 


Egyptian women mostly used galena (more commonly known as kohl) and malachite powder (a green mineral) for eye makeup. Galena was a black paint that shielded eyes from the sun, while malachite powder made the eyes appear larger and protected those who wore it. History of mascara also has its roots in the ancient Egypt as they first began to accentuate lashes in approximately  3400 BC. They used a mixture of soot, oil and egg white or combination of crocodile excrement with water and honey.

Crocodile dung mixed with donkey’s milk was used by Cleopatra as a face mask. She also famously bathed in milk with rose petals for hours at end. Cleopatra wore a unique red lipstick created from flowers, red ochre, fish scales, crushed ants, carmine, and beeswax. Her signature shade made red a popular choice, and as a result, the use of carmine became more widespread. 


Much of our current-day makeup application is tied to the past. Just think about everything from cat eye makeup to bold red lipstick and cheek stains. All date back to ancient times! 


CHINA AND JAPAN C 3000 – 1500 BC

Chinese people began to stain their fingernails with gum, arabic, gelatin, beeswax, and egg. The colours used represent social class: Chou dynasty royals wear gold and silver, with subsequent royals wearing black or red. Lower classes are forbidden to wear bright colours on their nails.

The beauty of Japanese women was often judged on the basis of their hair length and the ideal length was considered 2 feet below their waist.

Chinese and Japanese citizens commonly use rice powder to make their faces white. Eyebrows are shaved off, teeth painted gold or black and henna dyes applied to stain hair and faces.


GREECE C 800 – 500 BC

There is a reason why an exceptionally beautiful woman is called a “Greek goddess”. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess, has long been the ideal with whom beautiful women are compared. Makeup in the Greek ancient culture was worn by high society daily. Many women would use eyeliner made with olive oil and charcoal to darken their eyes. They also liked connected eyebrows (unibrow). The application of fake eyebrows, often made of oxen hair, is also fashionable.

Due to the cost of makeup it was only the noblewomen of Greek society that could afford makeup and the trend was to obtain the palest skin possible which they did by mixing water and white lead – extremely bad for the health and lead to early death.


We still use many materials in our cosmetics and beauty products that the Ancient Greeks used in the past. These include olive oil, honey and beeswax.



ROME (C 1000 BC)

The Ancient Romans started using cosmetics for ritual purposes, but as time went on, they became part of women’s everyday lives. The Romans paid great attention to their hygiene and time was spent at the Roman baths which were also used as a place of meeting and socialising. Following their baths Roman women enjoyed applying a form of moisturising cream.

Kohl was used for darkening eyelashes and eyelids, chalk was used for whitening the complexion, and rouge was worn on the cheek. The Romans believed pink on the cheeks to a be a sign of gold health. So, women would apply several substances on their faces to achieve that result. They also used the green colouring of Ancient Egyptian eye make up ( made from malachite). The malachite stone was crushed and then mixed as the green eye make up.

For the ancient Romans, applying makeup was a ritual process that involved various paints and potions – many of them poisonous. The higher the status of the woman the more make-up they wore. The wealthy could afford slaves (called Cosmetae) to apply it for them, but it still needed re-applying throughout the day as compositions was poor and humidity and sweat washed it off.

INDIA GUPTA AGE (C  320 – 550 AD)

No talk about beauty can be complete without mentioning the beauty secrets of India. Between 320 and 550 CE, makeup trends in India composed of bold, vibrant colours. Showing power and strength meant a lot to the women, and they showed this through their makeup trends.

Kohl, fresh flowers and lip rouge are the top three things that women can’t live without in this specific time and age in Indian society. Bindi (colored dot on the centre of the forehead) was only worn by married Hindu women at this time.

In ancient India the beautification of any Indian bride would not be complete without Solah Singaar (Sixteen adornments). These sixteen steps covered head to toe and represented sixteen phases of the moon.

The history of makeup continues in the next two blogs…


What do you think of these beauty secrets? Share your thoughts through comments below! 🙂


Author: Kamila Kroczak-Stepien