Home Beauty Mascara, eyeliner, make-up – interesting facts about the history of decorative cosmetics

Mascara, eyeliner, make-up – interesting facts about the history of decorative cosmetics

Archaeological discoveries show that cosmetics and paint were already widely used back in ancient times. While today the discerning customer will often have a hard time choosing the right thing amongst the thousands of products on offer in her favourite beauty shop, the ancient Romans and Egyptians made use of the rich offerings of mother nature. Plant stems soaked in a purple paste made of the juice of murex sea snails were used as lipstick, grease and finely ground gemstones were mixed into colourful eye shadow, and to enhance their eyebrows and eyelashes they used charcoal and galena powder.

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But not only the ladies applied make-up, also the men made regular use of cosmetics. Back in ancient times, however, it was not so much about beauty; the people used cosmetics mostly for religious and ritual purposes. Only in the renaissance period it became fashionable to use paint in order to highlight physical virtues and skilfully conceal little flaws.

Since the recipes were often guarded like a state secret and the cosmetics were only produced by hand in tiny quantities, the products were exorbitantly expensive, which meant that for a long time only the upper class was able to afford them. This changed only with the arrival of industrialisation. Women all over the world were thrilled and decorative cosmetics experienced a boom which continues until today.

A real sensation was the presentation of the first lipstick at the World’s Fair 1883 in Amsterdam. Until then, ladies had been using dyed lip balm from a little jar to make their mouth shine in a bright colour inviting a kiss. By using deer tallow and cochineal lice extracts for colour, French perfumers managed to bring the lip balm into a solid form: the first lipstick – back then simply covered in silk paper – was born. Although it had little in common with today’s lipsticks, it was still a revolution in decorative cosmetics. In those days the focus was on the colour, while today’s lipsticks cover both care and decorative aspects. Today the in- dustry uses moisturising oils and greases in combination with fat that gives the lipstick its solid appearance. The colour comes from organic pigments combined with iron oxides.

The first mascara, a mix of coal dust and Vaseline, was invented by the American chemist T.L. Williams in 1913 for his sister Maybel. In doing so, he laid the foundation for the little family-owned company Maybel- line Jade to become the No. 1 in decorative cosmetics worldwide. And also the first modern make-up, invented by the Polish-American cosmetician Max Factor, brought fame and fortune upon its inventor. Originally invented in 1914 for making up the actors of a movie, Max Factor launched his own line of make-up in 1920, which continues to be highly successful until today. For the first nail polish, a US corporation in the 1930s used pigments that previously had only been used for paint coatings in the automotive industry.

Every period had its own fashion, which were inextricably linked to their own cosmetics trends: A real make-up boom started after World War I during the Charleston and Ragtime period in the ‘Golden 20s’. The ‘modern’ lady had a pageboy haircut, her eyebrows plucked to a slim line, the eyes lined in dark colour and the lips painted in dark red. After World War II it was mostly the American women to set the trends. Movie stars such as Grace Kelly, later to become the Princess of Monaco, Audrey Hepburn (Breakfast at Tiffany’s), and most of all, of course, America’s platinum blond sex symbol of the 1950s: Marilyn Monroe.

For most American women it is unthinkable still today to leave the house without wearing extensive make-up; in Europe, on the other side, there is a trend towards a more natural style for several years. In her daily life, the modern European lady uses a tinted moisturising day cream instead of make-up, combined with mascara and a naturally coloured lipstick. Only when going out at night she would choose a more colourful appearance similar to that of an American lady. Smokey eyes, multicolour eye shadow is still fashionable for the evening.

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