The evolution of: makeup - Reader's Digest

Cosmetics Of Ancient Egypt

Cosmetics can be found in most societies on earth. In ancient Egypt, men and women used cosmetic materials such as kohl and henna. Dark green, black or blue kohl was used to decorate the eyes to ward off the evil eye. Scientists now believe the lead in this makeup killed bacteria, keeping wearers healthier.

Egyptians also used castor oil as a protective balm and used creams consisting of beeswax, olive oil, rosewater and more.



  • China. Painting fingernails started around 3000 BCE as a way to establish social class. Royals wore gold or silver, however, the lower classes were forbidden to wear bright nails. Plum blossom makeup was favoured throughout the Tang and Song dynasties.
  • Japan. Geishas used lipstick from crushed safflower petals for their eyebrows and lips and used rice powder to colour the face. Ohaguro - a black paint - was (and is) used to colour the teeth for official ceremonies.



Alexander The Great And Makeup
  • Alexander the Great wore makeup. Eye makeup protected the skin around the eyes and repelled flies. It also sheltered the eyes from the sun's glare.
  • Ancient Britons were known as 'Picts' - the painted ones. They had blue woad painted over their faces.



Makeup During The 20th Century
  • During the beginning of the century, the pale complexion symbolised an aristocratic person who did not have to work for their income. Makeup sought to reproduce this pale appearance.
  • After the 1920s, designers followed Hollywood’s lead, and Coco Chanel popularised a now classic look: dark eyes, red lipstick and a suntan.
  • During WWII, makeup was in short supply. Beetroot became a popular supplement for lip stain and boot polish was used as mascara.
  • The rise of mainstream feminism in the 1960s and 70s saw many women partaking in an anti-cosmetics movement. They claimed that makeup was a tool in objectification.
  • The 1970s was a time of real boom for men wearing makeup.
  • 1980s looks featured bright eye shadows teamed with bold lipsticks and big hair.
  • The 1990s brought normcore and grunge to the mainstream.



In the 21st century, makeup is for everyone. Men are quickly catching onto products such as concealer and eyeliner to enhance their own features.

As gender equality movements progress, the line between who ‘can and can’t’ wear makeup is becoming ever more blurred. Now more than ever, makeup is seen as a tool of self-expression, whoever that self may be.



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