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History of Cosmetics

Egyptian men and women used makeup to enhance their appearance. They were very fond of eyeliner and eyeshadows in dark colors including blue, red, and black. Ancient Sumerian men and women were possibly the first to invent and wear lipstick, about 5,000 years ago. They crushed gemstones and used them to decorate their faces, mainly on the lips and around the eyes. Also around 3000 BC to 1500 BC, women in the ancient Indus Valley Civilization applied red tinted lipstick to their lips for face decoration. Ancient Egyptians extracted red dye from fucus-algin, 0.01% iodine, and some bromine mannite, but this dye resulted in serious illness. Lipsticks with shimmering effects were initially made using a pearlescent substance found in fish scales. Six thousand year old relics of the hollowed out tombs of the Ancient Egyptian pharaohs are discovered.

According to one source, early major developments include:

  • Kohl used by ancient Egypt as a protective of the eye.
  • Castor oil used by ancient Egypt as a protective balm.
  • Skin creams made of beeswax, olive oil, and rose water, described by Romans.
  • Vaseline and lanolin in the nineteenth century.
  • The Ancient Greeks also used cosmetics as the Ancient Romans did. Cosmetics are mentioned in the Old Testament, such as in 2 Kings 9:30, where Jezebel painted her eyelids—approximately 840 BC—and in the book of Esther, where beauty treatments are described.

    One of the most popular traditional Chinese medicines is the fungus Tremella fuciformis, used as a beauty product by women in China and Japan. The fungus reportedly increases moisture retention in the skin and prevents senile degradation of micro-blood vessels in the skin, reducing wrinkles and smoothing fine lines. Other anti-ageing effects come from increasing the presence of superoxide dismutase in the brain and liver; it is an enzyme that acts as a potent antioxidant throughout the body, particularly in the skin. Tremella fuciformis is also known in Chinese medicine for nourishing the lungs.

    Cosmetic use was frowned upon at many points in Western history. For example, in the 19th century, Queen Victoria publicly declared make-up improper, vulgar, and acceptable only for use by actors.

    During the sixteenth century, the personal attributes of the women who used make-up created a demand for the product among the upper class.

    During the 18th century, there was a high number of incidences of lead-poisoning because of the fashion for red and white lead makeup and powder. This led to swelling and inflammation of the eyes, weakened tooth enamel, and caused the skin to blacken. Heavy use was known to lead to death.

    Although modern make-up has been traditionally used mainly by women, an increasing number of men are using cosmetics usually associated to women to enhance or cover their own facial features such as blemishes, dark circles, and so on. Cosmetics brands release products specially tailored for men, and men are increasingly using them.




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