A quick history lesson: The origins of makeup

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  • Thursday, December 13, 2018
A quick history lesson: The origins of makeup
A quick history lesson: The origins of makeup

Ever wondered where makeup originated from? Our minds automatically go to scenes of hairy cavewomen painting their faces with mud while they wait for their men to return from the hunt. Turns out, our guess may be slightly off target (more on the real answer below) and we can’t help but contemplate why we started wearing makeup and how it’s transformed over the years. Your makeup history lesson starts here.

The connection between beauty and spirituality

Archeological evidence traces the origins of makeup as far back as ancient Egypt where Nile-dwellers were prettying themselves up as early as 4000BC. However, unlike us women today, these ladies weren’t trying to impress the local pharaohs with their flawless complexions and come-hither eyes; instead they were trying to please the gods. In the eyes of the Egyptians, looking attractive was associated with having a high spiritual worth, so makeup became a way to enhance their appearance for spiritual reasons.

The earliest makeup products

Egyptian eyeshadow (known as ‘’mesdement”) began as a black or dark grey crushed concoction of copper and lead, which was applied to the upper lids and lashes to ward off evil. A beautiful green mineral, malachite, was added to the mixture for the lower lids and lash lines. Their version of kohl, which they famously lined their eyes with to create a thick, cat-eye shape, is believed to have been made from a combination of burnt almonds, ash, lead, copper and ochre. What about blush and lipstick? Red clay or ochre and water or animal fat did the job nicely; and when it came to makeup remover, the Egyptians even had that covered by using a type of soap they created from vegetable and animal oils. Lovely.

A change in direction

The usage of makeup for spiritual practices continued for centuries, until the Roman empire took over. The Romans used similar makeup formulas to the Egyptians, but instead had the intent of improving their appearance for themselves and each other (i.e. the Roman men).


Needless to say, makeup has completely evolved since then and we continue to use it for a variety of different reasons today. Whether it’s used to put our best face forward or capture the attention of an admirer, makeup will always be a feel-good ritual, regardless of the century we’re in.

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