The use of natural makeup products has been around ever since people became aware of themselves. When people realised for the first time that the muddy face staring back at them from pond or river was actually themselves – the desire to improve looks was born. So the use of truly organic makeup has been around almost as long a man (or woman) himself.
So how was the foundation for the makeup industry started? When did makeup products become commercially popular? Why is there a move today to go back to all natural cosmetics and makeup products?
To answer those questions we have to go back to the Egyptians and their use of foundations and eye makeup.
Most of us have seen pictures of Cleopatra with her dark eye makeup and bronze foundation. Red clay and water was used for lips and cheeks. Henna was used to dye the nails and hair. They believed that beauty was not only to look good for themselves but it also had spiritual meaning it was pleasing to the gods. So the more beautiful a person looked, the more the gods would be pleased. Because their makeup could please the gods they also reasoned that it could protect them from evil. Burnt almonds were burnt to produce a dark colored powder. This was mixed with sheep’s fat, lead and copper ores, ash and ochre was applied to the eyes to give the eye an almond look which was considered very desirable. They also used other colors for a natural foundation. For example they applied a bright green paste of copper minerals to their faces to provide colour. Perfumed oils were used to create sweet smelling perfumes. They even tackled body odour by mashing incense soaked porridge into their armpits! In fact many of the nut and seed and essential oils being used today were used during these times to prevent dryness against the hot Egyptian sun and winds. Almond, olive and sesame oils along with essential oils like lavender, peppermint, chamomile, rose, myrrh and thyme were commonly used. So natural makeup was born!
The Far East
Around 1500 BC in China and Japan rice powder paint was used as for a white foundation. It maybe didn’t give a natural makeup look but it certainly caught people eye! We will all have seen the classic geisha face. Eyebrows were plucked, and teeth were even painted black or gold. Henna dyes were used to dye hair and faces. In fact today henna is still a great hair dye!
In Greece in 1,000 BC it became popular for women and men of the upper classes to wear wigs. This was because they had started using bleaches to lighten their hair, and ended up destroying their hair completely! They made rouge from crushed mulberries and sometimes red beet juice and crushed strawberries. For a lighter foundation white lead and chalk were used. Women used a clay stained red with iron, as lipstick, and even painted their palms with henna to make them look younger.
The Romans took bathing seriously, hence the amount of public baths that can still be seen today. They caused themselves no end of pain by their attempts at being hair-free. Crocodile excrement was used for mud baths, barley flour and butter for pimples, and sheep fat and blood for nail polish. Women wore white lead and chalk to lighten their faces, a look that was to last off and on to the present day. Part of the reason for this look was that it demonstrated wealth. Only the wealthy could stay inside and avoid a sun-tan. Of course nowadays it the opposite. Those with sun-tans are considered more wealthy because of being able to afford exotic holidays. Now though with more of the dangers associated with the sun and skin cancer we might see a revival in whiter skin.
Medieval to middles ages
During this time it was still fashionable to have the pale look and efforts were made to make lighter foundations, not all of them ‘natural’ though. If the fashionable sixth century woman could not afford white make-up, she achieved the same result by using leeches and bleeding herself! Sometimes egg whites or a potentially deadly combination of carbonate hydroxide and lead oxide was used to make a face powder. Lead which provided a white look and arsenic because it gave a metallic luster could also be found in eye shadows and lip tints. And to finish off the pale look, belladonna, a poisonous herb, was dropped into the eyes to dilate the pupils and give them a dreamy look.
The expression ‘looks can kill’ took on a new meaning thanks to a woman in Italy by the name of Ms. Toffana. She made an arsenic based white face foundation Aqua Toffana. Women would visit Ms.Toffana to learn its proper use. The instructions were never to ingest the makeup, but to apply it to their cheeks when their men were around. Six hundred dead husbands (and many wealthy widows) later, Ms. Toffana was executed.
With the start of 14th Century makeup was soon back in fashion and many different types of makeup products were being produced. Women wore egg whites over their faces to create a glazed look and in Elizabethan England dyed red hair was the fashion. Women were also known to sleep with slices of raw beef on their faces to get rid of wrinkles.
During the 16th century in Europe Italy and France became the chief centre of makeup and cosmetic manufacture. New fragrances were created by blending ingredients together.
Essential oils were extracted from plants such as Lavender, which were being mass cultivated for this purpose for the first time. The white look continued to be popular, a 16th century whitening agent for the face was composed of carbonate, hydroxide, and lead oxide. These agents, cumulatively stored in the body with each use, were responsible for numerous physical problems and resulted in some cases of muscle paralysis or death. This is the reason why today many are looking for more natural makeup products. There are no clear studies as to how the mixture of different synthetic chemicals in modern day makeup can affect the body.
Back By Popular Demand
By the 18th century with the beginnings of mass production and increasing wealth meant that cosmetics were in use by nearly all social classes. Red rouge and lipstick were all the rage in France. The more puritanical protestant countries were slower – viewing red as the color of loose women. They accused the French of hiding their ugliness behind makeup. In the 19th century Zinc oxide replaced lead as a white colorant, but other poisonous substances continued in use. Lipsticks contained mercuric sulphide and the deadly nerve toxin, belladonna, was added to the eyes to open up the iris ‘and make one’s eyes sparkle’. Did you know that lead is still found in some lipsticks today!
So as you can see not much has changed in the history of makeup. Unfortunately today makeup companies are still putting potentially dangerous chemical in makeup products. Although they are classed as ‘safe for use’, this is sometimes because there is no proof yet of the damage that these can cause. For example traces of parabens (a preservative used in most cosmetic products) have found in breast cancers. While there is no definite link to say that parabens are causing skin cancer, many are alarmed at these findings. After all the cosmetic companies are mainly interested in money. We know this because many times cheap chemicals are used which cause damage and irritation to the skin. These cheap chemicals can also be found in the so-called ‘top of the range’ makeup and cosmetic products.