Over the past hundred years, make up has become accessible and affordable. Shelves are stacked with make up like mascara and eye shadow. You can even find rows of fake tan and manicure sets. Make up, on the other hand, is not a modern luxury. It is one of the world’s longest running experiments, which started by testing plant extracts, chemical based dyes and also insects! A lot of these cosmetics resulted in health problems and our ancestors quickly uncovered an ugly side to beauty.
During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, a cosmetic known as Spirits of Saturn was used to acquire the much sought-after pallid complexion like the Virgin Queen herself. This white, lead based cosmetic was generously applied to the face. Common side effects included hair loss, lead poisoning and severe skin damage. Even harmful pigments like vermilion were used on Queen Elizabeth I’s lips to create the bright red colour.
Lipstick was also used regularly by the Egyptians. Cleopatra wore lipstick made from crushed carmine beetles and ants. Blood from the beetles added the sought-after red tone. Reddish dye extracted from seaweed, red clay and iodine were amongst other ingredients used to make lipstick. With the generous amounts applied on a daily basis, it isn’t surprising how the skin around the face deteriorated rapidly.
The Romans were just as much into their looks as the Egyptians. Infatuated with the desire to look good, the Romans overlooked makeup related health problems suffered by the ancient Egyptians and used their cosmetics. They especially liked eye makeup like kohl and used it as eyeliner. Soot and a mineral called galena were used to make kohl. An ivory stick was used to apply the mixture, which was dipped in oil or water before application. This allowed the kohl to stick to the eyes. Perfume production was also popular during the Roman era. Because early day cosmetics carried bad odours, perfume was used mainly to hide them. These fragrances were made from honey, fennel and barley as well as oils and herbs.
After thousands of years of testing, cosmetics remain a must-have commodity. As technological developments of cosmetic surgery become more advanced, the need to beautify oneself and vanity will remain far into the future.