Cosmetic History with (Mineral) Makeup

Down through the ages, cosmetic history reveals various substances depending on what part of the world they were used in. Some of these substances such as white lead were unhealthy and even lethal. Some makeup was made from minerals believed to have healing properties. Some people today still believe in using make up that has natural mineral ingredients.

Cosmetic history takes us as far back as 3100 to 2907 B.C., there is proof of naturally based and other makeup used in Egypt. The Egyptian women used to apply eye makeup that was green in color. This could have had Malachite in it because it is green in color and is caused from copper getting weathered. Also, kohl was used to make lashes darker (like mascara) and other accents. Antimony was the source to make kohl and it is found naturally in crystalline form. Makeup was very much a ritual for Egyptian women since they believed that one’s beauty brought them closer to the Gods. Eye makeup was also used for to keep demons away and also as a fly repellent. The stones or minerals that were used are mesdemt, malachite sometimes referred to as malakite, lead sulfide, antimony, copper, manganese, jasper, and ground up lapis lazuli for use as a medicine for the eyes.

Romans like to use makeup too. To lighten or whiten the face, chalk was used. Rouge was also added to the cheeks and kohl was used to make the eyelashes and eyelids darker. This cosmetic history was from 254-184 B.C. During this time, the Plautus reportedly wrote, “A woman without paint is like food without salt.” Also the teeth were cleaned using pumice and they did have their version of depilatories.

Some of the minerals and natural ingredients used by the Romans were things like ceruse, soot, red ochre, saffron, and chalk.

In the Greco-Roman era, the women used a combination of chalk and white lead. White lead wound up causing even certain deformities. On the other hand the Persians liked to apply henna to their faces and their hair to color them. They were superstitious in that they thought by using henna it called up the earth’s majesty. Nice cosmetic history so far?

As an example of a mineral that was not healthy, let’s look at arsenic. Arsenic was used during the Renaissance in Italy in makeup. Signora Toffana invented Aqua Toffana, which was a face powder containing the mineral arsenic. Her clients were actually told to only wear the powder when the husbands were around. It needs to be pointed out that Signora Toffana was put to death after the death of about 600 of these husbands not to mention what wearing arsenic did to the women. Not so nice cosmetic history here! Other minerals were used in makeup though during the Renaissance including lead, antimony, and sulfide.

The poor and or country folk of the Regency era used all sorts of berries, vegetables, herbs, flowers and other natural ingredients for makeup purposes. High society, though, wanted pale skin to signify their wealth. They did not want even to look suntanned therefore they used parasols and bonnets to protect their skin.

Cosmetic history during the Victorian era, only actresses and prostitutes used makeup. They did use natural ingredients to make facial treatments though. If they needed to add some rosiness to their cheeks, they would use red beet juice for one thing. The Victorian women also used zinc oxide to make their skin pale looking.

After the Victorian period to the early part of the 1900s, many makeup innovations were made. In 1920, makeup went into mass marketing. In the mid 1900s, makeup became quite popular some of it was quite heavy though. A lot of synthetically based makeup was on the market and not all was found to be safe. There is even the controversy of the safety of mineral oil used in cosmetics.

Hair dye containing the natural coal tar was widely used. Today it has been unsafe and some link it to cancer.

Mineral-based makeup now is popular. Women have found the minerals to be beneficial to their complexion in many cases. There are foundation, blushes, eye shadows, lipglosses and even lipsticks with mineral bases. There are even sunscreens that have recently been put on the market that have a mineral base.

Some of the minerals used today are such things as Mica, Titanium Dioxide, Zinc Oxide, and Sodium in various forms, Silica, Iron Oxides, and Bismuth Oxychloride. Thankfully today the mineral-based makeup not only is safe for use but gentle even to sensitive skin. We are past the days of using white lead and arsenic to make up our faces. Thank goodness for these advancements in cosmetic history.

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