It’s hard to imagine a time without makeup. It changes in trend every so often, but it feels like makeup has always been around in some form, right? Turns out it feels this way because makeup has been used for over 7,000 years!
If your mind is blown at that fact, read on to find out who invented makeup and how it has changed from its origin. We’ll learn about ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, the Roman empire, and how these makeup techniques evolved into modern use. It’s like a history lesson, but much more fun!
Who Was the Original Inventor?
We know who to thank for airplanes, who invented the lightbulb, and who created the first car, but who can we thank for giving us eyeliner and blush? Unfortunately, there is no clear inventor of makeup to give our gratitude to.
We know that the first record of using makeup comes from ancient Egypt, but there is no one particular person credited with this invention. Ancient cultures did not always document everything, and some of the things that were documented have not been preserved in historical records. If only they had social media back then!
How Did Ancient Egyptians Use Makeup?
There are a few different ways that ancient Egyptians used makeup, and some of their techniques are very similar to the way we use makeup today. We know the shelf life of makeup is only a few months or a year, but who knew that the techniques had a shelf life of thousands of years? Let’s talk about some of the ways ancient Egyptians used cosmetics.
Can you imagine Cleopatra lounging around wearing a sheet mask and scrolling through Instagram? Sounds far-fetched, but it turns out the truth isn’t too far off. Just like us, the ancient Egyptians knew the best tool for makeup was great skin.
Wealthy Egyptians used to exfoliate their face with salt as the first step in their skincare routine. After that, they would use a face mask or take a bath in milk and honey to help moisturize and nourish their skin. Ancient Egyptians—they’re just like us!
Have you heard of sugaring? It’s a technique used to remove unwanted hair and is often less painful than waxing. Turns out it’s not such a new technique as the ancient Egyptians also invented this as well!
Once their skin was looking good, the ancient Egyptians moved on to makeup application. The main products used by ancient Egyptians were similar to green eyeshadow, black eyeliner, and red lipstick. If you’ve ever seen a Cleopatra costume, it should be easy to imagine this look.
Eyeshadow was created by mixing a green mineral called malachite with animal fat. Wealthy Egyptians would have their servants mix these items and then apply the mixture to their eyes using a long ivory stick.
After the eyeshadow, ancient eyeliner was applied, known as kohl. Just like in modern times, kohl was used to draw attention to one’s eyes and make them look accentuated, but it served another purpose as well. Kohl helped protect the wearer’s eyes from the harsh desert sun.
A clay pigment was mixed with animal fat to create a red lipstick that finished off the ancient Egyptian look. Sometimes this product was also applied to the cheeks as blush. Black eyeliner, red lips… this sounds like a look we’d wear today!
Ritual and Status Significance
Ancient Egyptians believed that makeup carried ritual significance, in addition to demonstrating one's status. Although all social classes wore makeup, wealthier Egyptians could afford more products. They used makeup as a way to show others their status.
All Egyptians believed that makeup tied into a spiritual aspect. Various makeup tools, such as brushes and spoons, had holy symbols on them. Certain animals, such as fish, were symbols of new life and were used on palettes and other tools. This connection to the afterlife made makeup even more popular in ancient Egypt.
Some Egyptian makeup tools have also been found in Egyptian tombs. Have you ever said you’d die for your makeup? This takes it to a whole new level!
How Did Ancient Greeks Use Makeup?
The ancient Greeks seem to take a few ideas from the Egyptians when it came to makeup. Similar to the Egyptians, they favored a few products that are still popular in modern times. They were so fond of makeup that the Greek word kosmetika is actually where the word cosmetics comes from!
Ancient Greeks felt that light skin was ideal and used whiteners to lighten one’s skin tone. Women used chalk and white lead to apply to their skin, which often created health problems as these materials are toxic.
Similar to the Egyptians, black eyeliner was also used to make one’s eyes pop. The ancient Greeks didn’t need sun protection, but still applied a similar kohl product, made of olive oil and charcoal.
It’s not enough to look good, you need to smell good too! The ancient Greeks knew this and the wealthy used various perfumes to create a good scent.
An oil (usually olive oil) was used as a carrier for various spices, herbs, and flowers. These items created a pleasant scent and were stored in beautiful bottles and often named after Greek goddesses. The Greeks were careful about writing down their perfume process and many techniques are still used today!
How Did Ancient Romans Use Makeup?
The Ancient Romans changed things up a little bit and did not favor a dramatic eye and dark lip like the Egyptians and Greeks. Ancient Roman cosmetic use can be summed up by three words: skincare, skincare, and skincare!
Ancient Romans favored a more natural look and didn’t use a lot of makeup products. Pure light skin was seen as a sign of wealth and high status. Like the Egyptians, they removed unwanted body hair but focused the rest of their cosmetics on skincare.
Various creams and lotions were used by the Romans to hide pimples and wrinkles. They also used masks like the Egyptians to help moisturize the skin. Their skincare products were made from various natural items such as oil, beeswax, herbs, and flowers.
One exception to makeup use in ancient Rome was when used for the theater. Ancient Romans used theatrical performances to communicate philosophical ideas. You can’t have a theater without costumes and makeup was used in these performances to help create characters.
How Did Modern Makeup Evolve?
Ancient cultures, such as the Egyptians and Greeks, used makeup, but after that many cultures viewed makeup as impure and focused on a natural aesthetic. As Victorian ideals became more popular, makeup became less and less important. Lucky for us, in the 20th-century things started changing and makeup became popular again!
In the early 20th century, movies became very popular. Since these films were in black and white, actors and actresses had to over-apply makeup to make their features show up without color. As we all know, if famous actresses are doing it, the rest of us want to follow!
In the 1920s, women began wearing more makeup to follow the movie stars from a few years prior. Dark eyes and red lips became a popular feature on the flappers of this era. Makeup companies started creating new products to appeal to this population.
In the 1940s, makeup became hard to find as many factories focused on the war efforts and couldn’t create makeup anymore. Women still wore red lipstick if they could find it, and the popular look was the Rosie the Riveter style.
After World War II was over, makeup came back in full swing! Women were happy to have the products available to them and they experimented with many different glamorous looks. Foundation became very popular, eyeliner continued to be necessary, and lipsticks branched out into pinker colors.
Makeup Reigns Supreme
Luckily, makeup has remained popular since that time. There have been some great styles such as the false lashes of the 1960s, and some unique styles such as the bright blue eyeshadow of the 1980s.
Although the looks change, cultures around the world use makeup in various ways. And thanks to technology, we’re able to see what everyone else is doing!
Wrapping It Up
Makeup wasn’t invented by one person but has been around in history for thousands of years. It has evolved and changed, but so many of the techniques are still the same. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used makeup in ways that are still considered cute today!
It’s amazing to think that so many makeup techniques are thousands of years old! When you apply your eyeliner tomorrow, you’re following a technique that started at the time of the pyramids—how cool is that?
How Ancient Egypt Influenced Beauty Rituals | CNN
Makeup In Ancient Egypt | Natural History Museum of Utah
Cosmetics In The Ancient World | World History