History of Makeup Artistry

If you had to guess, how long would you say makeup artistry has been in existence? 200 years? 400 years? Would it surprise you if we told you that makeup of one sort or another has been used for over 6,000 years in cultures all over the world? Incredible, right? In fact, almost every culture across the globe has a documented use for makeup in one form or another in its history; whether it be solely for beauty purposes or for more traditional religious or ceremonial purposes.

There are reported uses of ceremonial makeup dating back nearly 100,000 years in Africa. Clearly, the use of makeup has roots deeper than we could have ever imagined. Let’s take a walk through history and discover just how long our ancestors have been dabbling in the use of cosmetics.

Famous bust of Queen Nefertiti in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, Germany

It seems the Egyptians were quite fond of cosmetics, as we see in history that tombs have contained jars of salves and scented oils believed to be used for keeping their skin well hydrated in the hot Egyptian sun and also to prevent wrinkles. Egyptian women often used colored pigments found from nature to color their eyelids and cheeks. Soot or kohl was sometimes used as what we know today to be eyeliner and mascara. As time went on, these trends spread throughout the land and it is believed that Jewish women began adopting the Egyptian habits, as we see mention of women “painting their faces” in the Old Testament. There is also mention of women and their “beauty treatments” of sorts, possibly meaning various levels of skincare.

Word spread from Egypt to Rome where some frowned upon women’s use of makeup while others such as Plautus, a popular philosopher, believed “A woman without paint is like food without salt.” In addition to pigments being used as eyeshadow and blush, we see at this point in history the first attempt to whiten the skin. How ironic that back then the standard of beauty was to have pale skin whereas now we have tanning beds and spray tans. My, how things have changed. The Romans were also the first to develop lead-based makeup, using chalk to whiten their faces while Persian women discovered the use of henna to dye their hair and paint extraordinary designs on their hands and feet with the belief that it gave them the ability to summon the power of the earth.

We turn now to the middle ages where, in Europe, a woman having pale skin was thought to be wealthy. To have tanned skin meant you engaged in manual labor outdoors which, of course, was unheard of for aristocrats. Just a touch of color, such as a pink tint to the lips or cheeks, was a sign that you were indeed rich enough to afford what at that time was expensive makeup reserved for only the elite.

Queen ElizabethDuring the Italian Renaissance, we see the dawn of face powders; most of which were made containing arsenic. Face tints and hues still contained lead and were beginning to be linked to health related issues. As a matter of fact, during the Elizabethan Era makeup use was considered a health hazard, and more natural means of adding color to one’s face was preferred.

Once illness started to take over in Europe, the pale look was set aside as women then associated a pale complexion with illness. This is when a more sunkissed look became popular and heavier makeup was applied. French women took makeup to the extreme, wearing very heavy makeup and causing quite a stir. Many believed the French were actually trying to create masks, as they were thought to be hiding something.

As time went on, women experimented in many different types of makeup and engaged in outlandish activities; anything, it seemed, was acceptable as long as the look you desired was achieved. During the 1800s, women used belladonna to make their eyes seem bigger and more attractive. It wasn’t long before they found out that belladonna was in fact poisonous, and a swift end was brought to that trend.

If you think only women wore makeup, you are sorrily mistaken. In fact, makeup was quite popular among men as well up until about the early 1850s. Where kings and aristocrats engaged in the trend, other men believed makeup to be solely for women and thought men who wore it as having more feminine tendencies.

It took years of experimentation (sometimes lethal) and development for women to have created the makeup that we know today. How strange it is to think that many before us actually died because of their use of makeup due to its lethal ingredients. Today we have literally thousands of products to choose from at our fingertips. No more mashing berries to pigment our lips or cheeks or using soot to line our eyes. And thank goodness for that!

Makeup has quite a distinguished history not just in its development but in the different classes of people who were required to wear it, while others were prohibited from using it for fear they would be mistaken as being from a higher social class. It is incredible to think of the influence makeup and makeup artistry has had on our world’s history.

If this article has gotten you super-excited about becoming a makeup artist and you would like to become a part of the growing history of makeup artistry, we invite you to learn about our professional makeup training program and get your free eBrochure and 1st free training video! We would love to add you to our family of successful Makeup.School graduates!

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Notice to all students. All coursework for Makeup.School must be completed on or before October 31, 2019. The course will not be available after November 1, 2019 as we are developing a new course.