One of the biggest profit-generating industries in the world today is the fashion and makeup industry, and this is probably due to the long-standing obsession humankind has with beauty. Throughout history, people of different cultures have practiced painful traditions such as foot binding, neck lengthening, and ear enlarging, all in the name of beauty. However, the simplest (and least painful) form of alteration that is still used by people all over the world is through the use of makeup.
Way back then, people did not have the technology and sophisticated machinery to produce the variety of makeup products we have available today. In comparison to modern makeup, ancient forms of makeup were actually potentially dangerous and so much less convenient to use!
So what kinds of products were used back then?
In place of the foundation and concealer we use today, normal Ancient Roman women used chalk, orris root, and fat to create a thick layer over the skin that hid and evened out imperfections, while the wealthier women used white lead paste. White lead paste was popular as back then, pale skin was considered beautiful and white lead paste did an excellent job in whitening skin; though on the down side, frequent application meant a higher chance of death due to lead poisoning (lovely way to die isn’t it).
While not as widely used in modern Western countries, a product that is extremely popular in Asian countries is “enlarging contact lenses”. These contact lenses come in a variety of colours and they mimic the appearance of a dilated pupil and larger iris to give the effect of larger and “cuter” eyes. Similarly, medieval European women tried to enlarge their pupils to gain a more seductive look – with the employment of way more dangerous methods of course. Atropa Belladonna, more commonly known as deadly nightshade, was prescribed in the form of eyedrops by physicians, and when applied to the eyes, made pupils dilate and appear more aroused and seductive. The danger of Belladonna is that it contains toxic tropane alkaloids, and an accidental overdose or prolonged exposure to it could induce hallucinations, vomiting, vision loss, delirium, and death.
Another popular eye product used today is eyeliner, it is commonly used to define eyes as well as make them appear larger. The olden day counterpart of eyeliner – kohl – is in fact still used today. Kohl was mainly used by the ancient Egyptians and it was made through the combination of burnt almonds, ochre, oxidized copper, malachite, lead, and crushed antimony, producing the black powder known as kohl. To apply the Kohl, the Ancient Egyptians would use a stick, dip it in the Kohl and line their eyes with it to define their eyes to make them seem more almond-shaped. And though it does not have much scientific backing, ancient Egyptians also believed that Kohl could help shield their eyes from the harsh Egyptian sun.
Rosy cheeks have always been considered beautiful as they are a sign of health and liveliness, and in order to achieve this rosy glow, modern women use powder or tinted blushers.
Interestingly, medieval European women used a very similar formulation to the powder blushers of today. Their version of powder blushers was known as “rouge” and it was produced through the combination of the dried leaves of angelica archangelica, and the dried flowers of the safflower carthamum tinctorius. They also seem to have their own version of tinted blushers as Gilbertus Anglicus, a physician in medieval times, notes in one of his works from 1240, the practice of soaking brazilwood chips in rosewater to obtain a clear, pink dye which could be rubbed on the cheeks to mimic rosy cheeks.
Majority of us strive to smell nice, or at least not-smelly for obvious reasons of wanting to feel good about smelling good, boosting sex appeal, and not wanting to cause discomfort for others. In order to keep smelling fresh and delicious throughout theay, we employ the use of perfumes and deodorants to cover up undesirable smells, which was also a common practice inancient.The Ancient Chinese people such as those from the Tang, Song, and Han dynasty carried around fragrant spices in little sachets so that they would give off a pleasant scent.
The Ancient Egyptians on the other hand, took it to the next level by inventing the perfumed bath, and on top of placing scented wax that would melt throughout the day to give off a pleasant scent, they also attempted to use carob, incense, and even porridge as deodorants.
Thus, this consistency in the way beauty is viewed and achieved is perhaps indicative of the underlying connection amongst humankind that transcends both time and space (geographical space that is) and we think that that’s amazing!