Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Beauty Through The Ages

Have you ever wondered about the beauty secrets from times past?

I have. 

We are unquestionable spoilt in this day and age with the sheer number of products that are available to us, catering to our every beauty need, want and desire.

But what did women do thousands of years ago before M.A.C, Clarins or Max Factor were invented?

Did they simply embrace the face they were born with, or even then did they hanker for more defined eyes, rouged lips and a youthful complexion?

Well, read on and in my mini beauty history lesson, you can find out!

The Egyptians

We know from everything they left behind that the ancient Egyptians loved their cosmetics.
 Egyptian women wore foundation to lighten their skin and used kohl eyeliner to widen the appearances of their eyes, men applied a powdered pigment made from mixing fat and oil and other substances, to protect their eyes from the sun and Aristocrats applied minerals to their faces to provide colour and definition to their features.

The stunning colours seen often adorning the faces of Egyptian kings and queens were from pigments which were often made out of malachite, copper ore, or lead ore, though their favourite colours being the stunning peacock-green powdered malachite and black crushed kohl. 

An ancient Egyptian make up box containing the remnants of some cosmetics
 Oils were rubbed into the skin to protect it from the scorching hot air, much like a moisturiser.

Red ochre was ground and mixed with water then applied to the lips and cheeks, painted on with a brush and henna was used to dye the fingernails yellow and orange. 


The Ancient Greeks

Cosmetics were an important part of the life and culture of the Ancient Greeks. 

Their idea of beauty was very pale skin, fair, blonde hair and natural makeup, a little odd given that the hot, Mediterranean climate they resided in tended to result in tanned skin and dark haired individuals.

Possibly a blusher or rouge pot
 However, due to the costs, only rich women used to wear makeup in Ancient Greece.

  The Greeks considered pale skin to be a sign of prestige, beauty and wealth. To lighten their complexions, women would paint their face with white lead. 


Make up pot with molded disks of white make up
Their lipsticks were a paste made with red iron oxide and ochre clays or olive oil with beeswax while their eye shadows were made with olive oil mixed with ground charcoal. 

The Romans

The Roman philosopher, Plautus, also wrote, "A woman without paint is like food without salt."

In Roman times, people were fixated on appearing healthy and youthful, something that we continue to strive for today.

 They believed pink on the cheeks to a be a sign of gold health and would use red chalk or red ochre to perfect their look, but the application process was not done by themselves. 

The world's oldest cosmetic face cream, complete with the finger marks of its last user 2,000 years ago. Found by archaeologists excavating a Roman temple on the banks of London's River Thames

Roman women used slaves to apply their cosmetics for them, making them the modern day equivalent of beauty therapists! 

The Middle Ages

The European Middle Ages followed the Greek-Roman trend for pale faces.  

 (I’d have fitted in nicely!)

Being pale was a sign of wealth as It showed people that you  didn’t have to labour outdoors.

Some sixth-century women took this to the extreme and would achieve the look by bleeding themselves.
Another popular beauty treatment of the day was the taking of long, hot baths.

By the mid-1300s, only the wealthiest could afford firewood for hot water so for those who could not afford to take hot baths, perfumes which were made from the oils of flowers combined with spices became a quick fix.

Weirdly, medieval fashion also prompted young women to pluck and shave their hairline,in order to give them a higher forehead.   

* cough* spam!

Elizabethan England

In Elizabethan England, like the Roman's, Greek's and Egyptian's before them, the 'ideal Tudor woman' had fair hair, pale skin and rouged lips and cheeks.

(I guess the desire for a tan is recent beauty development then in the grand scheme of things!)

Cosmetics were used as an indication of status and rank. It was also used to cover up scarring from the various diseases prevalent at the time such as smallpox.

Pale & Interesting but poisonous

Women applied thick, white make up made of lead to their faces and finished the look by wearing a egg whites over their faces to create a glazed look.

Women also began bleaching their hair with a substance called lye which subsequently caused their hair to fall out, making wigs a big deal.

Queen Elizabeth I was a fan both the lead make up and wigs.

The Victorians

The Victorian era saw a number of advances in cosmetics and beauty products which was ironic as though the Victorian's valued a healthy, pale and delicate look, cosmetics were a bit of a taboo as it was associated with prostitutes and actresses.

A young, natural looking Queen Victoria

A woman's hair was seen as her crowning glory, and their locks were rarely cut and sometimes supplemented with false hair.

An advert for face cream from 1884
Believe it or not, Arsenic was an extremely commonly used chemical in the Victorian era, even appearing as ingredients in beauty products.  

(see below)

So there you have it, a brief history of beauty and make up through the ages!

How times change!


  1. Queen Elizabeth I used lead to cover up her pox scars, like dangerous concealer. She also made red hair fashionable, urine was a way to dye hair red... thats fashion in the extreme.

  2. Loved this post, very interesting and informative. A lot of people used to use crushed beetle shells as pigment to. It's amazing and gross at the same time with all that they used for cosmetics.

  3. Such a fab post. Really enjoyed it! It's amazing to think how we've all evolved over thousands of years and that even makeup was involved :) xx

  4. Thanks for writing this, it was really interesting!

  5. What a fab post - so interesting how times have evolved. I too am pale and pasty, so would have fitted in, in times gone by. I guess tans became more popular when international travel became more available and instead of pale skin being a sign of wealth, darker skin became the sign as it meant you could afford to travel abroad. xx

  6. Great post. I love the history of make-up, its one of my big interests :) xx


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