My watch list  

History of cosmetics

The history of cosmetics spans at least 6000 years of human history, and almost every society on earth.


The ancient world

  The first archaeological evidence of cosmetics usage is found in Ancient Egypt around 4000 BC.[citation needed] The Ancient Greeks and Romans also used cosmetics.[citation needed] The Romans and Ancient Egyptians, not realizing their dangerous properties, used cosmetics containing mercury and white lead.[citation needed] Fragrances, particularly frankincense and myrrh are mentioned in the Judeo-Christian Bible: Exodus 30: 34, Gospel of Matthew 2:11.


The cosmetic uses of kohl and henna have their roots in north Africa.[citation needed]

The Middle East

Cosmetics were used in Persia and what is today the Middle East from ancient periods.[citation needed] After Arab tribes converted to Islam and conquered those areas, in some areas cosmetics were only restricted if they were to disguise the real look in order to mislead or cause uncontrolled desire.[citation needed] On the other hand, some fundamentalist branches of Islam forbid the use of cosmetics. The Taliban, for example, would beat or kill women found to be wearing cosmetics.[citation needed]

An early cosmetologist was the physician Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi, or Abulcasis (936-1013 AD), who wrote the 30-volume medical encyclopedia Al-Tasrif. Chapter 19 was devoted to cosmetics. As the treatise was translated into Latin, the cosmetic chapter was used in the West. Al-Zahrawi considered cosmetics a branch of medicine, which he called Medicine of Beauty (Adwiyat al-Zinah). He deals with perfumes, scented aromatics and incense. There were perfumed stocks rolled and pressed in special moulds, perhaps the earliest antecedents of present day lipsticks and solid deodorants. He used oily substances called Adhan for medication and beautification.[citation needed]

South Asia

Henna has been used in India since around the 4th or 5th centuries.[citation needed] It is used either as a hair dye, or in the art of mehndi, in which complex designs are painted on to the hands and feet, especially before a Hindu wedding.[citation needed] Henna is also used in some north African cultures. African henna designs tend to be bolder, and Indian designs more complex.[citation needed]

The use of kohl or kajal has a long history in Hindu culture.[citation needed] The use of traditional preparations of kohl on children and adults has been considered to have health benefits,[citation needed] though in the United States it has been linked to lead poisoning and is prohibited.[1]


Chinese people began to stain their fingernails with gum arabic, gelatin, beeswax and egg from around 3000 BCE.[citation needed] The colors used represented social class: Chou dynasty royals wore gold and silver; later royals wore black or red. The lower classes were forbidden to wear bright colors on their nails.[citation needed]



In Japan, geishas wore lipstick made of crushed safflower petals to paint the eyebrows and edges of the eyes as well as the lips.[citation needed] Sticks of bintsuke wax, a softer version of the sumo wrestlers' hair wax, were used by geisha as a makeup base.[citation needed] Rice powder colors the face and back; rouge contours the eye socket and defines the nose.[citation needed] Ohaguro (black paint) colours the teeth for the ceremony when maiko (apprentice geisha) graduate and become independent.[citation needed] The geisha would also sometimes use bird droppings to compile a lighter color.


  In the Middle Ages, Renaissance and up until the Industrial Revolution, the lower classes had to work outside, in agricultural jobs. The typically light-colored European skin was darkened by exposure to the sun. The higher class a person was, the more leisure time he or she had to spend indoors, which kept the skin pale. Thus, the highest classed of European society, able to spend all of their time protected from the sun, frequently had the lightest-looking skin. As a result, European men and women often attempted to lighten their skin directly, or used white powder on their skin to look more aristocratic.[citation needed] A variety of products were used, including white lead paint which, as if the toxic lead wasn't bad enough, notoriously also contained arsenic.[citation needed] Queen Elizabeth I of England was one well-known user of white lead, with which she created a look known as "the Mask of Youth".[citation needed] Portraits of the queen by Nicholas Hilliard from later in her reign are illustrative of her influential style.[citation needed]

The Americas

Some Native American tribes painted their faces for ceremonial events or battle.[citation needed]

The 20th century

During the early years of the 20th century, make-up became fashionable in the United States of America and Europe owing to the influence of ballet and theatre stars such as Mathilde Kschessinska and Sarah Bernhardt.[citation needed] But the most influential new development of all was that of the movie industry in Hollywood. Among those who saw the opportunity for mass-market cosmetics were Max Factor, Sr., Elizabeth Arden, and Helena Rubinstein.[citation needed] Modern synthetic hair dye was invented in 1907 by Eugene Schueller, founder of L'Oréal. He also invented sunscreen in 1936.[citation needed]

Flapper style influenced the cosmetics of the 1920s, which embraced dark eyes, red lipstick, red nail polish, and the suntan, invented as a fashion statement by Coco Chanel.[citation needed] Previously, suntans had only been sported by agricultural workers, while fashionable women kept their skins as pale as possible. In the wake of Chanel's adoption of the suntan, dozens of new fake tan products were produced to help both men and women achieve the "sun-kissed" look.[citation needed] In Asia, skin whitening continued to represent the ideal of beauty, as it does to this day.[citation needed] During the 1960s and 1970s, many women in the western world influenced by feminism decided to go without any cosmetics. The anti-cosmetics movement was an outgrowth of this; the feminists in this movement see an overemphasis on cosmetics and fashion as playing a role in the second class status of women, making them mere sex-objects and subservient to men who do not have to waste time with cosmetics(widespread animal testing in the cosmetics industry also plays a role to some degree). This overemphasis on looks and beauty undermines gender equality according to the anti-cosmetics advocates, even though some western males are showing an interest in make up for their own use.

Cosmetic deodorant was invented in 1888, by an unknown inventor from Philadelphia,[citation needed] and was trademarked under the name Mumm. Roll-on deodorant was launched in 1952, and aerosol deodorant in 1965.[citation needed]


  1. ^ FDA warning against the use of kohl and related products

See also

  • Cosmetics
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "History_of_cosmetics". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE