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  • Writer's pictureJacqueline Parker

A Brief History of Makeup: From Cleopatra to Contouring

Vintage illustration of woman with big hair in sailor tattoo style

Welcome to a whirlwind tour through the glamorous, and sometimes hazardous, history of makeup! Buckle up as we travel from the ancient Egyptians to the golden age of Hollywood, all the way to today’s picture-perfect Instagram-Glam trends.

Ancient Egyptians: The OG Beauty Influencers

Let’s kick things off with the true pioneers of makeup—the ancient Egyptians. Cleopatra and her fellow Egyptians were the original beauty influencers. These trendsetters used a variety of natural ingredients to craft their signature looks. Kohl, a dark powder made from galena (lead sulfide), was used to line their eyes, giving them that iconic, dramatic look. This wasn't just about beauty; it also protected their eyes from the harsh sun and warded off infections. Talk about beauty with benefits!

The Egyptians also loved their greens. Malachite, a green mineral, was ground into a fine powder and used as eye shadow. And let’s not forget about henna, which they used to dye their hair and nails. It's clear that the Egyptians took their beauty routines seriously—so much so that they believed makeup had magical properties that could protect them from evil spirits.

The Middle Ages: When Beauty Was Pain

Fast forward to the Middle Ages in Europe, where beauty standards took a risky turn. Pale skin was all the rage, symbolizing wealth and leisure. The go-to product for achieving this look? Lead-based face products. Yes, you read that right—lead. Women applied a mixture of white lead and vinegar known as Venetian ceruse to their faces to get that coveted ghostly pallor. Unfortunately, this often led to lead poisoning, but hey, beauty is pain, right?

During this time, rouge was also a must-have, applied to cheeks and lips. However, society's stance on makeup was complicated. While a bit of rouge was acceptable, too much makeup was seen as a sign of loose morals. Women had to strike a delicate balance—enough to look healthy and attractive, but not so much that they looked scandalous.

Renaissance Revelations: The Birth of Beauty Guides

In the Renaissance era, beauty guides began to emerge, offering tips and tricks for achieving the perfect look. One such guide, "The Toilet of Flora," published in 1772, provided detailed instructions on everything from skincare to hair styling. It was essentially the 18th-century equivalent of a beauty blog, complete with DIY recipes for cosmetics and hair treatments. Beauty influencers, eat your heart out!

Illustration of woman in vintage tattoo style

The 1900s: The Glamour of the Silver Screen

Enter the 20th century, and makeup really began to hit its stride. The invention of motion pictures and television had a profound impact on makeup trends. The early 1900s saw the birth of brands like Max Factor, which created makeup specifically for the film industry. Actors needed to look flawless under the harsh lights and grainy film quality, leading to the development of foundation, powder, and other products designed to enhance features and create a smooth complexion.

In the 1920s, flapper girls took the world by storm with their dark, smoky eyes, bold lips, and pencil-thin brows. This era was all about rebellion and breaking free from traditional norms, and makeup was a key part of that expression. Women embraced bolder looks, and products like mascara and lipstick became widely available to the masses.

By the 1950s, the influence of Hollywood stars like Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn was undeniable. The quintessential '50s look included perfectly arched brows, winged eyeliner, and red lips. This decade also saw the introduction of products like liquid foundation and pressed powder, making it easier than ever for women to achieve a flawless complexion.

The 1960s to 1990s: From Mod to Grunge

The 1960s brought a mod revolution. Think Twiggy’s iconic doe-eyed look with heavy eyeliner and exaggerated lashes. This era was all about playing up the eyes with bold shadows and dramatic lashes. The palette shifted to more playful and vibrant colors, reflecting the cultural changes of the time.

The 1980s were all about excess—big hair, bold colors, and dramatic looks. Blue eyeshadow, bright blush, and neon lipsticks were all the rage. Makeup in the '80s was as much about making a statement as it was about enhancing beauty.

Then came the 1990s, a decade that saw a stark contrast from the previous one. The grunge look became popular, characterized by minimalistic and often intentionally smudged makeup. Think matte foundation, dark lip liner paired with lighter lipstick, and smoky eyes. The '90s were all about effortless cool.

Illustration of woman with black, gold and peach tones

Makeup in the 2000s and Beyond: The Age of Social Media

The new millennium brought a wave of innovation and diversity to the makeup world. With the rise of social media, makeup trends became more global and accessible. YouTube and Instagram gave rise to beauty influencers who shared tutorials, reviews, and new trends with millions of followers.

Contouring, a technique once reserved for the pros, became mainstream thanks to influencers like Kim Kardashian and beauty gurus who broke down the steps for everyday makeup lovers. The “no-makeup” makeup look also gained popularity, emphasizing natural beauty with just a touch of enhancement.

Today, the makeup industry is a billion-dollar powerhouse. According to a report by Grand View Research, the global makeup market size was valued at USD 43.60 billion in 2018 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.5% from 2019 to 2025 . We have access to a dizzying array of products that cater to every skin tone and type, reflecting a more inclusive and diverse beauty standard.

Woman with tattoo on shoulder and instagram makeup

Fun and Quirky History of Makeup Facts

The Future of Makeup

As we look to the future, the makeup industry continues to evolve. Sustainable and cruelty-free products are becoming the norm, reflecting a growing awareness and demand for ethical beauty. Innovations in technology, such as virtual try-ons and personalized beauty recommendations powered by AI, are making it easier than ever to find the perfect products.


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