Parts of this article have been amended, which at the time of printing (Issue 6: Misfits), were changes that could not be made.


When exactly did we start putting stuff on our faces? ANITA JURIC takes a quick look at where makeup styles started – think Cleopatra and Marie Antoinette – and why we still use it today.

The multi-billion dollar cosmetics market owes its thriving industry to the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Greece and Rome. While there is some evidence to suggest that cosmetic body art was used during the Stone Age, most archaeological evidence attributes the origins of cosmetic use to ancient Egypt. Back in 3100 BC, palettes were featured in Egyptian tombs and kohl was used for aesthetic and spiritual purposes.

In ancient Greece, white lead was used to create a coveted pale complexion, vegetable dyes were extracted for lip and cheek shades and charcoal was used on the eyes. Similarly, ground minerals were used in ancient Rome for cosmetic purposes, yet many opposed it as cosmetics apparently signified promiscuity. Nonsense!

During the Middle Ages, makeup was abhorred. It was considered unchaste and detrimental to one’s health. Instead they used a white face powder comprised (ironically) of arsenic, lead and mercury to achieve a pale skin tone, which denoted affluence. An obsession with pastiness was embraced during the Renaissance and the toxic pigment vermilion was used as lipstick. In the 18th century women used harmful belladonna to enlarge their pupils in a bid to make their eyes more luminous and red rouge was used for tinting lips and cheeks.

Things slightly changed in the 19th century as people began to use zinc oxide for whitening and lampblack as eye shadow. The 20th century marked the inception of modern day cosmetics with the birth of Max Factor and L’Oréal, which paved the way for the makeup trends we adore (and abhor) today.

Anyway, despite the boring history, the evolution of cosmetic use says a lot about its importance today. So why do we still put stuff on our faces? Well, (obviously) because women and some men aspire to look as sexy as Krusty the Clown. All jokes aside, the value of makeup is an individually perceived yet culturally influenced concept. One only needs to observe the face paint worn to sporting matches or the intricate makeup worn by a Geisha to understand some of its pivotal cultural underpinnings. The psychology of cosmetic use is continually intertwined with social and gender expectations. It is another medium for self-expression. Makeup is traditionally associated with femininity and in some cultures it is deemed strange for a man to wear makeup. Some think that makeup is trashy, unduly vain or indicative of insecurity whereas others believe it is classy and representative of healthy narcissism. These polarised views suggest that like beauty, the value of makeup is in the eye of the beholder.

Considering we’ve been wearing makeup since 3100 BC, it doesn’t look like we’re about to stop using it. Who knows, maybe it’s in human nature to be narcissistic or maybe we just wear it because it empowers us to be exactly who we want to be. With the help of a few cosmetics we can enhance our features and transform ourselves into glamazons. And hey, if that fab neon matte lipstick makes you so happy that you randomly start busting moves like Beyoncé then wear it and shine gorgeous!


Featured image via Wikimedia Commons.

You can view the online version of Issue 6: Misfits here.