A Brief History of Cosmetics: Part 2

In our last post, we covered the African emergence of Homo sapiens, with body paint ritual use of cosmetics. We then went from ancient Egypt to the Middle East and China. In this post, we are pushing further through history, starting with Japan.

The most common use of cosmetics in japan was part of the geisha’s costume. They were crushed safflower petals for lipstick. They used wax, rice powders, paint and even bird droppings in their make-up mixtures.

In Europe during the Middle Ages, religious leaders thought it sinful to wear makeup. This did not stop the surge of cosmetics from the renaissance to about the 20th century. While the working classes worked and toiled outdoors, the aristocracy stayed indoors, making their skin far paler than those outside. That look of white pale skin was popularized by Queen Elizabeth I of England. This made the average European seek to make their skin as pale as possible. A variety of methods were used to achieve this effect, including the use of lead based paint. In the 16th century, women would bleed themselves to achieve pale skin.

In the Americas, some Native American tribes would paint their face and/or body for ceremonial events or when preparing for battle. The aborigines of Australia were known to have similar practices.

Ballet and theatre helped popularize makeup in the early 20th century, but the real catalyst was the invention and popularization of cinema. Hollywood movie industry became a huge opportunity to mass market cosmetics. The flapper era brought about the regular use of makeup, lipstick and eyeliner. Synthetic hair dye was also invented at around this time, and in the year 1936, sunscreen was invented. At this point cosmetics are mass marketed and used by the general population on a day to day basis.

In the 21st century, the explosion of the internet revolutionized the business world, and this includes retail and cosmetics. Internet-only retailers exist and thrive; some even merge with large established companies and department stores.

The two markets currently pushing this industry forward are Japan and Russia: Japan, being the second largest market in the world for cosmetics and Russia, having the highest growth rate of 21% since 2004.

That was a brief history of cosmetics and cosmetics manufacturing, going back a guaranteed 6000 years, or a potential 100,000 years depending on what archeological opinion you are listening to. As I said before this is a big part of our world, despite it seeming mundane now, and as such is worth getting into its history.


< Back