25 Cool Makeup History Facts You’ll Want To Know

Posted by , Updated on June 22, 2024

The tradition of **wearing makeup** goes back thousands of years. It started with the **ancient Egyptians** and continued through **Queen Elizabeth I’s** time to the frosty purple **Urban Decay lipstick** you might have now. Men and women have always valued **beauty and enhancement**, showing our cultural values. The **US beauty industry** made over **$62 billion** in 2016. To get why contouring is so popular, check out these **25 Intriguing Facts About the History of Makeup**.


The oldest makeup artifacts ever found are somewhere around 164,000 years old, found in a South African Cave. Archaeologists found 57 pieces of pinkish or reddish ground up rock. This is considered to be one of the oldest known instances of what is considered "modern" living. Before this makeup and other things at this site were discovered, scientist assumed that humans weren't advanced enough for this kind of behavior. Our ancestors in a cave in South Africa were contouring. Humankind is amazing.

Make up in old potterySource: https://www.artisbrush.com

The first use of the white face makeup that would later become the iconic "Geisha" makeup started in the Heian era (794-1185). It may have been influenced by similar makeup from China. It was made from rice powder mixed with water to form a paste, and then applied to the skin as a foundation.

maikoSource: http://www.japancoolture.com

As early as 10,000 BC people in Egypt were using scented oils to clean and maintain their skin, as well as prevent body odor and protect themselves from sun and wind. They used oils such as: Lavender, chamomile, lilly, rosemary, rose, almond oil, myrrh, thyme, and peppermint. We don't usually think of ancient cultures as being really into hygiene, cleanliness, and smelling awesome, but the Egyptians were clearly a very pleasant smelling people.

Egyptian-woman-painting_BeerSource: https://www.artisbrush.com

In ancient Rome, a woman's social status was conveyed by the makeup, clothing, and jewelry she wore (so, same as now). In fact, makeup was so important in Roman culture that philosopher Plautus once wrote "A woman without paint is like food without salt." Women would use Kohl on their eyes, chalk on their skin to make them seem whiter, as well as blush.

Fresco_of_woman_with_tray_in_Villa_San_Marco_retouchedSource: http://urbanette.com

The colored cosmetics ancient Egyptians used were pretty fascinating. Red Ochre is a pigment from the earth, ranging in colors from yellow to red, the red having large amounts of iron oxide in it. Kohl, which was used to line the eyes is not Kohl eyeliner as we know it now, but rather a mix of heavy metals with a high concentration of lead. Not only was the Kohl eyeliner decorative, it also helped protect eyes from the sun. Burnt almonds were used to shade and fill in eyebrows. Green malachite eyeshadow was used to help ward off evil spirits.

Ancient_Egyptian_funerary_mask_LouvreSource: http://www.marieclaire.com

During the Middle Ages, women in Europe would paint their faces white, pluck their eyebrows (sometimes completely!) shave or pluck their hairlines higher, and use generous amounts of rouge. They also made lip balms by melting beeswax and oil together, which is not too terribly different from the Burt's Bee's lip balm we use today.

Leonardo_da_Vinci_-_Mona_Lisa_(detail)_-_WGA12713Source: http://rosaliegilbert.com

Around 3000 BC, Chinese Royalty and upper class citizens (both men and women) would use natural dyes to stain their fingernails bright colors, from gold to red or even black. Lower class people were not allowed to dye their nails.

The_Imperial_Portrait_of_a_Chinese_Emperor_called_-Daoguang-Source: http://www.tiki-toki.com

In addition to chalk and rice powder, the world over, women sometimes used white lead mixed with vinegar to lighten their skin. The makeup would cause eyes to swell and become inflamed, as well as change the texture of skin and sometimes even cause it to blacken. Queen Elizabeth I was well known to use white lead face makeup to cover her poor skin, sometimes nearly an inch thick. Yes, people knew that using too much lead could lead to death, but they continued on anyway. Hey, we know that pesticides are really bad for you, but how many people mock others for only eating organic? Good to know Humans haven't chanced much.

Elizabeth_I_in_coronation_robesSource: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/

In the 28th century during the French Restoration period, the French often wore red rogue and lipstick to give the impression of a healthy and fun spirit. People in other countries, being Jealous of how amazing the French were, started to claim they found this unattractive and that the French only painted themselves because they had something to hide.

Self-portrait_in_a_Straw_Hat_by_Elisabeth-Louise_Vigée-LebrunSource: http://www.medusasmakeup.com

One fun beauty regime during the 1800's was to use belladonna drops to dilate the pupils and make one's eyes appear larger and more luminous. During this time, hair dye was also made out of coal tar, and many cosmetics contained Mercury. And yes, they knew they were poisonous.

skeletonfixedSource: http://ancientstandard.com

Members of the Sultan's Harem would literally burn the hair and sometimes the skin off their bodies during the Ottoman Empire. Rusma was a hair removing cream made from a mixture of lime and orpiment, which is a by product of arsenic. They'd apply it everywhere, rinse it off at the bathhouse, and then use a bronze scraper to remove any remaining Rusma. All to attempt to keep the favor of their Master. If left on too long, the mixture would cause painful burns.

Oliver_Dennett_Grover_PaintingSource: http://www.historyandwomen.com

Cosmetics used to whiten the skin during the Victorian Era were usually made from white arsenic, vinegar, and chalk. This was rubbed on the skin (or sometimes consumed {?!?!}) in order to improve complexion and reduce wrinkles. These women sometimes died from organ failure.

CosmeticsAdvertSource: http://www.historyandwomen.com

In the early 20th century, before powder compacts became popular, powdered face papers called Papier Poudre were used to set and finish one's makeup. They're still on the market today, as the company has been in business since 1903.

papier-poudre-papier-poudre-color-roseSource: https://www.papierpoudre.co.uk/

Ancient Roman nail polish consisted of sheep's blood and fat, giving them a bright red nail. Let's all say a little prayer of thanks to Revlon for becoming the first modern nail polish company in 1932, actually inspired by the finish on car paint.

polishedSource: http://www.goodhousekeeping.com

Ombre lips aren't really a new thing, as 1959 had a lovely trend of "White Lipstick" that could be worn alone, layered, or blended with other colors to achieve a multitude of looks.

ombre lipsSource: http://glamourdaze.com

In 1915, the first mascara like product was invented by Mabel Williams and her brother Thomas Lyle Williams in conjunction with a drug manufacturer. The "Lash-Brow-Ine" was basically Vaseline with oils and dye mixed in to give the brows and lashes sheen. As weird as this seems, it was enough to make their company - Maybelline - into a household name, and it still is over 100 years later.


Following the success of "Lash-Brow-Ine," Maybelline introduced Cake Mascara in 1917. This was much closer to giving the look of mascara we're all familiar with today. A small brush was wet and then ran over a cake made up of various waxes and pigments. This was the standard until 1957, when the first "wand" mascara - Mascara-matic - was introduced by Helena Rubinstein. And yes, it was waterproof.

cakemascaraSource: http://blog.thejewishmuseum.org

As you may have gathered by now, the beauty ideal used to be "pale skin" and "paler skin," but the transition to the current obsession with tanning and bronzers started with none other than Miss Coco Chanel herself. After taking a cruise in the Mediterranean in the 1920's, photos showed Coco being gloriously tanned, and thus a new fad, sunbathing, was born.

Gabrielle_Chanel_en_marinièreSource: https://www.theguardian.com

Max Factor, who founded the brand that bears his name, was pretty horrified by stage makeup and grease-paint used in Hollywood films, so in 1914, he created the first "Flexible Greasepaint" so that actors would look more human. This is, arguably, the first step towards the amazing modern foundations we use today. He also created lip gloss in 1928.

max-factor-portraitSource: http://maxfactor-international.com

Max Factor was basically responsible for all the makeup in Hollywood's "Golden Era," and he also created another important step in makeup - his pan cake makeup was made for the first technicolor movies to give actors and actresses a more natural complexion. So many actresses were actually taking the makeup home with them that he decided to market it. Max Factor brand still sells a pan cake makeup, and it is still sometimes used in movies.

max_factor_pancake2Source: http://maxfactor-international.com

American brand Kiehl's is actually the oldest makeup company still functioning. (Yardley of London is older, but only makes soap and perfume.) Founded in 1851, Kiehl's actually started as an old-world Apothecary and now specializes in skin care. Fun fact, their blue astringent lotion was a favorite of Andy Warhol, and you can still buy it 50 years after it was first introduced.

Kiehl's_Storefront_WindowSource: http://www.kiehls.com

Too Faced cosmetics created the VERY FIRST glitter eyeshadow in 1998. Not to say that people hadn't been dumping glitter on their eyes before then, but the first SAFE FOR EYES, specifically for eyes, glitter eyeshadow was all from Too Faced Cosmetics. Thank you guys!

web_stardustvegasnay_glamourdustSource: http://www.allure.com

If you really love makeup that isn't a shade of beige or peach or pink, thank Urban Decay. In the mid 90's, Urban Decay started with a line of 10 lipsticks and 12 nail polishes that were unlike pretty much anything else on the market at the time, with names like Roach, Acid Rain, Smog, and Oil Slick. Were it not for Wende Zomnir and Sandy Lerner, we might be stuck in shades of pink and peach even now. Ironically, it was their mostly nude/neutral toned "Naked" Palette that made them an almost household name, and there are currently 4 versions of it.

urban decaySource: http://www.refinery29.com

Until the 16th century-ish, during the dark ages, the Christian Church banned the use of makeup, claiming it was used in satanic rituals and only for the lowest class of people, like prostitutes. Apparently, they skipped the part of the Bible where Jesus was friends with said prostitutes and said nothing about their makeup.

Dr_Taylor_rebuking_a_Popish_Priest_who_was_about_to_say_Mass_in_Hadley_Church_(Thomas_Taylor)_from_NPGSource: http://www.lipstickhistory.com

The iconic swivel-up lipstick tube that we all know and love was invented in 1923 by a man named James Bruce Mason Jr, in Nashville, TN. Just another amazing thing America has brought to the modern world. You're welcome.

Many lipsticks contains fish scalesSource: http://www.enjoy-your-style.com

Photo Credits: 25. Marsyas, Own work, 2005, KAMA Boîtes à maquillage, CC BY-SA 2.5, 24. Joe Baz, Mamefusa, CC BY 2.0, 23. en.wikipedia.org – Public Domain, 22. Luiclemens at English Wikipedia, Fresco of woman with tray in Villa San Marco retouched, CC BY-SA 3.0, 21. UnknownJanmad, Ancient Egyptian funerary mask Louvre, CC BY 3.0, 20. commons.wikimedia.org (Public Domain), 19-17. wikimedia commons (Public Domain), 16. andreacefalo.com, 15. wikimedia commons (Public Domain), 13. guide.alibaba.com (fair use: illustrative purposes only, no free sources available), 12. pixabay.com (Public Domain), 11. shutterstock, 10. www.firstversions.com, 9. www.thehunt.com, 8. simple.wikipedia.org – Public Domain, 7. www.cosmeticsandskin.com, 6. beautystyled.com, 5. Plot Spoiler, Kiehl’s Storefront Window, CC BY-SA 3.0, 4. www.toofaced.com (fair use: no free sources available), 3. Debs (ò‿ó)♪ via flickr, CC BY 2.0, 2. wikimedia commons (Public Domain), 1. pixabay.com (Public Domain)

Photo: 8. By Unknown author - <a rel="nofollow" class="external autonumber" href="http://www.harpersbazaar.es/articulo/10543/una-pequena-historia-de-la-camiseta-de-rayas">[1]</a>, Public Domain, Link, 17. By <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/en:%C3%89lisabeth_Vig%C3%A9e_Le_Brun" class="extiw" title="w:en:Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun"><span title="18th and 19th-century French painter (1755-1842)">Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun</span></a> - <a rel="nofollow" class="external free" href="http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/elisabeth-louise-vigee-le-brun-self-portrait-in-a-straw-hat">http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/elisabeth-louise-vigee-le-brun-self-portrait-in-a-straw-hat</a>, Public Domain, Link