The use of cosmetics can be traced as far back as prehistory, when people were already grooming themselves for the celebration of funerals and ritual acts, and adorning their skin with early cosmetic preparations like clay, animal fat and different-coloured pigments. Some of these substances are still used today by aboriginal peoples. Cave paintings show makeup being used to communicate and illustrate mood and life situations.
The limestone bust and engravings of Queen Nefertiti are the most important symbols of beauty we have of ancient Egypt. Today the carved image of Nefartiti is still considered to embody the most standardised ideas of female beauty: tanned skin; long neck; full, defined lips; large, almond-shaped eyes; straight, narrow nose; shaped eyebrows, small ears, prominent cheekbones and delicate chin.
Grooming and beauty tools were also found in the tomb of Queen Puabi (whose name was formerly translated as Shubad), dated ca. 2600 BC, along with formulas for the preparation of oils and balsams. These discoveries can be found in the ancient Egypt section of the Louvre Museum.
According to Amigos del Antiguo Egipto (Friends of Ancient Egypt-Link in Spanish), products existed in ancient Egypt to combat body odour, uneven skin pigmentation and spots.
Women in ancient Egypt used deodorants, skin and hair tonics, ointments and numerous products, largely derived from asses’ milk, flours, yeast, honey, clay and oils. They used hair and scalp products to conceal grey hair and prevent hair loss, as well as removing superfluous body hair in some areas.
The conquests of Alexander the Great led to the beginnings of the cosmetics and beauty products industry in Greece, where the women of patrician families painted their faces, dusted themselves with white and red gold, tinted their eyebrows, used eyeliner and lengthened their eyelashes.
Similarly, the ladies of ancient Rome used skin-softening products, polished their teeth with very fine pumice stone powder and used perfumes, hairstyles, headdresses and makeup to shine at a busy stream of social gatherings.
MIDDLE AGES AND RENAISSANCE
In the Middle Ages, it was frowned upon for women to groom other parts of the body, so the ladies wore their hair very long. They eagerly awaited the visits of travelling merchants, who went to their castles to sell them balsams, herbs and toiletries, though personal grooming was considered undignified and offensive. The Catholic church attempted to eliminate any practices used to make women more attractive.
Then came the Renaissance, and a taste for pleasure and beauty became widespread during the 15th and 16th centuries. Noblewomen wanted a curvy body shape, blond hair and a high forehead, with scarce or non-existent eyebrows and white skin. The beauty ideals of the classical world were revived, and the discovery of America brought new materials. The use of makeup became indispensable at the French and English courts.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, high society was obsessed with makeup and both men and women used it extravagantly. By contrast, the natural look was the style that dominated the 19th century, and women even cultivated a sickly look to appear glamorous. Finally, in the 20th century, beauty products ceased to be a luxury only a few could afford. New products appeared in France which also tended towards a more natural look. The world cosmetics industry began to offer infinite possibilities in hair and beauty products. At the same time, the surge of the film industry induced women to follow trends in beauty and makeup set by the actresses of the day.
Cosmetics occupy an important place in the world today, helping people who experience skin side effects produced by certain therapies and medications, in the treatment of aesthetic problems, and improving the quality of life of those who decide to take care of themselves. The cosmetics industry is one of the most innovative, and the use of sophisticated technology is on the increase, offering consumers specific products for every type of skin and every person in their uniqueness.
Ultimately, the pursuit of beauty through personal grooming is intrinsic in human beings. When you feel beautiful, healthy, even radiant, you feel better. Caring for the body you live in – all day, every day, every day of your life – is a way of expressing your inner well-being.