cosmetics history


vintage beauty products i came across at a lovely antique store yesterday ♡

Lloyd Hall

Meet the man responsible for helping to make the modern preservation of food and other products a reality for billions of people across the world today. While his research helped to combat spoilage and rancidity in food, he earned 59 U.S. patents too. Oh, and also improved the bacon-curing process (you’re welcome for that one). So, what else did he do?

Keep reading

Dr. Suzanne Noël (1878-1954): suffragette, feminist, and one of the first and most famous woman to practice plastic surgery in France. She wrote one of the first medical textbooks on cosmetic surgery in 1926. Photograph, 1920. 

Bibliothèque Marguerite Durand/Roger-Viollet

Pure white skin, a demarcation of the leisure class, was the most important feature of Roman beauty. Native Roman women weren’t naturally fair-skinned and spent their time outside with oils on their faces, requiring whitening makeup to fit their model of beauty.

Women would often prepare their faces with beauty masks prior to applying makeup. One recipe called for the application of sweat from sheep’s wool (lanolin) to the face before bedtime, emitting a stench often criticized by men. Other ingredients included juice, seeds, horns, excrement, honey, plants, placenta, marrow, vinegar, bile, animal urine, sulfur, vinegar, eggs, myrrh, incense, frankincense, ground oyster shells,onions with poultry fat, white lead, and barley with vetch. Bathing in asses’ milk was an expensive treatment that worked like a chemical peel and was used by wealthy women such as Cleopatra VII and Poppaea Sabina.

After their baths, they would then apply face whitener, such as chalk powder, white marl, crocodile dung and white lead. The Roman recognition thatlead was poisonous underscored their point of view on how important white skin was. Other ingredients used in whiteners included beeswax, olive oil, rosewater, saffron, animal fat, tin oxide, starch, rocket (arugula), cucumber, anise, mushrooms, honey, rose leaves, poppies, myrrh, frankincense, almond oil, rosewater, lily root, water parsnip and eggs.

The Romans disliked wrinkles, freckles, sunspots, skin flakes and blemishes. To soften wrinkles, they used swans’ fat, asses’ milk, gum Arabic and bean-meal. Sores and freckles were treated with the ashes of snails. The Romans pasted soft leather patches of alum directly over blemishes to pretend that they were beauty marks. Criminals and freedmen used these leather patches, which came in both round and crescent shapes, to conceal brand marks.

With the exception of hair on her head, hair was considered to be unattractive on a Roman woman. Consequently, women removed hair by either shaving, plucking, stripping using a resin paste, or scraping with a pumice stone. Older women faced ridicule for their depilation because it was viewed primarily as preparation for sex


Welcome back to FRIDAY FASHION FACT! This blog is normally all about clothing, but as everyone knows, clothes are not the only piece of fashion! So today we’re going in a different direction and focusing on the cosmetic side, specifically- nail polish! It seems like such a random fashion- coloring the ends of your fingers and toes in crazy unnatural hues. The description makes it sounds like a trend that would be worn by rebels or avant-garde fashionistas. Yet nail polish is one of the most common fashions for women across the globe, even becoming increasingly common amongst men. So where did nail polish get its start?

Coloring nails is in fact one of the oldest fashions in history. It dates back to ancient times, and started with a very different demographic than today. The oldest record of colored nails is circa 3200 BCE, when Babylonian warriors would stain their nails with kohl. This accented the full face of heavy makeup Babylonian warriors would wear, which was all intended to make their features stand out from a distance, and intensify them up close- a tactic for intimidating their enemies. The higher a man’s rank, the darker the dye. Soon after, around 3000 BCE, dyed nails appeared among a totally different upper class. Wealthy Chinese women used mixtures including beeswax and gelatin, tinted with crushed flowers. The process typically took several hours.

At approximately the same time, the trend was on the rise in Egypt. The Egyptians used henna to dye their nails. Pharaohs would show off their rank by using a rich red color on their nails, a trend which was also popular throughout the centuries in India. Such bold colors faded out of fashion in the western world during the Middle Ages when modesty was a priority, but shortly after the Renaissance, there was a revived focus on manicured nails.

At this time, there was a high value placed on opulence and beauty. Cosmetics were used to enhance what were considered desirable traits, such as pale skin with rosy cheeks. Naturally, this extended to nails, which were buffed and polished (clear polish, as in the way you might polish silver or wood) so that they were extra shiny. This trend continued up through the 18th Century, when once again it became popular to tint nails, typically pale shades of pink. It fit in perfectly with the lavish fashions found in the halls of Versailles. By the mid-Victorian age, there was a strong emphasis placed on hygiene, and so manicures rose in popularity. Soft pink tints were still the colors of choice.

It wasn’t until about the 1920s that bold lacquer colors came into being. What spurred the trend? Believe it or not, cars! When cars were created, they were the ultimate symbol of wealth and luxury (as many still are today.) Around 1920, French cosmetologist Michelle Menard adapted the same lacquer used on cars to be used on nails, making a little piece of that luxury available to the masses. It was an instant success, and quickly started to be produced in a vast variety of colors, though flashy red has always been the most popular. People have been sporting bold colored lacquered nails ever since!

Have a question about fashion history that you want answered in the next FRIDAY FASHION FACT? Just click the ASK button at the top of the page!

Bactrian Bronze Cosmetic Vessel c. 1st Half of the 2nd Millennium BC

In the form of an animal, perhaps the Saiga antelope or an extinct relative, standing with his aquiline head turned to his right, with long tail, layered dewlap, long downward-hanging ears, protruding oval eyes, and short ox-like horns, a pin surmounted by a bird inserted into the vessel’s neck.

birchbees  asked:

I would love to hear more of your ancient cosmetics knowledge, if you'd like to share!

There’s SO MUCH, so I’m just going to kind of talk about this informally rather than try to make some kind of essay or organised thing.

Pre-nineteenth-century cosmetics were actually pretty tame! Once you get past lead and arsenic and bird poop in face makeup, belladonna eye drops, and false eyebrows made of mouse hair, there isn’t all that much there that’s alarming.

Sincerely “ancient” cosmetics were mostly made with things like waxes and kohl, or pigments from flowers and fruits. Stuff we still use today! Even strange things like ground up bugs aren’t all that strange. Carmine is still a thing, after all, and modern cosmetics still use weird stuff like snail slime in face masks or fish scales in lipsticks. Hell, high-end false eyelashes made from mink still exist.

The true horrors in the makeup world (the world in general, let’s be real) came from bad science pushed by old white dudes. But, hey. When the doctors of the time thought strychnine and cocaine were medicines, it isn’t really a time period you can fault for poisoning people with unregulated makeup full of mercury (liquid metal! metal what you can just slaps up in your body no problem??? hell yeahhh).

Things didn’t start getting really bizarre until the twenties, and it only got weirder from there. Makeup technology was so different! Nail polish, before it was liquid, was an actual abrasive polish you used to buff colour or shine into your nails. Mascara was a cake of product rather than a tube. Face enameling (actual paint on your face) was a thing!

I think cosmetic history, just in terms of how the techniques and look of products have changed, is super interesting, but you probably just want to know about radioactive makeup because DANG that sounds rad (ha).

New science might as well have been magic. Until they figured out what it actually did or didn’t do, the theoretical possibilities were endless. This is why radium (ooh, glowy, glowy science) was used for literally everything you can think of.

Radium was added to BABY products, condoms (probably won’t need those baby products after that one), foods, toothpaste (there’s a good “radiant smile” joke here that I’m too lazy to make), household chemicals and cleansers, paint, you name it.

Tho-Radia was a notable French brand that included thorium chloride and radium bromide in their cosmetics all the way into the dang SIXTIES. Radon gas was also supposedly somehow put into face creams by other brands (because regular radium would be a bad idea, DUH), but that was probably more of a gimmick than a reality. I understand that this probably isn’t how it went down, but I always imagine a bunch of wacky vintage scientists aiming a gas canister at a jar of face cream and then closing the lid real fast.


People were putting embryos, amniotic fluid, placenta (that’s still a thing), and royal jelly (bee spit, yuck) in makeup for… no reason whatsoever because it didn’t do shit. We didn’t really understand how or what skin could absorb, you feel me?

And this isn’t even getting into weird DEVICES used for beauty, like x-ray hair removal, or shooting streams of freezing cold water into a horrible titty contraption to firm breasts, or electrocuting EVERYTHING.

But I should probably shut up now, so yeah.

Egyptian Polychrome and Gilt Cartonnage Mummy Mask, Late Ptolemaic/Early Roman Period, C. Late 1st Century BC/Early 1st Century AD

Wearing a long richly decorated wig painted with a checkerboard pattern of rosettes, lotus and papyrus flowers, and surmounted by a winged scarab with gold sun-disk, and Re-Harakhti with wings spread beneath a field of stars, the broad gold collar ornamented with Eyes of Horus, disks, lotus and papyrus festoons, rosettes, and beads, the face with long finely-painted blue eyebrows and cosmetic lines in relief.