Aahaaryam - History, Modes & Trends of Makeup

Dr. C.P. Unnikrishnan

Global Trends
Study of any subject would remain incomplete without a peep into its history. An awareness of the past to the future is essential to know the ‘What, Why, When & How’ of any process. This is to ensure that the people who handle a process use their discretions while making changes, without losing the vision or philosophy or practical implications of the process.A voluminous book could be written on this topic; and several have done. Therefore, very few brief abstracts from such writings have been included here. It is a significant fact that the evolution and modes of Makeup tell us about certain important social concerns also. Initially the phenomenon called ‘Making up’ was not for stage purposes. The ‘Natural’ turns into the ‘Stylized’ by means of exaggerations and decorations even in real life. Face Makeup and other aspects of Aahaarya also are no exceptions to this ‘cultural phenomenon.’ This means, Lokadharmi turns into Naatyadharmi. But, the Sanskrit terms are used only within the language boundaries of Naatya. According to Bharathamuni, ‘Naatyam is Lokaanukaranam. ie. Naatyam is imitation of the world. This should explain further, the relevance of knowing the ‘History of and Trends in Makeup’, at least in brief.

Queen Jezebel

The use of cosmetics to enhance complexion has been known since antiquity. “Face painting” is mentioned in the Old Testament (Ezekiel 23:40) and other ancient documents from a wide variety of cultures. Jezebel, who was a Phoenician princess who became queen by marrying King Ahab of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) has been described as a woman who accented her eyes with cosmetics (around 840 B.C.). Most experts agree that makeup originated in the Middle East. Ancient Egyptians used foundation. In 200 B.C., ancient Greek women applied white lead powder and chalk to lighten their skin.Roman women also favoured a pale complexion. Wealthy Romans favoured white lead paste which could lead to disfigurements and death.The cream was made from animal fat, starch, and tin oxide. The animal fat provided a smooth texture, while the tin oxide provided colour to the cream.

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Throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, it was considered fashionable for women to have pale skin, due to the association of tanned skin with outdoors work, and therefore the association of pale skin with affluence. In the 6th century, women would often bleed themselves to achieve a pale complexion. During the Italian Renaissance, many women applied water–soluble lead paint to their faces. Throughout the 17th century and the Elizabethan era, women wore ceruse (a lethal mixture of vinegar and white lead). They also applied egg white to their faces to create a shiny complexion. Many men and women died from wearing lead-based make-up.

In the 18th century, Louis XV made it fashionable for men to wear lead-based makeup. Theatrical actors wore heavy white base. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Victorian women wore little or no makeup. Queen Victoria abhorred make-up and deemed that it was only appropriate for loose women to wear it. It was only acceptable for actors or actresses to wear make-up. In the late 19th century, women would apply a whitening mixture made out of zinc oxide, mercury, lead, nitrate of silver, and acids. Some women stayed out of the sun, ate chalk, and drank iodine to achieve whiteness. In the Edwardian era, women wore base and did not bleach their skin as much as they did in previous centuries. 

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A great deal of evidence about the use of makeup may be found in the pyramids of ancient Egypt— For example, when King Tut’s (Tutankhaman’s- Reign, 1332-1323 BC) tomb was opened in 1922, cosmeticsfound inside that were still fragrant and perfectly usable. Palettes are also often found in pyramids, which were originally used for grinding and mixing face and eye powders.Both Egyptian men and women applied rouge and lip ointments and henna for giving a red tinge to the nails. Women traced the veins on chest and temples using blue paint & liquid gold. Eye shadow used by women and men was usually green and applied to both the top and the bottom lids. Eyelash and brow enhancers consisting of carbon, black oxide, and other (often toxic) substances were also applied to give wearers that dark, painted look that associated with the culture.

Some of the earliest evidence of modern beauty equipment has been found in Babylon ruins. Tools such as tweezers, brow brushes, and toothpicks were common. Both the men and the women of Babylon also curled their hair and coloured their eyes with eye shadow, eyeliner, and eyelash and brow enhancers. They frequently painted their faces with white lead and used henna to colour their nails.

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Ancient Grecian woman in makeup

In ancient Greece, a more “natural” effect was usually preferred, but Grecian (Greek) women painted their faces with white lead and used crushed mulberries for rouge. The application of fake eyebrows, often made of oxen hair, was also fashionable.

In the Roman Empire, women applied pastes of narcissus, lentils, honey, wheat, and eggs to achieve pale complexions. For evening wear, chalk and white lead were applied to the skin, along with rouge. The old Egyptian trick of using blue paint to enhance prominent veins was also popular. Some people—men and women—rubbed their teeth with a pumice stone. Wealthy women had at least one slave in the role of cosmetician.


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