Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The changing face of beauty

Shades of white, black, orange, yellow and red were only a few of the 17 colours prehistoric peoples mixed to paint their bodies (and their cave walls). Their intent was not mere ornamentation. A decorated body was believed to give protection from the forces of evil.

From around 4000 BC the Egyptians wore cosmetics as a defence against eye diseases and the blazing sun. Kohl, a black paste made from lead sulphide, soot, burnt almonds or ground ants' eggs, was applied around the eyes and to the lashes and brows.

In the 14th century BC the Egyptian queen Nefertiti painted her nails red with henna, but it was the ancient Chinese who created nail polish from gum arabic, egg white, beeswax and gelatine. A lipstick from a Babylonian tomb dating to about 4000 BC is the oldest cosmetic found in the Middle East. It may have belonged to a man.

The Greeks were less approving of cosmetics, a term that comes from their word kosmetikos, 'skilled in arranging'. But it was the Greek physician Galen who, in the 2nd century AD, is said to have transformed water, beeswax and olive oil into one of the first skin preparations, which he named 'cold cream'.

Roman women ensured a lily-white complexion by using either chalk or a poisonous, even deadly, cream of white lead, developed in the Indus Valley in the 3rd millennium BC. Poppaea, wife of the Roman emperor Nero, tried to imitate the translucent quality of youthful skin by painting her veins blue.

Until the 18th century cosmetics were mostly the preserve of royalty, the wealthy and prostitutes. Only in the 1880s did perfume and toiletry firms such as Eugene Rimmel and Boots make face preparations more widely available. Painted nails became all the rage after the introduction of the first liquid nail polish in 1913. During the First World War factory work provided many women with more money to spend on such luxuries.

Hollywood revolutionised make-up , a term that was used only for theatrical products until it was made respectable from 1920 by Max Factor, a Polish immigrant wigmaker. After emigrating to the USA Max Factor developed film make-up in 1914. In 1918 his 'Society' range became the first make-up for the general public.

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