History Undusted: Makeup

This device from 1930, invented by Max Factor (pictured), helps correct the application of makeup. Note: It’s only this complicated when a MAN does it…

Limbo-life goes on, but I thought I’d do a bit of dusting… of history, that is. I love historical images – they have a story that may have gotten lost over the years, or may document a significant achievement, such as the moon landings. Then there are those lovely photographs of bygone inventions: Some have succeeded into the modern era, while others were dumped somewhere along the wayside (and rightly so). Fortunately, the photo above falls into the latter category! As far as this topic goes, this is just a light dusting; there have been entire books and documentaries addressing this vast issue; if you’re interested in viewing a few documentaries on the topic, click here.

Makeup, as a topic of history, goes back thousands of years. Ancient Egypt is famous for their eyeliners and other cosmetic enhancements; lipstick may have been invented as far back as 5,000 years ago, by ancient Sumerians. The word “cosmetic” comes from Greek, and originally meant “technique of dress and ornament” or “skilled in ordering or arranging”. Natural ingredients used included charcoal, beeswax, crushed gemstones, castor oil, olive oil, milk (Cleopatra’s famous milk bath), rosewater, seaweed, fish scales (still used today), and seashells. In past ages, there were dubious forays into using tinctures of white lead, mercury, arsenic, quicklime, Belladonna, and even mouse fur eyebrows (for when the woman’s hair fell out due to using any of the above in combination…). A common insect still used in blushes and lipsticks is the cochineal, the Dactylopius coccus, a scale insect.

Probably as far back as the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in Europe, there has been a fascination with mechanics, even in the beauty industry (as illustrated by the image above). Though I have yet to find images that document the attempts at enhancing a man’s handsomeness, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of such inventions for women’s beauty. I think that fact simply reveals something about a deep-set, double-standard mindset that women need cosmetic improvement while men don’t *; that notion has been inescapably engrained into women for thousands of years (with the exception of the Egyptian culture, in which men used eyeliner just as much as the women). [*The two exceptions that I can find to this general trend is that men were berated in the mid-war years for being too scrawny, and they were encouraged to develop their physique; they were also ridiculed for baldness and were offered hair growth concoctions to counter the natural process.] While many of these gadgets and products have thankfully gone the way of the Dodo, some are still lurking around – and to them, I say, Shame on them for shaming natural features!

Here are a few other bygone mechanical attempts at enhancing the beauty of women:

1928 – A woman uses a vibrating weight loss tool. Credit: Getty Images
1940s: Slenderising salons devised all sorts of weight-loss treatments; this chair massaged clients’ legs with metal rollers. Credit: Getty Images
1958 – Invented by a South African doctor, this machine was supposed to massage away any unwanted bits using electric currents. Credit: Getty Images
Stillman’s Freckle Cream, originally from Illinois, has been sold for over 120 years, and is still touted in cultures desiring paler skin, such as in Asian countries.
1960s – ice masks were used by Hollywood actresses to freshen their faces between takes without spoiling their makeup. Credit: Getty Images
1875 – A flexible mask intended to bleach the skin, removing blemishes.

10 Comments

Filed under Articles, Etymology, History, History Undusted, Images, Links to External Articles, Obscurities, Science & Technology, Snapshots in History

10 responses to “History Undusted: Makeup

  1. Old TV shows had steam baths.

  2. Wow. I’ve always been appreciative of lightly-done makeup. It’s best when I don’t even know it’s there. Great post. Thanks.

  3. I like freckles! I have a few, and I like them on other people. I do not understand the preoccupation with a porcelain face that by the way looks like porcelain. Where is the real flesh, the real person?

    The machines look hideous and frightening. Despite what seems like grumpiness, I’m grateful for your sharing of history and insight. Thank you for discussing our former and current predilections.

  4. Yes; I’ve seen several iterations of those, as a box with one’s head stuck out the top – they’re still used today.

  5. Yep; that’s the best kind of makeup; I find it sad (and sometimes slightly disturbing) when a woman buries her face under so much makeup that you wouldn’t recognize her without it…

  6. I agree! God made so much wonderful variety – it’s a shame to bury it or hide our uniqueness.

  7. Some of those things look like instruments of torture. I enjoyed reading this. Thanks for writing about things we thought would help us.

  8. You’re welcome! There are some bizarre things advertised today, too; I keep seeing a YouTube ad for a rubber mouth piece that’s supposedly able to help one lose weight and gain overall muscle tone – just by chewing on it! Brother…. I hope people aren’t gullible enough to buy it! I suppose every generation’s purpose is to be the source of amusement for the following ones- 😉 LOL!

  9. We keep ourselves entertained, don’t we?

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