The Evolution of Makeup

Curious about makeup's origins? We have the scoop. Read about the evolution of makeup

Come take a walk in history with us as we explore the evolution of makeup

Like any industry, the world of beauty is always evolving. Trends come and go, and then come back again. For centuries, societies have created their own methods of cosmetology, which societies afterwards learned from and evolved from.

Ancient Times

In ancient times, women got creative using berries to darken their lips and even used dangerous substances in their homemade cosmetics like mercury, lead and arsenic. Pale skin was an appropriate look, so they used leeches to draw out color and drank ox blood to improve their complexion.

Archaeological evidence found that Egyptians were using makeup as early as 4000 B.C. Kohl and Henna, which are still common today, were first used in ancient Egypt to decorate their skin and ward off evil spirits. Egyptians were said to have used castor oil, beeswax, olive oil, and more, some of which you can find in cosmetics today, such as the best eyelash growth serums.

In ancient China, women used nail color to establish social class. Meanwhile, Geishas in Japan made lipstick from crushed safflower petals and painted their eyebrows and lips with it. They used rice powder to color their face.

Alexander the Great was known to wear makeup for both aesthetic reasons and to protect his eyes from the sun and to keep flies away.

Around 800 B.C., women in Greece considered the unibrow to be beautiful and high-class fashion. Women that did not have a natural unibrow, would glue animal hair or use brown powder between their brows to imitate one.

Mexico has had the tradition of face paint for Dia De Los Muertos since before 1000 B.C.E.

European women really began to enhance their appearance with makeup during the Elizabethan era. Women whitened their face with a poisonous lead substance called ceruse that led to skin damage. They would also shave their eyebrows, making them very thin and arched, enlarging the forehead. Cheeks and lips were colored with egg whites and ochres, another deadly substance. Often times women covered their face in egg white to enhance shine of the skin.

20th Century

The evolvement of makeup over the last hundred years have roots from all of the methods and trends from the ancient times.


Laborers during this time worked outdoors much of the time, so they had tan skin. As a result, pale skin, a symbol of the upper class, became the appearance that women would try to emulate using makeup. The routine included a powdered face, using burnt matches to darken the lashes and pinching cheeks to add color. Lips would be tinted using colored petals and wet tissue paper.

Around the 1920’s, Hollywood had a major impact on cosmetics. Rules for women were also changing significantly and women continuously pushed the envelope. Popular actresses had influence and the classic look of dark eyes, red lips and tan skin emerged.

In the wake of World War II, cosmetics being in short supply, women had to get creative again. Women used beetroot for a lip stain and boot polish for mascara. With shortages, cosmetic companies were terrified that makeup would go out of style, so propaganda was released telling women everywhere that “beauty is a duty.”

The Icons

Glamour became the norm by the 1950’s with iconic Marilyn Monroe influencing women everywhere and the introduction of color cinema. Women were now wanting to look flawless at all times.

But, with the 1960’s came a wave of feminism that saw makeup as a tool in objectifying women. This led to many women participating in anti-cosmetic movements. There were still plenty of women that disagreed, although the trends did start to take on a more simple look.

The boom of the music industry in 1970’s created a boom in cosmetic fashion, too. Big hair, tan skin, glitter, and colorful makeup took the lead. By the 1980’s Blondie’s bright colored eyeshadows and Madonna’s vivid colors had everyone thinking big, including the men.

Modern Times

The 90’s is when groups branched off and created their own individual looks based on interests and styles, like grunge or goth. Today, individual styles are even more prominent, but in the 2000’s we saw another shift with influential pop stars like Britney Spears and her look involving glitter, gloss and tan skin.

This graphic helps you visualize the evolvement of makeup trends throughout the last 100 years.

Today, individuals combine trends and choose which to follow day by day. No makeup one day, full face the next. It is obvious in today's trends, facial contouring and full eyebrows, that we have been influenced by every era and trend in makeup history.

Resources — Reader’s Digest, Business Insider, Beauty Flash