From the time of golden royalty in Egypt where men and women lined their eyes in black kohl and beautiful greens, to the pinnacle of the Roman Empire, and now to the twenty-first century, people have always worn makeup.
In the far past it was much more difficult to get one’s hands on makeup since it was reserved for royalty. Makeup has become much more accessible in the past 150 years.
The reasons we wear makeup and other cosmetic products have changed, and their importance in society has also fluctuated with the passing of time and trends. Ultimately it is a definite fact at this point that makeup and human society have always been intertwined.
But there has to be a reason why makeup is important to us. Is it because we love to see a good blue shimmer eyeshadow glitter prettily on an eyelid? Or has it just always been our collective destiny to fall in love with a perfectly blended concealer?
To truly understand the importance of makeup, we’re going to have to travel back in time and look at the early history of makeup and how it has grown into the modern staple that it is today.
Where Did Wearing Makeup First Start?
The use of makeup and cosmetics can be traced back in human history for almost seven thousand years. In fact, it is argued that makeup is one of the first uses of ritual in human society.
No single person can be pointed to as the one who invented makeup the way we see it now, but the earliest uses of makeup can be traced to the first Egyptian dynasty, almost 3000 years BC.
Only a scant few years ago, men wearing makeup was not only seen as rare, but it was also seen as a taboo. In the early Egyptian civilization, this was not the case. In fact, men wearing makeup were part of the norms that made up their society at the time.
So all that dramatic eye makeup you see on Egyptian statues and in their hieroglyphics were actually worn in real life by male and female royalty.
Makeup for the Ancient Egyptians
Egyptians used natural ingredients for their makeup products. They used kohl to line their eyes and give them an almond shape. They used red ochre for lipstick, and malachite, a natural mineral, to make a green eyelid color. Henna stained their fingertips and toes.
Though during this time makeup was fairly accessible to all, the upper class and nobility differentiated themselves from the lower classes with high grade makeup products in rarer shades.
Not only did makeup serve as a class identifier, it was also used for magical and religious functions. In the excavated tombs of high class Egyptian women, archeologists found jars of cosmetics in ornate, bejeweled containers buried with them as grave goods.
It was believed among the Egyptians that the goods one is buried with would be carried to the afterlife. This puts makeup on an important pedestal in the ancient civilization as it was deemed necessary to have even in the existence after death.
Makeup in the Roman Times
Although the Egyptians associated makeup with the high-class, this was not the case in other parts of the world.
For instance in Roman times, makeup was looked down upon because its use was associated with sex workers and women whom society deemed to be without honor. Instead, society praised natural looks over a made up face.
Meanwhile, Persian women had discovered the wonders of henna, using it to create beautiful intricate patterns on their bodies.
In the Middle Ages, it became very fashionable to have pale, milky white skin, and white women used makeup to enhance this quality of their skin. This is because pale skin was considered a mark of easy, relaxed living while darker skin was attributed to the lower class who did menial labor in the sun.
Due to this, women went to great lengths to make sure their skin maintained a pale appearance with concotures of incredibly dangerous mixtures. Women painted their faces, necks, and chests with a mixture of lead and vinegar.
Makeup in England
Queen Elizabeth I of England was a big fan of the pale look, even when the toxic mixture caused a lot of her hair to fall out, elongating her forehead. She was not alone in this as many women who used lead-based makeup products ended up with muscle paralysis and eventually died from complications.
In the 19th century when Queen Victoria ruled England, she declared makeup to be indiscreet, vulgar, and unfashionable, causing makeup and cosmetics to go out of fashion once again.
Only sex workers and actresses wore makeup, while noblewomen secretly used makeup to enhance their natural features. For instance, they used rouge to stain their cheeks or pinched them (in private) to make them look flushed and they used egg whites to give their skin a fine sheen.
The Beauty Industry Boom
By the beginning of the 20th century, especially in 1920s America, the world of beauty and makeup began to change rapidly.
With the growing popularity of motion pictures and movie stars, the beauty industry was on the verge of becoming a financial investment that would be giving returns for years to come. Below are some of the early icons that discovered the goldmine that the makeup industry was going to become.
1. Max Factor
One of the first people to see this opportunity and take it was a man named Max Factor. When artists moved from acting on stage to performing in front of a camera, they kept their garish makeup that looked good live on a stage but looked terrible on camera.
Factor developed a foundation that wouldn’t cake or flake on camera in the early 1900s. Noticing the success of this product, he began marketing his other cosmetic products such as lip gloss and eyebrow pencils to the public.
Max Factor popularized the word ”makeup,” and his main selling point was that makeup would make you look like your favorite movie star. The public loved it. Around this same time industrious strides were made in the beauty industry.
2. T.J. Williams
Maybelline was founded after T.J. Williams popularised the formula his sister, Mabel, used to accentuate her eyelashes. “Kiss-proof lipstick” hit the market and was a raging success.
3. Charles Revson
Charles Revson, the co-founder of makeup brand Revlon, made nail polish popular in America. In the 1950s, Revlon went on some advertising campaigns with their nail polishes and matching lipsticks that still thrills customers to this day.
With the combination of affordable products and persuasive marketing, women finally became full-fledged makeup enthusiasts. Makeup was no longer seen as vulgar. Instead it became a class marker and was used to enhance physical features and increase sex appeal.
Why Makeup Is Important to People
The years of mixing lead with the vinegar in your cabinet so you can look good are long gone and thankfully aren’t coming back. Today there are a million and one choices of makeup and cosmetic products to choose from.
What purpose does makeup serve? It does not matter what angle you look at it from, there are so many benefits of makeup and different people have different reasons for why they use them.
1. Makeup for Beauty
The age-long importance of makeup has not changed, in fact, it has only evolved. Makeup is used for enhancing your beauty, and while this does not imply that people are not beautiful without makeup, it only goes to show how you can enhance or draw attention to certain features of your face using cosmetics.
If you have striking eyes, there is makeup to accentuate that. Do you want to see what you would look like with a different eye color? Fashion contact lenses exist to help you see that.
If you are the type to make a longer makeup commitment, semi-permanent and permanent makeup procedures exist like lip tattoos or permanent mascara and microblading for eyebrows.
Plus the popularity of makeup tutorial videos has skyrocketed so the learning curve for beginners has been greatly lessened.
Along with these videos, makeup has reached a point where you can feign features that you want to draw more attention to. For instance, with lip overlining, people with thinner lips can then have the appearance of thicker, fuller lips.
Full coverage foundations and concealer formulas of the modern age can cover up blemishes you’re insecure about. It does not matter what skin type you have – normal, dry, or oily skin – there is something for you.
In general, makeup will make any wearer feel beautiful and it is so important because feeling good leads to being happier.
2. Makeup For Confidence
You know when you just popped on that brand new foundation? Or you just pulled off that new makeup trick you saw on YouTube? It adds a spring to your step, and gives you a level of confidence that seeps out of every pore.
Looking good and feeling good will increase your confidence level and help you face whatever the day brings.
Take for example the story of Geralyn Lucas who wrote the memoir which became a film ”Why I Wore Lipstick To My Mastectomy.” She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 27 and had a tough time deciding to get the mastectomy.
In order to deal with her situation, she began to wear red lipstick. She referred to it as her war paint that gave her the confidence to power through the chemotherapy treatment regimen, beat cancer, and have her baby daughter.
In this social media driven society, you never know when you’ll need to stop to take a photo. Wearing makeup can give you that extra spurt of confidence you need to strike a pose for Instagram or Snapchat anytime.
3. Makeup for Self-expression
The twenty-first century access to makeup has allowed people to be able to express themselves using makeup. Just like in ancient Egypt, society has become more accepting of men who wear makeup and other cosmetics regardless of their gender or sexuality.
To see how far these strides have gone, you can log on to Instagram to see top male beauty influencers like Bretmanrock creating a new norm and looking good while doing it.
Makeup is a form of art to the average makeup enthusiast. You too can express yourself, your thoughts, and your feelings through makeup looks and tending to yourself.
4. Makeup and the Fight for Freedom
With increased access to makeup and the rapid growth of the booming entertainment industry of the 20th century, new movements came into the foreground and took off. One of these movements was the Drag Queen wave.
Drag queens are men who adorn themselves in makeup and women’s clothes and perform for entertainment. A great number of these men are queer, and were and still are subject to ridicule and homophobic violence.
These queens banded together to form their own community, finding peace in themselves as they swapped makeup tips and even inspired makeup trends that women followed.
Access to makeup gave queer icons and drag performers of color such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera a means to actualize their true selves and the strength to fight for the civil liberties of black people and the LGBTQ+ community in a hostile environment.
5. Makeup for Representation
For a long time only white or much lighter skin tones were properly represented in the makeup and beauty industry. Even though there are as many skin tones as there are races, beauty brands used to cater only to those on the lighter spectrum of the color bar.
It’s common to see darker-skinned actresses and models from the 90s in photos wearing powder or foundation that isn’t their shade because there was nothing on the market for them to use.
The beauty industry was changed forever in 2017 when widely popular musician and performer Rihanna released her Fenty Beauty foundation line with a whopping 40 different shades of foundations.
This is an important event in the timeline because the Fenty brand was inclusive of so many skin tones. Instead of having only one or two shades for darker skin tones, Fenty launched with a selection of over 10 different tones and undertones for people with medium to dark skin shades.
Since the Fenty launch, other makeup brands have become more inclusive of dark skin shades, extending their line to match Fenty’s current line of fifty shades. Using her influence and business acumen, Rihanna forced the beauty industry to extend their line of sight to include underrepresented people and their skin tones.
Another group that makeup has boosted representation for is the LGBTQ+ community. Due to homophobia and other societal restrictions, the LGBTQ+ community has existed in the shadows. For the reasons of avoiding unnecessary violence against them and also building a safe space, the community kept itself away from the limelight.
However, in recent years with increased acceptance and access to the internet, some LGBTQ+ community members have gained a large following on social media and have been able to harness their fame for their own visibility and benefit.
For instance, Nikkie De Jeger, popularly known on her YouTube as Nikkietutorials, used her makeup tutorials to build a brand and a following for herself. And so when someone tried to blackmail her for being trans, she was able to use her platform to reclaim her voice and become an icon and a role model for others in her community.
There are many others like Nikkie who have built brands, businesses, and changed their lives simply using the power of makeup.
6. Stage Makeup
Makeup has had far more impact than just enhancing faces for everyday wear. Makeup today has completely transformed the way film and dance performers appear.
Makeup can completely change an actor’s face to look younger, older, or even totally different. Special effects makeup and the development of prosthetic silicone pieces have greatly impacted the ways that characters come across on screen.
For example, Hollywood star Dave Bautista’s character’s obvious makeup for Guardians of the Galaxy took three hours for the makeup department to apply. It made for a realistic character on the screen that viewers were able to connect with. Essentially, makeup brings realism to a film sequence.
No successful film has ever slacked on their makeup and wardrobe department. So important has this unit become in the film industry that there is even an Oscar award slot made just to honor those makeup artists with exceptional skills.
Makeup has evolved to the point where it is now an art form and not merely an application of random cosmetics.
7. Makeup and Skincare Beauty Products
Makeup and cosmetics are no longer marketed as stand alone products. These days, makeup and skincare go hand in hand.
Brands are not only trying to sell products that will cover up the skin, they are also marketing safe and gentle makeup takedown products.
Makeup now caters to the skin in many different ways. For example, some makeup products come with sunscreen to protect one’s skin from sunlight. Other products come with moisturizing agents or collagen boosters like vitamin E or aloe vera infusions.
The makeup routine – skin prep, daily cleansing, the whole nine yards – you have to do on a daily basis when you apply and remove makeup from your face helps you to maintain flawless skin.
8. Makeup and Innovation
Makeup encourages new and inventive ways of doing things. Whether it’s in the way that Maybelline was created or how Revlon got its idea for nail polishes from quick-drying lacquer paints used to coat cars, makeup is constantly encouraging innovation.
Now makeup has innovated with products such as a clear foundation that matches your skin tone after application. Another of such innovations is being able to get a foundation shade match for your skin tone by using 3D or augmented reality.
The makeup industry has also created vegan options for people with allergies to certain ingredients or for those who simply want to encourage sustainable production of their favorite cosmetics.
9. Makeup for Professionals
Apart from the people who use and produce makeup, there is another group smack in the middle that we have not talked about – the professional makeup artist.
People make a career out of enhancing a person’s natural beauty. They use the face as a blank canvas, highlight the most prominent facial features, and transform even the most average person into a stunningly attractive person.
Anyone can enjoy the amazing benefits of using the services of makeup experts, from the celebrity client looking for professional photoshoot makeup, to high school girls wanting to wow their classmates at prom with their excellent brow game.
Looking at the makeup, cosmetics, and beauty industry today and comparing it to those first early years in Egypt, there is not a lot of difference. Men and women both wear full makeup now.
But the vast difference between then and now is in how much inclusiveness and representation exists in the makeup industry today. Instead of seeking to be divisive, the makeup industry seeks to bring all its users together under one umbrella.
Overall, this is why makeup is important. Commercially, it has enriched the film and modeling industries, allowing audiences to connect with authentic characters and their performances. But mainly because it is so much more than just makeup. It is history, it is art, it is constant evidence of human beauty striving for innovation and trying to evolve into something beautiful.