As Coco Chanel once said, „a woman who doesn’t use cosmetics has too high an opinion of herself”. There can be many reasons for not using beauty products – lack of interest or money –, but in any case, people have always been trying to be more beautiful and to look younger.
Ancient cosmetics had multiple purposes – spiritual, beauty, health – and many of them were actually harmful. Eyeshadows protected against insects, dehydration of the eyelids, and the blinding sunlight, however, they contained toxic lead, antimony, copper, and manganese. These substances penetrate the skin and get into the bloodstream, causing insomnia, infertility, or mental problems.
Romans and Greeks often used a lead-based whitening make-up, however the face paint was very expensive – this might be one of the answers to the paradox of richer women having a lower life expectancy at that time.
For a long time, pure white skin was the most important feature of beauty, it was a sign of being rich enough to not have to work on the fields. Tanned skin meant poverty. In Western culture the reverse is true now – the wealthy can afford to go on vacations, beach trips, get a nice tan, meanwhile poorer people have to work.
In the Middle Ages the use of make-up was forbidden, because it served vanity. It was brought back into fashion by Catherine de’ Medici and Queen Elizabeth I of England. Many still used arsenic or lead based white make-up and blush that contained minium (red lead).
After the Crusades, the use of henna became widespread in the West, and pomade, made from apples and cinnamon, was used to style hair. Hair removal was also a well-known concept, using arsenic, lime powder, juniper berries, and lard.
Mass production and usage of cosmetics began in the 19th-20th century. By then, a wide variety of beauty products appeared, including Margit-hölgypor (Margit’s ladies’ powder) – which, according to its description, eliminates all skin blemishes –, hair removal products, anti-freckle creams, and beautifying quarz-sand, used to eradicate skin mites.