Presenter Lisa Eldridge Make up-artist & vlogger

Make-up through history

Make-up has been worn by both men and women for thousands of years and has always been a part of our society, yet wearing it hasn't always been smooth sailing. Here are 10 moments in the story of make-up that have helped shape where we are today.

In early times, make-up had strong spiritual and religious connotations. It was often used to show tribal allegiances and scare the opposition. Body paint was used for camouflage and medicinal purposes to protect the wearer against the elements.



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Ancient cave paintings depict Egyptian men and women with bold eye, lip and cheek make-up.

The Egyptians were one of the earliest societies to use make-up and had a very open view on the ‘painted face’.

They were sophisticated chemists, using natural substances such as ground nuts and minerals mixed with animal fat or vegetable oil to create a product that would stay put on the eyes, lips or cheeks. Moisturisers, kohl, lip and cheek rouge were worn daily by men and women of all classes. Although known for their incredible eye make-up, the ancient Egyptians were also renowned for their use of red, creating a form of lipstick by blending fat with red ochre.


The Ancient Greeks and Romans

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Roman women were encouraged to create a healthy and modest look, without obviously showing they were wearing make-up.

Although make-up was worn through the Ancient Greek and Roman times, anything too obvious was frowned upon.

Generally speaking, less was more. Women wore a light dusting over the skin and a touch of colour to the lips and cheeks, created from plants, fruits or even more toxic substances such as lead and mercury-based dyes. The male elite of the time believed a woman’s main role in life was to be virtuous and stay in the home, so any make-up that felt too obvious was strictly forbidden. Needless to say, applying cosmetics was usually carried out in private.

15th Century

Deception in medieval times

Getty Images / Print Collector

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Wearing make-up in medieval times was considered misleading, with ‘honest women’ being told they didn't need to alter their look.

Early Christian writers created a powerful association between make-up and deception, which was hard to shake.

Altering your face was said to be deceitful, so wearing make-up was proclaimed sinful. Delicate, fresh looks were all the rage. Women experimented with homemade recipes to try to create flawless, healthy, glistening and unblemished skin. In a time when disease and bad hygiene were widespread, this was no small feat. Any colour added had to look natural and undetectable, the ultimate in ‘less is more’.

16th Century to the Elizabethans

Bold is better

Getty Images / Heritage Images

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Madame de Pompadour was famed for her pink blush application style, which was so popular it became known as Pompadour Pink.

When Venice became the fashion capital of the world, heavy, bold make-up became celebrated and a new foundation emerged – Venetian ceruse.

It was exclusive and expensive but, created using pure white lead powder, water and vinegar, was also highly toxic. Long-term use created discoloured and withered skin that ironically required the wearer to use even more, and continued use rotted the teeth and caused hair loss. During the Elizabethan era, a flamboyant style was intended to differentiate aristocracy from the middle classes. Blush overload became common as women strived for pale skin, rose-flushed cheeks and dark, defined brows.

19th Century

A vulgar display

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A young Queen Victoria was painted showing her modest make-up style, which was to remain during her reign.

Queen Victoria announced that make-up was vulgar and unladylike, creating a backlash against using cosmetics.

After a period where bold styles were acceptable, it became a faux pas to appear to be wearing make-up in refined circles. The only form of cosmetics the Victorians condoned was a touch of powder, but not in public. Women used other ways to retain a healthy and vibrant appearance – pinching your cheeks and biting your lips could create a rosy glow, or coloured wrapping paper could be dampened to release a hint of dye that could be used.


Suffragettes and prostitutes

Getty Images / Hulton Archive

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Wearing bold, red lipstick became a symbol of strength, power and liberty during the suffrage movement; before it always carried sexual undertones.

Early in the 20th Century, wearing make-up and lipstick in particular, was still sometimes seen as ‘morally questionable’.

The middle classes in particular felt make-up was unacceptable in polite society and remained in the realms of prostitutes and actresses (often thought of in the same way!). During the 1913 suffrage movement, members of the Women’s Suffrage Parade wore red lipstick during their marches to demand the vote. It was a dramatic moment, and one of the first times women showed they could wear make-up for themselves without negative connotations.


Stage and Hollywood

Getty Images / Lichfield

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Anna May Wong was one of the first Asian American actress in Hollywood and styled herself with a flapper image.

With the rise of the silent movie stars, theatre actress and Hollywood glamour, make-up started to come to the masses.

Fanzines were integral in the broadening of make-up, as their ‘get the look’ guides encouraged women to ‘choose a character’ and recreate the look of their favourite stars. Along with affordable 10 cent lipsticks and cheap mass marketing, make-up came to every woman. However, it wasn't all open and encompassing – there was still a secretive nature to cosmetics, with women having to send away for their products in a time when going into a shop to buy make-up was deemed embarrassing.


Our current make-up marvels

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Make-up vloggers have literally changed the face of make-up, opening up a world of new styles, attitudes and approaches to the painted face.

The last 10 years have seen a new revolution in make-up, thanks to the digital world. To sum it up, make-up is booming!

Social networks and platforms such as YouTube have created a new world of make-up users. We can see how products are applied before recreating styles at home, without the need of a skilled make-up artist. The gender divide around make-up is also changing, with the number of men viewing online tutorials increasing year on year. It appears make-up is coming full circle – like in the time of the ancient Egyptians, it is once again acceptable for both men and women to use cosmetics.