Make Me Over: The Origins of Make-Up

Make-up is a multi-billion dollar money making machine! It has the potential to simply enhance or totally transform a person’s looks and for the right price everyone can have a piece of beauty in a bottle.

What some of us don’t know, is the origin of make-up and how it all got started. It’s well documented that the Egyptians used a substance called Malachite to create eye-shadow and a combination of two different versions of lead were also ground up and turned into the colour we now know as Khol to adhere that sexy, smoky cat eye look gained from eye-liner.Grecian Goddesses and Eastern Asian Geisha’s were also huge fans of the pale faced look and utilised rice powder and water in order to get a stark white foundation coating over their faces.Victorian women looking for a pale ‘English Rose,’ look doused themselves in deadly zinc oxide which often sunk into the pores and contaminated the blood-stream, leaving the saying “pain is beauty,” particularly apt here. Lead and Antimony Sulphide (used as a pigment in glass and porcelain – amongst other things… yikes!) were main ingredients in eye-shadow. It was also noted that Mercuric Sulphide was used to make their lips crimson red.



The first make-up brand to change the game AND remain a vital contender in the industry to this very day is none other than Max Factor (whispers… “the make-up for make-up artists”). It has that tagline for very good reason – as it was begun way back when make-up was being specifically made and catered to the needs of famous people; entertainers, actresses, the upper echelon of society who needed to make themselves stand out amongst the crowd and competition. Max-Factor’s legacy also stretches into wig making – something which he apprenticed in during his youth and he was well loved within the community of actors such as Charlie Chaplin for making a newer, safer, more freeing form of make-up which unlike the previous paint like texture that cracked with movement of the face – withstood the challenges of expressive faces needed for actors to perform their parts well. Before this there was an innovator in the form of Director D.W Griffith who invented the extremely colonised cosmetic enhancer: the false eyelash… all the way back in 1916 and in 1907, hair dye was used in the western world! Elizabeth Arden was also the first lady to start off a business in cosmetics – battling with the big boys like Revlon in the ‘Lipstick Wars,’ back in the 1920’s.

Revlon Lipstick Wars campaign photo.

Revlon Lipstick Wars campaign photo.

Speaking of such, the creator of Revlon cosmetics – Charles Revson, had an advertising campaign called ‘Fire and Ice’ in which he used a sexed up actress to sell the idea that red lipstick could be ‘frisky’ so to speak. That’s how I found out about photographer Richard Avedon. I’ve been looking at his work and I’m a brand new fan. The iconic photograph from that campaign is the above picture and was re-shot in recent years, using Jessica Biel as the poster girl.

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