Who Invented Makeup? The History of Cosmetics

The truth is that makeup’s family tree has deeper and more tangled roots than your favorite waterproof mascara.

Each era and region around the globe contributed its own chapter to the expansive anthology of makeup history, with techniques and trends as variable as the societies they adorned. Ancient civilizations dabbled and dazzled in cosmetic concoctions long before the term “selfie-ready” was ever a twinkle in a millennial’s eye.

For centuries, these artistic expressions have served aesthetic purposes and denoted social status, political alignment, and even moral standing

Who Invented Makeup?

Makeup and body art have been integral parts of human culture since ancient times, originating from various traditions and necessities. If one were to pinpoint a civilization that formalized the use of cosmetics in daily life, the ancient Egyptians would stand out.

They developed many forms of what we can call ancient Egyptian makeup techniques and products for reasons ranging from aesthetics to health.

History of Makeup

The history of makeup can be traced back thousands of years, spanning from the ancient Egyptians to the modern makeup industry. Since its inception, the use of makeup has been bound to traditions, social norms, and evolving makeup trends. History shows that makeup began as a practice to embody spiritual and physical attributes, and over time, it transitioned to what may be termed “such obvious beautification.” Archaeological evidence shows that using natural pigments for body and facial decoration was commonplace among prehistoric humans.

READ MORE: Prehistory: Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic Periods, and More and Early Humans

When Was Makeup Invented?

Determining exactly when makeup was invented is challenging, as its use predates written records. However, evidence of makeup and body art has been found in ancient graves and sites, with some estimates suggesting that these practices are over 7,000 years old. Ancient Egyptian makeup, comprising kohl eye makeup and red lipstick, is among the earliest recorded uses of cosmetics for enhancing appearance and offering protection against the harsh desert sun.

Was Makeup Invented for Guys?

Makeup was invented for both men and women, particularly in ancient civilizations. In ancient Egypt, for example, men and women wore heavily lined eyes with kohl to repel flies and protect their eyes from diseases. 

Throughout history, ancient Egyptian men and high-ranking individuals from both genders of the royal family adorned themselves with makeup for ritual and decorative purposes.

Who Wore Makeup for the First Time?

Pinpointing who wore makeup for the first time is impossible due to the lack of specific records. However, it’s evident that ancient Egyptians from all social classes, including low-class women and men, wore makeup as part of their daily routine. The evidence of cosmetic pots and palettes suggests that makeup application was widespread.

Why Did Egyptians Wear Makeup?

The ancient Egyptians wore makeup for several reasons. In addition to being a fashion statement, it signified social status, had protective properties against the evil eye, and was believed to have spiritual and healing powers.

Cosmetics were not only designed for beautification but were also believed to possess protective qualities. In ancient Egypt, wearing eye makeup was considered a defense against the evil eye, but also the physical threats of the environment, such as the harsh desert sun. Antimony, used to darken eyelids, was thought to offer mystical protection.

Heavily lined eyes with kohl provided protection from the harsh desert sun, while red lipstick, applied by both genders, was associated with status. Specific colors and styles could signify different social classes wore makeup according to custom.

In ancient Egypt, makeup was not reserved for the upper class; all social classes wore makeup to some degree. The type and quality differed, with the upper class accessing more elaborate and precious formulations. For example, social classes wore makeup that symbolized their standing – with very low-class women having simpler makeup compared to the ornate preparations of royal family members – illustrating a direct connection between social stratification and cosmetic use.

Shifts in the Usage of Eye Makeup

Eye makeup was a focal point in ancient Egyptian beauty, with kohl used to create heavily lined eyes. Different ingredients, such as malachite for green coloration, were ground finely and stored in ornate containers. These eye preparations were applied using tools made from wood, bone, or ivory, signifying that eye makeup was as much about the process and tools as it was about the end look.

The Journey Beyond Egypt: Global Influences

While the ancient Egyptians are renowned for their cosmetic ingenuity, other ancient civilizations also contributed significantly to the makeup timeline. Ancient Greeks used crushed mulberries to adorn their lips, while in ancient Rome, both men and women applied creams to lighten their skin tone, aspiring to the traditional pale-skinned beauty ideal. Roman women would also shape eyebrows and dye their hair with concoctions from goat fat and beech wood ashes.

Red Lipstick: A Cultural Staple

The enduring popularity of red lipstick, first seen in ancient civilizations, has transcended time to become a staple in contemporary society. Women frequently wore red lipstick in ancient Greece, but during the European Middle Ages, its use was stifled, considered dishonorable, or linked to witchcraft. History records that Elizabeth Arden famously supplied red lipstick to suffragettes, reigniting its presence as a symbol of female empowerment.

From Ancient Ritual to Modern Self-Expression

Historically, makeup has served various purposes, from ceremonial markings to indications of social status, apart from enhancing one’s natural beauty. In ancient Rome, heavily lined eyes were a trend, recreated using burnt almonds, lead, and antimony. However, makeup trends have evolved to increasingly highlight personal style and self-expression over functional and class-driven uses.

Makeup Techniques Through History

Over time, various tools and ingredients have been drafted into the creation of makeup. The ancients used basic tools to shape eyebrows and grind pigments, which evolved into sophisticated makeup palettes and skin tonics. The Victorian era saw the invention of items such as the eyelash curler and techniques to create blush, moving towards a complete skin foundation that was accessible to many women.

READ MORE: Victorian Era Fashion: Clothing Trends and More 

The Colorful History and Cultural Significance of Makeup Palettes

Makeup palettes have become synonymous with the modern-day cosmetics experience, yet their historical lineage can be traced to ancient times. The development of makeup palettes can be seen as a reflection of humankind’s quest to curate color and composition in a way that could be personalized.

In ancient Egyptian tombs, archeologists have unearthed compact palettes from which men and women would mix their shades, often indicating status and wealth. Similar practices were seen not only in ancient Rome and Greece but even during the Renaissance and Elizabethan era, where the art of blending pigments was considered a refinement.

READ MORE: Valley of the Kings: The Burial Place of the Pharaohs of Egypt and The Egyptian Afterlife: Mummification, Burial Practices and Beyond

Modern Makeup and Its Pioneers

The modern makeup industry owes a great deal to figures like Elizabeth Arden and other innovators who revolutionized cosmetic treatments and built empires that expanded the availability of makeup products.

Such figures were instrumental in setting the stage for makeup brands that today cater to the desires of makeup-wearing aficionados, offering everything from wrinkle-free skin creams to colorful makeup palettes that cater to a brighter makeup look.

The Progression of Makeup Brands

In the early 1900s, key figures such as Elizabeth Arden created a legacy that influenced the proliferation of makeup brands over the next century. Makeup brands have not only advanced the technological aspects of makeup—such as the introduction of the first complete skin foundation—but have also been at the vanguard of reflecting societal transitions, playing a role in movements that range from the feminist to the avant-garde.

Historically, makeup brands have been the trendsetters, ushering in new waves of makeup trends and beauty standards, often dictated by cultural shifts and artistic movements.

Hair Dye and the Transformation of Identity

Hair dye is an essential extension of makeup, allowing individuals to transform their appearance profoundly. In ancient Rome, women used henna as a hair dye to achieve different shades, while the typical Roman woman might use a cerulean and vinegar mixture to achieve a dark tint.

In modern times, hair dye exists in a dazzling array of colors, from natural tones to fantastical hues, each empowering individuals to express internal change externally and to adapt their appearance across the spectrums of fashion and persona.

Royal Endorsement

Throughout history, royal family members have set makeup trends for the public. In ancient Egypt, royal women like Cleopatra were famed for using kohl and wine-stained lips.

READ MORE: How Did Cleopatra Die? Bitten by an Egyptian Cobra and Cleopatra’s Tomb: Unraveling the Enigma of an Ancient Queen’s Final Resting Place

Intricate makeup styles and luxurious ingredients were often reserved for those in the highest tiers of society. This pattern flows through the ages up to modern monarchy, with royal family members’ choices in makeup and beauty often scrutinized and emulated across the globe.

Cosmetic Treatments

With the progression from natural resources like burnt almonds to the birth of makeup salons and clinics, cosmetic treatments have undergone a revolutionary transformation. The pursuit of beauty has transitioned from home mixes and potions to professional environments where scientific research informs the creation of everything from makeup products to cosmetic procedures.

These spaces aim to meet the growing demands of consumers for high-quality treatments that complement their makeup routine, spanning from traditional practices to revolutionary technologies.

Makeup as a Tool for Inclusivity

In contemporary society, the makeup industry has come to represent inclusivity, producing a range of products from softening creams to animal fats-free compositions that cater to diverse skin tones and preferences, embracing both natural beauty and dramatic transformations.

Makeup brands have been pioneers in setting makeup trends that break boundaries, reflecting social changes where both men and women can express themselves freely through the art of makeup.

The Everlasting Palette of Culture

From its ritualistic roots with the ancient Egyptians to becoming an everyday essential in the modern world, makeup portrays more than cosmetic appeal; it reflects a tapestry of cultural evolution.

While no single person invented makeup, its story is one of collective contribution, echoing through time and painting a vivid picture of humanity’s artistic and social journey.



“A History of the Cosmetics Industry”. American Cosmetic Association. 2023.

 O’Grady, Megan; Schorr, Collier; Holmes, Matt (2021-05-10). “Makeup Is for Everyone”. The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.

Liddell, Henry George and Scott, Robert. κοσμητικός Archived 2020-08-03 at the Wayback Machine in A Greek-English Lexicon

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