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  • Writer's pictureVariant Magazine

The Evolution of Makeup

Photo by Evie Sears

By: Gabby Hayes

Wearing makeup is a simple way to build confidence. A dash of concealer and a swipe of mascara are common accessories in today’s society. However, makeup has been around since the beginning of time; from using natural resources to concoctions of all sorts of chemicals, the world of cosmetics has endured many advancements. It’s easy to think of makeup palettes and bronzer as a modern-day invention; on the contrary, it all began in Ancient Egypt.

Ancient Egypt

Makeup was so commonly found in Ancient Egypt that even statues of Gods and structures with human motif decorations were adorned with cosmetic paints. These cosmetics were not only used to enhance physical appearance, but they also had practical uses, ritual functions and symbolic meanings.

The Egyptians thickly lined their eyes with kohl, a black powdery substance made from galena ore, and used different colored mineral powders as eyeshadow. The look was completed with red ochre mixed with fat or gum resin to color the cheeks and lips.

The Egyptians utilized chalk paints and white lead pigment to paint all over the body. These full-body paintings were used by nobles who expressed their power and status through the pale color on their skin.

Black and green paints were commonly found on the eyes of the Ancient Egyptians. Heavy application of kohl around the eyes would have helped to reduce glare from the desert sun, while malachite powder was used to make green paint which was applied to make the eyes appear larger.

The Egyptians set the stage for makeup and cosmetic use; so much so that many of their practices became staples for centuries. Rosy lips can be seen throughout history and pale skin has been viewed as a high beauty standard for many periods.


Queen Victoria reigned in Britain from 1819-1901, leading the cosmetic world down a dangerous path.Whereas the Ancient Egyptians utilized makeup for practical reasons, the Victorians valued physical appearance so highly that women often resorted to harming themselves in pursuit of aesthetics.

For a look called “The Painted Lady,” women would aim for paper white skin, rosy cheeks and doe eyes. Tuberculosis was rampant in this era, which led to the Victorians romanticizing the effects of a disease that left a path of devastation and death. Ghostly skin with apparent veins, unnatural thinness, bright red cheeks and watery eyes were the beauty standard; and symptoms of tuberculosis.

To exude their status and youthfulness, women would dust their faces with zinc oxide, a white mineral compound. Their skincare routine was one of chemicals and danger ; an opium face mask was to be applied at night, followed by a chemical ammonia rinse the next day. Although some women dropped citrus juice or perfume into their eyes to achieve a watery look, it was common to use belladonna drops made from the poisonous belladonna plant.

Like the Egyptians, the Victorian era put emphasis and value on its beauty standards. While some practices of this time sound like death in a bottle, the backbone of cosmetics stayed the same; showcase class and power while appealing to the male gaze. This goal of cosmetics can be seen throughout decades.


Following the end of WWII, the 50s were a time of vibrancy and versatility. Rationing and devastation came to an end and the economy prospered. Along with bright-colored kitchen appliances, funky couches and poodle skirts came colorful makeup looks.

The end of the war allowed for the luxury cosmetics industry to take off when people had more spending money.The doe-eyed look from the Victorian era was trendy throughout history but the 50s put a new spin on it: cat-winged eyeliner. Women experimented with the cat-eye look, sporting variations from striking and flared to muted and chic.

A strong eyebrow arch with a decent thickness that tapered at the end was also ideal for women during this time.The iconic Marylin Monroe set the stage for a sultry look by making bright red lips a staple of the 50s.

A time of experimentation, the 50s allowed the luxury cosmetic industry to flourish. Not only were these looks popping for the time, but they impacted the world of makeup forever. From the cat-eye shape to arched brows, many of the 1950s makeup trends are replicated in the modern-day.


For decades makeup has been used as a way to express power and live up to a beauty standard for both men and women. While it still acts as a crutch for beauty ideals to stand on,the world of cosmetics has evolved into a melting pot of self-expression. With an endless number of styles and aesthetics, there’s never a dull moment when it comes to a glamorous look. Today, makeup is an art form, which is a perspective that the people of the past couldn’t dream of.

Makeup trends often resemble looks from previous times; Marylin Monroe set the stage for cosmetic empowerment, showing women to own their bodies and express themselves however they see fit. The Egyptians created eyeliner and the Victorians gave us rosy red cheeks. Despite the drastic advancements that have already been made, the evolution of makeup is far from over.

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