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Cosmetics or makeup are substances to enhance the beauty of the human body, apart from simple cleaning. Their use is widespread, especially among women in Western countries. The cosmetics industry is currently dominated by a small number of multinational corporations that originated in the early 20th century.


The first archaeological evidence of cosmetics usage is found in Ancient Egypt around 4000 BC. The Ancient Greeks and Romans also used cosmetics. The Romans and Ancient Egyptians used cosmetics containing mercury.

“In the 1800s, Queen Victoria publicly declared makeup impolite. It was viewed as vulgar and something that was worn by actors and prostitutes.” [1] By World War II, cosmetics had common application in the West (although banned in Nazi Germany). Other notable events in cosmetics history are detailed in the external link below. In Japan, geishas wore lipstick made of crushed safflower petals to paint the eyebrows and edges of the eyes as well as the lips. Sticks of bintsuke wax, a softer version of the sumo wrestlers’ hair wax, were used by geisha as a makeup base. White paste and powder colour the face and back; rouge contours the eye socket and defines the nose. Black paint colours the teeth for the ceremony when maiko (apprentice geisha) graduate and become independent.

As of 2005, the cosmetics industry is dominated by a small number of multinationals that all originated in the early 20th century. Of the dominant firms, the oldest and the largest is L’Oréal, which was founded by Eugene Shueller in 1909 as the French Harmless Hair Colouring Company, and is now owned by: Liliane Bettencourt 27.5%, Nestlé 26.4%, the remaining 46.1% are publically traded. The true market developers were the 1910s American trio Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubinstein and Max Factor. These firms established the market and were augmented by Revlon just before World War II and Estée Lauder just after. Some companies of the industry have been criticized for their practices in cosmetic advertising.


Usually, the goal of wearing makeup is to make the wearer more attractive. For most women that involves simulating the appearance of health and youth. Foundation is worn to present the (idealized) appearance of the smooth, unblemished skin of youth. Eyeshadow, eyeliner, and mascara is worn to make the eyes appear larger, and thus more youthful and innocent. Blush is worn to mimic the appearance of young skin flushed after exercise. Lipstick makes lips look larger, hides imperfections, and can make lips look more like the lips of a younger person, with thinner skin.

One sociological theory of makeup (among other things) claims that the role of modern cosmetics is not just to simulate youthfulness and health, but also, to an extent, sexual arousal. Wide eyes, flushed cheeks, and red lips can all be indicators of arousal, although most women would probably call this style of makeup “looking sexy.”

A critique of cosmetics (by Judy Grahn, among other feminists) contends that makeup mimics on a woman’s face the effects of a beating. Blackened eyes, bruised cheeks, and bloody lips are another way of viewing “looking sexy.”

More general than enhancing beauty, the change of physical appearance is achieved by specialized forms of cosmetics (stage makeup), used to present actors in roles in the theatre and in screen productions. A wide variety of effects are possible and may go so far as to make the actor appear completely nonhuman through the use of prosthetic appliances. Makeup for stage and TV is usually used even for natural roles, for example news reporters, to counter the paling effect of professional lighting. Makeup is also used to train medical professionals to recognize and treat injuries (moulage) and clinically to hide scars and blemishes that might otherwise impair social interaction.

Makeup may also be used to make one self look older. Young girls often try this at a young age with their mother’s makeup. As they get older they realize that it is more to their advantage to look younger and sexier. Halloween is a time when any one young or old, male or female may use makeup and not feel out of place.

Types of cosmetics

The various forms of makeup include lipstick and lip gloss and lip pencil used to colour the lips; foundation and powder, used to colour the face, also for lightening and concealing flaws to produce an impression of health and youth; rouge (blush or blusher), used to colour the cheeks and emphasise the cheekbones; mascara used to enhance the eyelashes, eyeliner and eyeshadow, used to colour and emphasise the eyelids (larger eyes compared to face is a sign of youth); and nail polish used to colour the fingernails and toenails.

Concealer is a type of thick opaque makeup used to cover pimples, various spots and inconsistencies in the skin.

Also included in the general category of cosmetics are skin care products. These include creams and lotions to moisturize the face and body, sunscreens and sunblock to protect the skin from damaging UV radiation, and treatment products to repair or hide skin imperfections (acne, wrinkles, dark circles under eyes, etc.).

Cosmetics can also be described by the form of the product, as well as the area for application. Cosmetics can be liquid or cream emulsions; powders, both pressed and loose; dispersions; and anhydrous creams or sticks.

Chemical and surgical procedures can also be used for cosmetic effect. Many techniques, such as microdermabrasion and chemical or physical peels, remove the oldest, top layers of skin cells. The younger layers of skin left behind often appear more plump, youthful, and soft. Permanent application of pigments (tattooing) is also used cosmetically.


The Romans and ancient Egyptians used cosmetics containing mercury.

The ingredients of modern cosmetics may also surprise those who use them: Lipstick, for example, can contain the shimmery substance of fish scales called “pearl essence”. Pearl essence is obtained primarily from herring and is one of many by-products of large-scale commercial fish processing. This is rarely used due to the high cost and extreme fragility of this type of colorant. The primary source of the pearlescent shine used in lipsticks, eyeshadows, and blush is mica, a natural, mined mineral. The mica, which is translucent, is coated with a very thin layer of titanium dioxide. This coating causes colour to appear through interference effects with the mica; varying the thickness of the titanium dioxide changes the colour. [2]

The red color of lipstick can come from iron oxide (rust) or from organic pigments. Typically, the pigment is crushed very finely while being mixed with castor oil. This pigment mixture is then mixed with a wax base to form a finished lipstick. The red color of some eyeshadows is from the dye carmine, made from the crushed bodies of the cochineal insect. This is extremely expensive and is used as rarely as possible. Pure carmine dye is usually more expensive than gold.

Cosmetic colorants are highly regulated. In the US, the regulating body is the Food and Drug Administration. Each country or group of countries has their own regulatory agency that controls what can go into cosmetics. Many colorants in cosmetics are also used as food dyes.

Pearlescence of solid and liquid mixtures (eg. lipsticks, shampoos and liquid soaps) is achieved by adding a suspension of tiny flakes of a suitable material, often a wax, eg. glycol distearate.

See also

  • Passing

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