Cosmetics have been a part of civilisation for most of mankind’s history. There is archaeological evidence showing that the first people to use cosmetics to enhance personal appeal were the Ancient Egyptians. One only need glance at a few Egyptian burial exhibits in museums around the world to see that makeup was an important part of the Ancient Egyptian culture.
It is also obvious from artwork and literature that the societies of Rome and Ancient Greece used cosmetics as well. There are even mentions of cosmetics scattered throughout the Bible. In addition to these cultures, cosmetics were used throughout history by people in other parts of the Middle East, China and Japan.
During the Middle Ages the use of cosmetics fell precipitously low, mainly because religious leaders claimed that the use of cosmetics was akin to harlotry (immorality or prostitution) and was a sign of a persons sinful nature. This belief persisted for centuries until the advent of the Renaissance.
From the Renaissance period to the Industrial Revolution, both men and women began to use cosmetics again in an attempt to disguise their agrarian looks. Farmers and other labourers who worked outside often had darker complexions, while the nobles making up the upper strata of society often had fair skin. It was common for the general public to attempt to lighten their skin in an attempt to look like the ladies and lords they admired.
Makeup and other cosmetics exploded in popularity during the early years of the 20th century. This boom can be attributed to women trying to emulate their favourite singers and dancers as the advent of Hollywood fashion turned the use of cosmetics from a fad into a raging phenomenon. This era also precipitated the blossoming of major cosmetics companies such as LOreal, Revlon and Estee Lauder.
The competition between these firms started during the early part of the century and intensified during the ensuing decades. These companies began to mass produce cosmetics and cleverly marketed their products to women working menial jobs during the First and Second World Wars. These women needed an escape, and cosmetics often made them feel better about themselves and their circumstances.
The popularity of television in the 1960s also changed the way cosmetics were marketed to women. National companies advertised freely on daily and weekly soap operas. Stay-at-home moms revelled in these programs and became loyal to the advertisers sponsoring them. The result was that woman from every socioeconomic class became purchasers of cosmetics, as they strived to emulate television heroines.
During the latter half of the 20th century, a minor backlash began to form against some of the marketing and production practices used by many of the cosmetics companies. Some policies that were especially outrageous to consumers included animal testing, false advertising and ethically questionable marketing to young children.
During the 1990s, the last decade of the century, in an effort to win back consumer confidence, many cosmetics companies, including MAC and Sephora, decided to pursue sustainable strategies, end testing on animals and use packaging made up of recyclable or bio-degradable materials. Its a movement that continues to gather momentum with better educated consumers insisting on quality, proof of efficacy and ethical behaviour.
Cosmetics have been an integral part of society since the earliest civilizations, and it is clear from their success in today’s market that, despite some set backs, people enjoy using makeup so cosmetics are here to stay.