The usage of colors and paintings dates back to the prehistorical civilization. As early as 30.000 years ago, the prehistorical men used them to decorate caves and their body, in order to camouflage themselves and frighten the enemy. The Indigenous peoples of America used to paint their bodies with bright colors during battle, whereas the early Eastern civilizations used cosmetics and aromatic oils in religious rituals.
It was the Egyptians who left the first traces of make-up in the strictest sense: they painted their eyes with malachite and lead glance, and their face with red ochre. During food and drink offerings, temples were perfumed with particular aromatic scents, which were also used to prepare the clothes during the embalming of the deceased.
In 1000-bc India the first medical code appeared. It was a guide for the Ayurvedic practice for the use of natural raw materials in medicine, in religious ceremonies and for an aesthetic purpose. The coloring of the soles of the feet, as well as of the nails and palms of the hands, was a widespread habit, as well as the use of intense scents, such as the sandalwood. The women also used to paint their face to represent the sun, the moon, the flowers and the stars.
Classical Greece established real aesthetic standards: for the Greeks, the ideal body was based on an idea of beauty that dominated for millennia. The strigil, a sort of metal crescent, was swiped on the body with oils and ointments to cleanse the skin from sweat and dust. Mastic oil was used to prevent and cover bad smells, including halitosis. The hair was dyed and rubbed with vegetable oils to strengthen it and protect it from the sun. Moreover, special razors, tweezers and a mixture of orpiment (arsenic sulphide) were used for hair removal. Women used white lead as their makeup base (lead carbonate), to give their skin the typical white color of the current beauty standards – complemented with a sort of lipstick with a base of red ochre and blackberry juice that was applied on the cheeks and lips to look healthy. Eyelashes and eyebrows were darkened with a powder derived from antimony; eyelids were painted with antimony powder, ochre, burned stone fruits, iron oxides and copper.
In Ancient Rome, the usage of cosmetics developed to the point of sometimes becoming quite extragavant – as were the current customs. The Romans loved make-up: they used coal to paint their eyes, fucus for their cheeks and lips, psilotum for hair removal, barley flour and butter as a treatment for pimples and pumice to whiten teeth. They used to dye their hair dark or blonde, they eased wrinkles with astringent mixtures, and they wore fake teeth, eyelashes and eyebrows. Scientific literature identifies this as the moment in which the connection between medicine and cosmetics becomes stronger.
With the unification of Syria, Persia, Egypt and India under Muhammad’s leadership, the habit of personal grooming and of maintaining a good general state of health through hygiene took hold. Cosmetics were used to treat diseases, and not only to cover aesthetic blemishes.
In the tenth century, an Arab physician distilled the essences of the flowers and was able to isolate the scent of rose to produce rose water, soon transforming it into an important product in the Arab market. Meanwhile, in the so-called dark years, monasteries appeared in Europe and the use of medicinal plants for therapeutic purposes became widespread. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, an important medical school was founded in Salerno – to which we owe the first recognized pharmacopoeia, which identified 150 plants and their use.
From the sixth to the thirteenth century, China was the major world power, and it’s there that Science and Technology advanced rapidly. With the development of transport and trade exchanges, cosmetic science developed too, along with various important universities in Europe. One of these was the University of Montpellier in France, where intellectuals flocked in large numbers leading to the creation of the most famous medical school in Europe. For the first time, treatments for sick skin and beauty cosmetics were regarded as distinct from one another.