History of Cosmetics

Cosmetic set of Ancient kohl tube with applicator and tweezers, razor, mirror and sharpening stone

While browsing through a Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas USA, in 2012, I saw an array of cosmetics tools on display from around the 2nd century BC and was impressed by how these items reveal the long history of cosmetics use. The worldwide cosmetics industry in the 21st century AD is vast, but records of cosmetics usage exist from the earliest excavations thousands of years ago. The implements at the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit included small pottery saucers with mortars that were used to grind cosmetic ingredients and then mix them with resins including egg whites before applying them to the face. Tiny decorative glass jars were used to hold precious oils and spices. Mud, water and other cosmetic ingredients have been collected from the Dead Sea for thousands of years, and the AHAVA brand that incorporates active minerals from the Dead Sea is available commercially today. The cosmetic implements pictured here from the Metropolitan Museum of Art show a tube with applicator attached for the eye cosmetic kohl, a razor, tweezers, mirror and whetstone. The mirror made of bronze or copper alloy would have been polished for reflection around 3,500 years ago when it was used.

Some of the most famous historical references to cosmetics come from the Old Testament of the Bible, as follows (all quotes from the NET Bible):

Jehu approached Jezreel. When Jezebel heard the news, she put on some eye liner, fixed up her hair, and leaned out the window. - II Kings 9:30

And you, Zion, city doomed to destruction, you accomplish nothing by wearing a beautiful dress, decking yourself out in jewels of gold, and putting on eye shadow! . . . - Jeremiah 4:30

They even sent for men from far away; when the messenger arrived, those men set out. For them you bathed, painted your eyes, and decorated yourself with jewelry. - Ezekiel 23:40

Let him provide whatever cosmetics they desire. Let the young woman whom the king finds most attractive become queen in place of Vashti. . . . For in this way they had to fulfill their time of cosmetic treatment: six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with perfume and various ointments used by women . . . . - Esther 2:3-4,12

The book Survey of Historic Costume by Phyllis Tortora and Keith Eubank provides further details of ancient cosmetics, beginning with the Egyptians from 3000 to 300 BC when green and black eye paints were used (page 35, third edition), as follows:

. . . The line formed around the eye helped to protect against the glare of the sun. Some written records include medical prescriptions for eye paints. . . . Both men and women decorated their eyes, skin, and lips. Red ochre pigment in a base of fat or gum resin was used to color lips. Finger and toe nails were polished and buffed. Henna, a reddish hair dye, also possibly was used to color nails. Scented ointments were applied to the body.

From 500 BC to AD 400, Survey of Historic Costume records the following about the Romans (pages 78 and 80, third edition):

According to satirists, cosmetics were used lavishly by both men and women. Practices reported for women: whitening the skin with lead, tinting the lips red, darkening eyebrows. Appearance-conscious men were said to use makeup cream on the cheeks and to paste small circles of cloth over skin flaws.

Ancient cosmetics practices seem strange to us, but we should consider that future generation 2,000 from now would find just as much to laugh about from some of the practices we employ today. The question of cosmetic enhancement within a structure of modest appearance is one that draws debate on all sides. Among religious groups, the most strict groups ban all makeup as a mode of attracting illicit attention. Moderates allow makeup that does not change the natural color of the skin, meaning no blue or green eyeshadows, for instance. The most relaxed of religious groups teach little about makeup, allowing women to wear what fits with current trends which waver anywhere from the "paint by number" color effects of the 1980s to the more modern barely-there lip tints with heavy eyeliner.

My own take on makeup is that had God intended my eyelids to be green or blue, He would have made them that way in the beginning. Through the years, my skin has had its fair share of blemishes that benefited from quality skin care and coverage products. Mascara is one of the most natural cosmetic enhancements available, but it was the first one that I eliminated from my routine when experimenting with makeup in my teens because it is so difficult to wear and clean away. Mascara smudges, runs and irritates the eyes. I have led a happy and beautiful life without mascara and do not plan to change course. Under-eye concealer and pink lip stain with lip gloss are my three essential makeup products, and I add may more depending on the the occasion, though always aiming for a subtly enhanced appearance. The extras sometimes include eyebrow pencil and clear gel to shape the brows, a light shimmery eyeshadow in one color across the entire eyelid, cream blush (which looks more natural than powder blush) and foundation or face powder in selected areas if needed for extra coverage, depending on skin condition that day.

Each woman should find her own essentials, and my encouragement would be to aim for the most natural look possible. Many times I have been encouraged by remembering my dad's words to me when I was a teenager, "I'm so glad you never got into wearing heavy makeup. It doesn't look wholesome." This idea I have heard repeated by other men who appreciate clean faces. Ask the men in your life what they think about makeup for women. You might be surprised.

AHAVA Skin Care

Has anyone tried AHAVA? I used a small tester of moisturizer available in the gift shop at the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. This brand incorporates active minerals taken from the Dead Sea into its formulations. The small amount I tested did not seem to me to be that much different from an average moisturizer, and the ingredient list is fairly standard other than the Dead Sea minerals part. The products are quite expensive, which makes me wonder if they are superior enough to warrant the cost. I am interested to hear from anyone who has used AHAVA long term to know if the products have been uniquely effective.