The Ancient Romans started using cosmetics for ritual purposes, but as time went on, they became part of women’s everyday lives. Wealthy people were able to buy imported makeup from China and Germany which were very expensive, while poorer people could only afford cheaper knock-offs of such “high-end” cosmetics.
Due to the weather conditions and the poor quality of their cosmetics, makeup needed to be reapplied several times a day, which wasn’t always practical, especially for lower-classes women. Rich one instead had female slaves called Cosmetae whose job was to apply makeup on them as well as making creams, lotions and cosmetics. But how were these made?
As many other ancient people, the Romans liked fair, white skin. However, they weren’t naturally fair so they had to rely on cosmetics to lighten their complexions. To ac hive that, they used chalk powder, white marl and white lead, which was poisonous.
The Ancient Romans liked large eyes with long eyelashes and eyebrows that almost met. They would darken their eyebrows with antimony or soot and then extend them inwards. On the eyes, they would apply kohl, which they made with saffron, ashes, soot or antimony to make them darker. The kohl was applied with a glass, ivory, wood or bone sticks that had to be dipped into either water or oil before putting them on the eyes. Another way to darken the eyes was to use date stones and charred petal roses. But the Romans also used colorful eyeshadows. To make green, they used the mineral malachite while blue was derived from azurite.
Cheeks & Nails
The Romans believed pink on the cheeks to a be a sign of gold health. So, women would apply several substances on their fa cs to achieve that result. They would use poppy and rose petals, red chalk, alkanet, Tyrian vermillion, crocodile dung, red ochre (it was more expensive as it was imported from Belgium), mulberry juice, wine dregs, cinnabar and red lead (these two were poisonous!). On the nails instead, they applied a mixture made with sheep fat and blood.
The Ancient Romans also made creams and lotions, most of which were made with ingredients derived from plants, to fight and hide wrinkles, pimples, sun spots, freckles and flaking. These masks were a mixture of lentels, barley, lupine, honey or fennel blended with oils, oregano seeds, sulphur, vinegar, goose grease, basil juice and hawthorn. Sometimes an essence of rose or myrrah was added. Other ingredients used in ancient skincare products were placenta and even excrements of some animals like kingfisher or calves! Pimples were cured with a mixture of barley flour and butter while sun spots were treated with the ashes of snails.
Perfumes were very used by the Ancient Roman. Not only they considered smelling good a sign of good health, but they also used perfumes to hide the bad odour some of the ingredients in their cosmetics had. Perfumes were available in liquid, sticky or solid forms and were made by macerating flowers, leaves and roots. These were added to the base of the perfume, a substance called Onfacio derived from the maceration of olives or grape juice. The perfume thus obtained was then mixed with dyes. In addition, they also used deodarants made with alum, rose petals and iris.
Roman women wore wings to hide white hair or hair that was damaged by hair dyes. During the Imperial eras, these wigs were made with real hair: blonde was imported from Northern Europe, while black from India. In addition, the Romans used dyes to accentuate hair colors. Blonde hair was enhanced with a mixture of Beeches Ash and goat’s fat while red was maintained by pulverizing the leaves of the Lawsonia Inermis, a plant in the henna family. Black hair instead was obtained by Black antimony with animal fat, cypress leaves that were first brewed and then saturated in vinegar or absinthe’s ash mixed with rose oil.
The Ancient Roman didn’t like hair on women, unless it was on their heads of course 😉 . So, women would remove them by plucking or shaving. In alternative, they also used a resin paste to strip them or a pumice stone to scrape them.
Men and Makeup
In Ancient Rome, men that wore makeup were considered immoral and effeminate. Still, some of them used white powder on their faces to lighten their complexions. What was acceptable for men instead was the moderate removal of hair and the use of perfume. During the Emperor’s Commodo’s times, dyeing hair blonde become fashionable for men too.