Did you know that the Ancient Romans started using cosmetics for ritual purposes only? But as time went on, makeup and skincare became a natural part of women’s everyday lives.
Wealthy people bought imported makeup from China and Germany, while the poor could only afford cheaper knock-offs of such “high-end” cosmetics.
Due to the weather conditions and the poor quality of their cosmetics, women needed to reapply their makeup several times a day (talk about dedication!).
By the way, rich women didn’t apply their makeup themselves. They had female slaves called Cosmetae for them. Cosmetae also mades creams, lotions and cosmetics. But how?
As many other ancient people, the Romans prized fair, white skin. A typical case of “I want what I can’t have.” Their complexion was naturally darker, so they used chalk powder, white marl and white lead (yes, a poison!) to lighten it.
The Ancient Romans liked large eyes with long eyelashes and eyebrows that almost met. They darkened their eyebrows with antimony or soot and then extended them inwards.
To make the eyes darker, they used kohl made with saffron, ashes, soot or antimony . 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 came from azurite.
Cheeks & Nails
The Romans believed pink on the cheeks to a be a sign of gold health. As a blush, Roman women used 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, they applied a mixture made with sheep fat and blood.
The Ancient Romans also made creams and lotions 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 they added an essence of rose or myrrah.
Other ingredients used in ancient skincare products were placenta and even excrements of some animals like kingfisher or calves! And we think modern Koreans are weird…
Pimples? The Ancient Romans cured them with a mixture of barley flour and butter. For sun spots, they used ashes of snails. Ewwww!
The Ancient Roman loved perfume.. Smelling good was a sign of good health – and a handy way to hide the bad odour of their makeup!
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 was then mixed with dyes.
FYI, the Ancient Romans 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.
Talking about dyes, the Romans used them to accentuate hair colours. 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 was made from 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 removed them by plucking or shaving. Sometimes, they also used a resin paste to strip them or a pumice stone to scrape them.
Men and Makeup
In Ancient Rome, men who 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.