Cosmetics have been in use for thousands of years. The absence of regulation of the manufacture and use of cosmetics, as well as the absence of scientific knowledge regarding the effects of various compounds on the human body for much of this time period, led historically to a number of negative adverse effects upon those who used cosmetics, including deformities, blindness and in some cases death.
Examples of the prevalent usage of harmful cosmetics include the use of ceruse (white lead) throughout a number of different cultures, such as during the Renaissance in the West, and blindness caused by the mascara Lash Lure during the early 20th century.
One of the earliest cultures to use cosmetics was ancient Egypt, where both Egyptian men and women used makeup to enhance their appearance. The use of black kohl eyeliner and eyeshadows in dark colours such as blue, red, and black was common, and was commonly recorded and represented in Egyptian art, as well as being seen in Egyptian hieroglyphs. Ancient Egyptians also extracted red dye from fucus-algin, 0.01% iodine, and some bromine mannite, but this dye resulted in serious illness. Lipsticks with shimmering effects were initially made using a pearlescent substance found in fish scales, which are still used extensively today. Despite the hazardous nature of some Egyptian cosmetics, ancient Egyptian makeup was also thought to have antibacterial properties that helped prevent infections.
Ancient Sumerian men and women also wore makeup, being possibly the first culture to invent and wear lipstick roughly 5,000 years ago, by crushing gemstones and decorating the face with them, mainly on the lips, as well as around the eyes. The ancient Indus Valley Civilisation (3000-1500 BC) also utilised makeup, with women applying red tinted lipstick to their lips for decoration. Other cultures to use cosmetics include the ancient Greeks and the Romans. Cosmetics are also mentioned in the Old Testament, such as in 2 Kings 9:30, where the biblical figure Jezebel painted her eyelids (approximately 840 BC). Cosmetics are also mentioned in the book of Esther, where beauty treatments are described.
According to one source, early major developments in cosmetics include:
- Kohl used by ancient Egyptians
- Castor oil also used in ancient Egypt as a protective balm
- Skin creams made of beeswax, olive oil, and rose water, described by the Romans
- Vaseline and lanolin in the nineteenth century.