The History of Cosmetology

by Angel

Have you ever wondered where all the makeup and hair color you see today came from?

Hair color, nail color, and makeup all date back as far as Ancient Egypt. They did not have fancy tools to apply any of it. They used the things they had around them to look beautiful. As time has gone on things have progressed and here we are today with a booming beauty industry and some of the most fascinating products to use in our attempt to be beautiful. It all started somewhere. Implements such as oyster shells, bones, and sharpened flints were all used to apply makeup. Animal hides were used to tie the hair back. Ancient people practiced the art of coloring hair, coloring nails, and even tattooing. They used things such as berries, minerals, nuts, herbs, leaves, and tree bark for pigments. Lets take a look at how different groups of people contributed to the world of cosmetology.

What is Cosmetology?

Cosmetology comes from the Greek word “kosmetikos” which means skilled in the use of cosmetics.

Cosmetology is the study and application of beauty treatment. Branches of specialty including hairstyling, skin care, cosmetics, manicures/pedicures, and electrology.


The Ancient Egyptians were the first to cultivate beauty and wear it in an extravagant way. They included it in their every day life as a part of their beauty habits. They included it in religious ceremonies and in the preparation of burial for their dead. Around 3000 BC they were using things like minerals, insects, and berries for eye makeup, lips, and skin. They were using Henna to stain their hair and their nails a deep red color. Perfumes were made from infusing leaves, bark, and blossoms of flowers. They were credited for being the first to create these perfumes.

Photo Credit - Public Domain

Queen Cleopatra
Queen Cleopatra
Wikimedia Commons, CC SA Eslam17

Queen Cleopatra in 50 BC created her own personal cosmetics factory next to the Dead Sea.

Queen Nefertiti in 1400 BC dipped her nails into henna to make them red.

Kohl makeup was used first by the Egyptians. Kohl is made from a mixture of ground galena which is a black mineral, sulfur, and animal fat. They used it to elaborately line their eyes. It also served as a means to protect them from the glare of the sun.   


The people of Ancient Greece were applying makeup as early as 500 BC. They used makeup in their religious ceremonies, in every day grooming, and for medicinal purposes. They were creative in their products too. They used white lead on their faces, kohl on their eyes, and vermillion on their cheeks and lips. They would make a red pigment by grinding up cinnabar to a fine powder. They would use it on their faces in the fine powder form or by mixing it with an ointment.   

Photo Credit - CCSA - Evi Michailidou


The Romans would give themselves facials using things such as flour, eggs, milk, and butter. Chalk and white lead would be used for facial makeup. Only nobility could wear their hair the color red. Middle class would wear theirs blonde and the lower class poor would typically be seen with black hair.

Hair Pins - Early Roman Times
Hair Pins - Early Roman Times
Wikimedia Commons, CC SA Peter van de...

Victorian Age – (1837 – 1901)

Jumping to the Victorian AgeMany women during this time were focused on the beauty of their skin more than applying cosmetics. They used eggs, honey, milk, oatmeal, fruits, and vegetables to make their masks and scrubs for their face. They would pinch their cheeks and lips to give themselves a natural color instead of applying makeup.

Interesting Items

Wyeth Hair Color
Wyeth Hair Color
Wikimedia Commons, CC SA Joe Mabel
Kohl Container, Applied with Ivory, bronze, or glass stick
Kohl Container, Applied with Ivory, b...
Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Interesting Facts

1905 – Curling irons were invented.

1930 – Preheat method perms were introduced.

1932 – Charles Revson of Revlon marketed the first nail polish.

1932 – Permanent hair color was introduced by Lawrence Gelb – a New York Chemist – who  

           went on the start a company called Clairol.

1938 – Cold wave perms introduced.

1960's – Vidal Sassoon revolutionized the geometric hair cut.

1970s – Highlighting with foil became popular.

1980-1990's – Makeup exploded with vibrant colors and something called cat eyes.

Cosmetology Today

Today cosmetology is very much different than it was just a decade ago. The products used are much gentler to the skin, hair, and nails. Specialization allows cosmetologists to focus on one area and perfect it. Some focus on hair color while others only do nails. The time of visiting the salon one a week to get your hair done is gone. The variety of products out there are amazing. We have come a long way from using berries to stain our skin.

Photo Credit - Wikimedia Commons - CCSA Evi Michailidou

Updated: 05/10/2012, Angel
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WriterArtist on 07/11/2013

The Egyptians had flair for beauty and cosmetics, one can see the imprints on the history and the evidence. One can see how the technology evolved and we see cosmetics for every part of the body including hair, nails etc.

BrendaReeves on 06/25/2012

Well researched article, Angel. It's interesting what women considered beauty throughout the ages. For instance, I think the hairdos and makeup of the 1940's were God awful.

Angel on 05/28/2012

Thank you for commenting sheilamarie and Tolovaj! I thought it was so interesting how all of this stuff came about. I am sure there were many things that were used that caused blindness or other irritations as women experimented through the years.

sheilamarie on 05/28/2012

It would be interesting to compare with what was done in other cultures of the world. Maybe an idea for future wizzles?

Tolovaj on 05/19/2012

Great overall view on the history of cosmetology. It is very interesting how different and unusual (sometimes even poisonous) materials were used to achieve certain effects. I believe some ladies actually lost their sight because of chemicals in their cosmetics...
Thumbs up!

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