Eyeshadow can be used to add drama to a look, express mood, and accentuate the wearer’s eyes; its purpose, when used correctly, is to enhance beauty. But, was that always the case?

The birth of eyeshadow can be traced 12000 years ago (10000 BCE) to ancient Egypt, the same place where eyeliner can trace its roots. Back then, eyeshadow was made up of a substance called kohl, which was made by grinding galena (lead sulfide) and mixing it with various minerals, ashes, and sometimes oils to create the desired consistency. The function of applying eyeshadow in ancient Egypt was not purely for cosmetic purposes (pun intended). It functioned to reduce glare and was thought to help reduce eye infections. Eyeshadow also had a religious significance to the Egyptians. It was worn as a part of religious ceremonies and daily religious life because they felt it made them look more like their gods which they desired to emulate. The wearing of eyeshadow consequently was started by those in religious service and royalty before its use spread to the rest of the population.

From Egypt, eyeshadow made its way to Greece and then to Rome. By that point, it had lost its previous religious connections. It was being used as a tool for appearance enhancement and to ward off evil forces, such as the evil eye. The Greeks crushed stones such as malachite and lapis lazuli to create shades of blue and green and were the lead exporters of eyeshadows in the 7th and 8th century BCE. Other minerals, as well as plants, herbs, stones, and dried flowers, we added by the romans to create different colors of eyeshadow. Many of these elements were imported from India and Babylon and so only royalty and extremely wealthy women generally wore them.

Kohl eyeshadow was used in India since the bronze age to protect the eyes from glare, disease, and the evil eye. In the 10th century BCE, Japanese women used their own form of eyeshadow made up of ground flowers, bird feces, and rice flour.

There was a long lull in the use of eyeshadow but then it saw a minor resurgence in 1909 CE. This coincided the Ballets Russes in London performing in stage makeup that included notable eyeshadow. Among the viewers of the Russian ballet were professional makeup artists Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein who began using heavy eyeshadow on their clients. When Ms. Rubinstein applied her eyeshadow look to Theda Bara when she played the lead in the 1917 film Cleopatra, strong eyeshadow became popular with Theda Bara taking keeping it as her trademark look. Then, eyeshadow sales really took off in the 1920s as the purchase of makeup from makeup stands in pharmacies and general stores became normal and accepted behavior and with the advent of new manufacturing practices and ingredients for eyeshadows permitting a great range of colors at reasonable price and which did not cause the unwanted effects, such as irritation and being difficult to remove, previous eye shadows caused. This eyeshadow is the product we see and use today.

Do you think the eyeshadow is inspired by cats?

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