A Brief History of Beauty

According to L’Oréal’s new book compendium, 100,000 Years of Beauty, beauty has always been a priority of humankind; it is just the people’s techniques that have changed. Here is a sneak peek at the book’s comprehensive history of hair dye, makeup, and everything beauty.


1st Century B.C.
Roman women mix pulverized staghorn, honey, narcissus bulbs, and Libyan barley together to form a mask for a youthful skin.

Medieval maidens use a cream made of barley, chickpeas, horseradish seeds, almonds, and milk to tighten their skin.

Creams like Lancôme Génifique are used to boost gene activity to stimulate the production of protein.

Body paint

100,000 B.C.
Early women paint their bodies with red ocher to advertise fertility.

8th Century A.D.
Mehndi, or the art of decorating feet and hands with henna to provide protection from the evil eye or marriage luck, spreads across the Middle East, Africa, and eventually India. Celebrities like Gwen Stefani made mehndi a fad in the U.S. in the ‘90s.

The sugarcane derivative dihydroxyacetone (DHA) was first used in 1960 to stain the skin’s outer layer. Nowadays, spray tans are widely used by bikini models.

Eye liner

2,500 B.C.
Egyptians used pointed tools and a mixture of animal fat and kohl to paint around their eyes.

Eyeliner use has not changed much in nearly 5,000 years, but eyeliners’ formulations did change.


200 B.C.
Roman and Greek women use white lead to make their skin look fair. It may be toxic, but lead makeup was popular worldwide until the 19th century.

Elizabethan-era females use ceruse (vinegar and white lead) to achieve an alabaster skin. For a shiny complexion, they also rub on a glaze of egg whites.

Hollywood stars then used a kind of greasepaint as foundation. Today, makeup is enhanced using peptides, emollients, and SPF.

Hair dye

100 B.C.–300 A.D.
Greco-Roman ladies use goat fat and carbonized beechwood to bleach their hair. Sediments from wine fermentation were used to disguise gray hair.

Venetian blond, a strawberry shade, was all the rage during the Italian Renaissance. The color is achieved though highlighting a concoction of barley, twigs, lemons, and licorice bark.

In 1909, L’Oréal founder Eugène Schueller launched the first commercial synthetic hair dye. Today, instant color wonders like L’Oréal Paris Excellence To-Go can paint the hair in minutes.

Hair extensions

618–907 A.D.
Tang Dynasty women use faux accessories to create ornate sky-high buns that have names like “worried chignon” and “alerted swan chignon.”

Marie Antoinette created a fad for ostentatious three-foot wigs, which are reinforced with cloth, gauze, and wire, ornamented with feathers, flowers, vegetables, and model ships as reference to current events. The French queen also used white flour to powder her poufs, which angered her poor subjects.

Serge Normant of John Frieda Salons partners with design house Balmain to increase volume through extension-like silk hair bonds, much to the delight of thin-haired starlets.

Hair removal

950 A.D.
Arab women visit hammams to get rid of unwanted hair. They use a paste made of boiled-down sugar and lemon or caustic quicklime, which is applied from the eyelashes down.

In Europe, the hairline and eyebrows are plucked using tweezers to create the image of a curved, high forehead. Removing hair at the nape gives the illusion of an elongated neck.

In 1995, the US FDA approved the first hair-removal laser. Later technologies like 2000’s Gillette Venus and 2008’s Tria laser make it easier to shave at home.

Skin brightening

1st Century B.C.
To whiten their complexions, Han Dynasty women take a powder made of melon seeds, peach blossoms, and tangerine peel three times a day for 30 days.

2nd Century A.D.
Roman women put on wild melon roots to lighten skin and eliminate freckles. Galen, a Greek physician, also invented the first cold cream using crocodile dung mask. Romans are believed to have bathed in mud and crocodile feces for soft skin.

21st Century
The East’s skin-lightening obsession reaches the West: dermatologists eliminate brown spots through modern broad-spectrum-light IPL devices, while melanin-inhibitors like kojic acid are packed into creams.


3rd Century A.D.
Japanese women color their teeth black through a blend of oak apples, iron filings, and tea or sake.

The first dentures are introduced in Europe. They are made of white marble, cow bone, and ivory.

Peroxide is used in toothpastes, at-home strips, and dental procedures to keep teeth white.

Volume Control

25,000 B.C.
Early men go for women who display the attributes of symmetry and plumpness. This is shown by early goddess sculptures like the Venus of Willendorf.

Pomander balls filled with herbs are kept in the mouth to make cheeks plump and to disguise the volume lost through aging.

The hyaluronic acid-based injectable, Restylane, has been clinically proven to be capable of boosting collagen production.


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