“Vanity – thy name is woman”! Even though Shakespeare’s words were actually – “frailty – thy name is woman” – this is a great example of a misquoted quote, with more than a grain of truth at its heart.

For time immemorial, women have primped and preened and made the best of themselves in whatever way they know how. Today’s modern woman is familiar with the beauty salon, and the myriad of treatments available to her – thankfully now all safe and tested. But what about our sisters from history? What were the trends and treatments available?  And just what did they have to endure in the name of beauty?


What’s it all about then? In a society where appearance and grooming conveyed status, cosmetics, incense and perfume played a big part.

The Look:  Almond eyes, dyed hair, decorated bodies, lots of jewels.

Where to find it: Obviously, there were no beauty shops back then, so Egyptians sourced ingredients from plants that grew by the Nile, whilst henna served as hair and body dye. Kohl was used to darken eyebrows and line eyes into the almond shape that we’re all so familiar with. Red ochre and carmine coloured the cheeks and lips.

These pioneers in the art of facial enhancement developed many methods and techniques that we still use today, and many ancient artefacts area also early versions of make up palettes and brushes of today too.

To this culture, makeup was a way to demonstrate status and health. They even adorned their statues and paintings of gods with it. Body hair was considered unnecessary (or even unclean), removed with rudimentary shaving tools at first sight.



Premium Looks: 
Unlike the Egyptians, both these cultures placed a high premium on fair skin and lighter eye colours. Hair lighteners were often used – these would be vinegar, beech wood ash, natural sunlight or goat fat. When they couldn’t achieve the desired results, they employed the use of wigs.

Killer Products: It can’t have been easy staying ‘light’ with naturally olive complexions in sunny climes … so the dangerous practice of using (poisonous) lead-based powder to lighten their skin, began. Amazingly – this continued until nearly the 19th century!

Smell was another concern – baths were hugely important to them, and they disguised body odours with oils and perfumes.

Attitudes to Beauty – The Pressure’s on: Ancient Greek philosophers started to make their thoughts known on beauty too. Pythagoras ruminated on the idea of symmetry (in the body and the world), whilst Aristotle argued that beauty was an essential component for the human to flourish. Cultural values based on beauty itself started to appear. Beauty meant morality, valour, character and virtue. All sounding horribly familiar at this point



In the interests of keeping you on board, we’ll fast-forward a bit – through the middle ages and their (religion-inspired) ideal of youth, beauty and rosy-cheeked virgins with high foreheads, soft skin and a hairless body.

RENAISSANCE BEAUTY/Elizabeth I (The Virgin Queen):  The Virgin Queen kept it anything but real, with her frizzy blond-red hair teased into elaborate hairstyles. She also wore heavily powdered skin, and vermilion cheeks and lips. As a leader of fashion, women used cosmetics, wigs, and even natural hair dyes to follow her example.


VICTORIAN VALUES: Queen Victoria was all about morality and virtue – clean insides meant the same outside. Elaborate hair and makeup were out (if you wore this you were either a prostitute or an actress) – neither of which were respectable back then.

Women were now pale, meek, and delicate creatures. Hair was modest updos, with soft curls at most. Fair skin was still prized and hydrated with rose and pomades of lard and herbs. Nice!

THE INDUSTRIAL AGE. Bring On The Choices…

Now we’re talking…. As the world became more sophisticated, so did the products and ideas on offer. New products appeared on the shelves. Brand names became familiar. Choice abounded:

1910s: Lipstick, pan stick (an old form of foundation/powder) and mascara appeared. Brand names like Maybelline and Max Factor came to the fore. Gordon Selfridge opened his first store, allowing women to ‘try before you buy’.

1920s: Dressing tables across the world groaned with products from the above. Flapper girls appeared – good by day, naughty at night! The horrors of war were just behind the world, and make up helped women recover their sense of themselves, and their place in the world. Helena Rubinstein famously said  ‘If you can show me a woman who doesn’t want to look young and beautiful – well, I’m afraid she isn’t in her right mind. Women all want it – and we admit that they do!’


Stars like Clara Bow made the cupid lips a famous look – sales of metal lip tracers went through the roof! And the first ‘swivel’ lipstick appeared in 1923.

In brief:
Eyes – kohled eyeshadow for the more daring girls

Eyebrows – Plucked for the first time and drawn downward towards the temple.

Lips – lips were smaller than the natural outline and fashioned into the ‘cupid’s bow’ shape.

Lashes – mascara was the new rage and no woman could resist enhancing her lashes.

Rouge – Applied in circles rather than angular. The effect was a rounded face.

Nails – The big name was Revlon and the popular style was the ‘moon manicure’ leaving the tip in painted.

1930s:  The 1930s spa provided a top to toe makeover, with incredibly thorough training for beauticians. Peroxide shampoo was big news for as a much more gentle and subtle way to lighten hair than bleaching. Freckles were highly unpopular in the 30s, freezing off freckles with carbon dioxide or using Othine as a home remedy were popular treatments! Othine is still available as a skin bleacher today!


1940s: Wartime dominated, and the luxury of choice receded. But putting beauty first, became a duty. Encouraged to ‘Put Your Best Face Forward’, it was deemed to be encouraging to the war effort. Women became sassy – they made do and mended. They borrowed and swapped.

Top tips included:

HAIR: For glamour, they cleansed with a baking powder paste (baking powder and water), rinsing with cold water and vinegar. (We’ve tried this and it works too!). Raw eggs acted as conditioner, as does a good beer shampoo. Curls were achieved by ‘ragging’ (lots of good tutorials on you tube for heat-free curls are available). BROWS: Heavy brows were in – topped off with a slick of Vaseline for glamour. LASHES: In the absence of mascara, some women would make it from petroleum jelly and coal dust pressed together to then be applied to the lashes with a fine brush.

There are always the elite that can afford the latest treatments and the ‘Hangover Heaven’ face pack, invented by Max Factor was certainly very popular with the celebrities and Hollywood stars fo the time. The mask had plastic cubes that could be filled with water and frozen. Looks like this one could actually work!

STARS OF THE TIME: Think Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, Ava Gardner, Lauren Bacall.

BEAUTY ADVICE: Aching feet will cause facial lines. Don’t stand too long!

the hangover heaven

For weight loss there was paraffin baths, seaweed wraps and suction cup massages (painful!) Face steaming was popular too, as were general deep baths, and massages. For skincare, the peaches and cream complexion was at the root of all trends. To be successful in the skincare market, foundations and powders needed to promote a soft, feminine look.

Colours: Pastels ruled in this decade, pale pinks, greens, blues and yellows.  Audrey Hepburn once claimed that she ‘ believed in pink’ !

Icons: Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner

audrey hepburn beauty

1960s: Freedom. Fun. Music. Free Love…

Multi-step skincare systems arrived by the 1960s. Regimens included moisturisers, toners, and cleansers. Elizabeth Ardens eight hour was introduced to the market containing vitamin E and was one of the first products to use petrolatum, a skin soothing beta-hydroxy.

The Looks: 2 camps here. Au natural hippy chic. Long flowing hair, flowers, floaty outfits.

Or Mod high fashion – beehive hair. Dark Kohl eyes. HUGE eyelashes like bolting spiders. Short, short skirts. Patent boots.  Pale lips. Hoop earrings.

Fashion icons were Mary Quant and Biba.

Elizabeth Taylor mixed current with historic looks in the classic film Cleopatra. Demonstrating perfectly how beauty comes around again.

 dove pic

1970s to NOW!

Fashion and beauty is a constantly-evolving thing. But as we see from this potted history, ideas, looks and products carry through the decades, evolving and perfecting, but strangely emulating too. How often have we heard the phrase that fashion and beauty go round in circles?

And as the beauty industry has become more sophisticated, so have women’s expectations. There is hardly a part of the body that cannot now be altered or emphasised or played down with the use of products and treatments.

We loved Charlies’ Angels in the 1970s – all that flowing hair and flawless skin. We leapt on sun beds to create it – not realising we were doing long-term damage in the process.

charlies angels

In the 1980s we saw HUGE hair appearing – just as Queen Elizabeth I had pioneered, back in her youth. Eyeshadow up to the brow (Cyndi Lauper/Cleopatra) – not a good look. But we also had the age of the supermodel – Cindy Crawford rocking the natural look gave us all hope that we could land a Richard Gere of our own. Health and fitness had a huge boom in the eighties, leotards were everywhere and curves started making a comeback, as long as they were in the right place!

In the 90’s organic products started to make a cut into the market space over and this continues now. Cruelty-free beauty was now available. ‘Living’ products, without additives and chemicals proved popular. People were introduced to the idea that what you put on your skin, was what went into your body.

anita roddick

And now we’re here. Mid 2000s –the quest for beauty rages on, new technology and skincare techniques are flourishing and we marvel at how fast science advances. What is round the corner? Keep reading this blog and you just might find out!


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