Ancient Rome Cosmetics


Today’s cosmetics are everywhere – lining the aisles of drugstores, taking up their very own spaces in malls, and even popping up as specialty stores in cities. There’s just so much to makeup today, from hundreds of different lipstick shades, eye shadow colors and palettes, blush in pinks, and even foundations in countless skin tone matches. However, makeup isn’t a new or more modern invention; it’s been around for centuries, dating as far back as the days of the ancient Roman Empire. Long before the countries and peoples of today existed, makeup was around, albeit in a somewhat different format. Here’s what the cosmetic industry looked like during the years of ancient Rome.

Many people know that the practice of using makeup and various forms of cosmetics began not in Rome or Europe, but in Egypt. However, the Romans were the culture and people that most embraced cosmetic products, making them an integral part of their lives. Creating the cosmetics that changed the world wasn’t a simple process: because the Egyptians had all of the makeup expertise of the time, those in the Roman Empire had to import products from faraway places, and learn the secret recipes of their foes. Once makeup became part of life in Rome, women of all different status and class levels wanted to use it – those who didn’t were viewed as lesser, and as less attractive.

As cosmetic use grew increasingly popular in Rome, women clamored to get the newest products, and even ones unheard of in the empire. Rich families began importing products from China, Germany, and Gaul so they could have the most expensive, luxurious, and exotic makeup in existence. In fact, the demand for such incredible and hard-to-find cosmetics grew so great that the leaders of the empire attempted to ban them, passing the “LexOppia” law in 189 BC to limit the amount of makeup a woman could own. The law didn’t last long, and soon the wealthy were once again free to purchase as many cosmetics as desired.

Certain makeup products were popular in Rome, differentiating the taste of the Romans from the Egyptians. Whereas deep eye makeup and strong lip colors dominated in Egypt, the women of the Roman Empire loved donning cosmetics all over their bodies. From skincare products similar to lotion, teeth products, and even nail polish-like items, cosmetics were an entire-body affair. The paler a woman’s skin, the wealthier and higher status she was; as such, one of the most popular cosmetic efforts was applying a mask to lightening the skin. Additionally, the Romans loved applying rogue, painting on their eyebrows, and even lengthening their eyelashes, much like women of today’s cosmetic style.