Cosmetic in Roman Empire

Ancient Rome and Cosmetics

While history will forever remember that Egypt was first civilization that used cosmetic products as important part of their lives, it was Roman empire who embraced it and managed to build around it impressive array of fashion, religion and even laws. With many advances made by Egyptians, Romans managed to import much of their products and gain their secrets and recipes. In the height of the Roman Empire, women of all statuses used cosmetics, and were not viewed as pretty if they did not use them. Such extravagant way of life and the military might of Rome soon enabled rich noblewoman to acquire extremely expensive and exotic cosmetic products from China, Germany and Gaul. As such expensive products caused much controversy in high Roman society, famous “LexOppia” law from 189 BC tried to limit their use and control the maximum wealth of the women and their appearance in public. For example, they were forbidden to own more than an ounce of gold, ride in an animal-drawn vehicle near cities (except in religious ceremonies) and wear multicolored garments. However this law lasted only 6 years, and was repelled after large amounts of wealth started being brought to the Rome from the destroyed Carthage.

Cosmetic use in Roman Empire covered all areas of human body, both with beauty products and perfumes. Women used products for skin, rogue, eyes, nails, teeth’s, wore extravagant clothes and used elaborate setup of mirrors, containers and other items to host all of their cosmetic needs. Of course, no matter what fashion product was used by royalty and aristocracy, cheap knockoffs soon appeared and were used by majority of Roman women, especially prostitutes who intentionally used excessive amounts of cosmetics on them.

As the Egyptians and many other civilizations after them, Romans believed that fair and white skin represents wealth and high position. Because of that, women usually prepared their skin with beauty masks before starting to apply makeup. Even though they knew that lead based whiteners can be dangerous for health, they continued using them with belief that white skin is more important. They also had wide range of fashionable remedies that fought against sunspots, skin flakes, blemishes, wrinkles and freckles. Rogues viewed as a sign of attractiveness and good health, and eyes were painted in many colors to produce effect of longer eyelashes. Also, eyebrows that met in the middle were fashionable and were created with a little coloring. White teeth were of course prized as a sign of beauty, and they even managed to create prosthesis with false teeth made from ivory, paste and other ingredients. Breath fresheners were used regularly.

One large difference between Egyptian and Roman fashion was in lipsticks. While Egyptians used lipstick regularly, there is no historical or archeological evidence that Romans ever did the same. On the other hand, coloring of the hand nails was done only in the higher circles with colors that were imported from far away India.

Men did not use a lot of cosmetic products, except if they were openly feminine. Usually, men wore perfumes that were socially acceptable and moderately removed their hair (but not too much).