History of Italian cosmetics

History of Italian cosmetics

Roman times

The care of the skin and that of a well groomed body during Roman times was not a chore, but more of an obsession. Romans were monitored by the strong drive called “vanity”.

At those times people started using cosmetics. The makeup base or “foundation” began its life as a greasy liquid substance that was used to cover up imperfections of the skin. Ancient women used to prepare recipes with whatever they had at their disposal and some whipped concoctions made with a waxy substance.

Ancient cosmetics

Roman women highlighted their brows with powders made from stibium (antimony, a metallic element) or fulgio (lampblack, fine black soot created by the burning of certain materials and used mainly as a pigment), and colored their eyelids with green shadows obtained from malachite or blues derived from azurite. They could obtain  a substance called fuco (a red alga) from mulberry, and sought out mineral substances like cinnabar, red plaster and miniate (which is highly toxic) to mix with animal extracts and vegetables,  thus turning them all into berry or red-toned lipsticks.


Teeth were also viewed as objects of vanity, and searches were conducted for materials to beautify them. Toothpastes were made by blending pumice powder (variety of light spongy volcanic rock used as an abrasive), chio putty (a metallic powder), baking soda andsodium bicarbonate (salt in the form of powder used as a key component in baking powder and self- rising flour).

Bad breath was relieved with miraculous pills that Romans sold in the markets. They had the need to subdue the thick scents of heavy drinking. These pills were manufactured by Cosmo, a famous Roman perfume maker.


The work that went into the production of cosmetics was leveraged by use of female slaves called cosmetae. They came in handy and spent their days dissolving various ingredients in their own saliva. The result was then set into small containers. Ingredients were mixed together with spatulas, small spoons and ring shaped mixers made of wood, bone, ivory, amber, glass or metal. It was common of the Romans to whip various beauty masks to counteract the aging of the skin and cancel out imperfections such as freckles, skin flakes, and sun spots.

These masks could also be produced using vegetarian based ingredients like lentils, honey, barley, lupine (any of a number of leguminous plants which bear tall clusters of flowers), or fennel. These could be added to an essence of rose or myrrh. Animal derived bases for cosmetics included frail deer horns, excrements of kingfisher, mouse or crocodile, placenta, marrow, genitalia, bile, calve, horse or mule’s urine. These ingredients were blended with oils, goose grease, basil juice, oregano seeds, hawthorn, sulphur, honey and vinegar.


Archaeological findings show us how the use of perfume was widespread among the Romans. Plant essences were obtained by squeezing and macerating leaves, roots, petals and flowers. The base of a perfume was an oily substance called onfacio. It was made by macerating olives or grape juice, which was called agresto. The perfumed substances were mixed along with dyes. Various species of lilies were used too, found in and around Pompeii.

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