The Ancient Romans started using cosmetics for ritual purposes, but as time went on, they became part of women’s everyday lives. Wealthy people were able to buy imported makeup from China and Germany which were very expensive, while poorer people could only afford cheaper knock-offs of such “high-end” cosmetics.
Due to the weather conditions and the poor quality of their cosmetics, makeup needed to be reapplied several times a day, which wasn’t always practical, especially for lower-classes women. Rich one instead had female slaves called Cosmetae whose job was to apply makeup on them as well as making creams, lotions and cosmetics.
Keeping up appearances in ancient Rome was a controversial mission. Today the Italian word for makeup is “trucco”, which means trick. In ancient Roman times, it was considered by many as mere manipulation. Ancient Roman poet Juvenal wrote that “a woman buys scents and lotions with adultery in mind” and philosopher Seneca thought that wearing cosmetics led to the decline of the Roman morality.
Romans believed that fair and white skin represents wealth and high position. They therefore would prime their faces with beauty masks that included a mix of sweat from sheep’s wool, placenta, excrement, animal urine, sulphur, ground oyster shells, and bile. They would then whiten their skin with marl, crocodile dung, and lead. Swans fat was used to hide wrinkles.
Other ingredients used in beauty masks and treatments were rose water, eggs, olive oil, honey, anise, almond oil, and frankincense. Recreate the base layer of pale skin using a foundation a shade or two lighter than your everyday color.
Roman author and natural philosopher Pliny the Elder wrote that they fell out from excessive sex and so it was especially important for women to keep their eyelashes long to prove their chastity. Ladies would use burned cork to create long, thick eyelashes. To recreate this look, either apply false eyelashes or several coats of a black mascara.
They did have colored eyeshadows, but only in the colors of blue and green which resulted from ground minerals. Eyeliner was made from kohl, soot, ash, and even burned rose petals and date pits, all mixed with antimony. Roman men liked dark eyebrows that met in the center, and Women tried to achieve this by darkening their eyebrows with antimony or soot and then extending them inward. Because modern society doesn’t find that attractive, I suggest you overemphasize your brows with a dark brown or black filler, having them close together but not touching in the middle.
Red lips were achieved using bromine, beetle juice and beeswax, with a dollop of henna. Rouge was made from expensive imported red ochre, rose petals, poppies, or even poisonous red lead. Cheaper rouge was made with dregs of wine and mulberry, and crocodile dung. They would apply a light pink rouge to their cheeks, which signified good health and vitality.
There is archeological evidence that Roman women created a red nail polish from the crushed bodies of an insect imported from India.
Make up smelled so bad that Roman women wore entirely too much perfume to mask the scent. They came in all sort of forms: liquid, solid and sticky, and every occasion had a specific scent. Deodorants made from alum, iris and rose petals were quite common. They were mostly made using a maceration process with flowers or herbs and oil.
Women would remove body hair by plucking or shaving. They also used a resin paste to strip them or a pumice stone to scrape them.