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Wake up to Make up!

Posted by on March 27, 2014

Guest blogger Chloe Warren investigates the fascinating history and evolution of make up, leading to the popularity of cosmetics in modern society. 

Applying make up can be part of a daily routine for many of us. What you may not be aware of is the history and science behind staples like eyeliner, mascara and lipstick. 

Eyeliner usage can be dated back as far as Ancient Egypt, where, as well as being a cosmetic, it was thought to ward off bad luck and eye diseases. Considering that one of the main components of Egyptian eyeliner was lead, it’s not unreasonable that for a long time this medicinal property was thought to be based purely on superstition. In recent years however, scientists have studied ancient traces of this eyeliner compound and found that the lead substance contained traces of salts not known to occur naturally; they had been synthesised by the Egyptians. The researchers went on to study these lead salts and have since hypothesised that they may have induced the production of bacteria-killing compounds by skin cells, which would indeed have helped to prevent eye infections.

Mascara is traditionally used to make the eyes to appear bigger and wider. Interestingly, a psychological study on physical attractiveness revealed that men find women with more ‘child-like’ facial features (such as large, wide set eyes) more attractive than those whose features were less child-like. It is assumed that this innate attraction to such facial types is because of the association of youth with fertility in females. Putting it somewhat bluntly, men have evolved to find younger women attractive, as they have the highest reproductive potential.

Researchers tracked the tips for 17 waitresses who intermittently wore red lipstick while they waited over 400 tables. Analysts found that men consistently tipped waitresses significantly more when they were made up than when they were not. Evidently, men found the women more attractive when they had red lips. In some primates, the colour red can be a sign of fertility for both genders, for example in macaque monkeys and mandrills. In human females too, vasodilation (increased blood flow to the skin) can increase when their sex hormones are upregulated, making the skin appear more red in colour. Again, putting it bluntly, males may have evolved to find red lips attractive as it indicates fertility – or at least heightened arousal; and this increases the probability of a successful mating attempt.


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