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The Evolution of: Foundation

This skin-perfecting staple possesses a long, storied past. (And thankfully has come a long way since its white lead days.) We asked history-obsessed Ashley Ciucci, makeup artist with Hair Room Service to shed some light on the product’s intriguing roots.

Ancient Society

Ancient In Ancient Greece and Rome, women coveted pure white skin, a sign of wealth and leisure, says Ciucci. Getting the look, however, was dangerous: Women often applied a paste made of white lead to their faces. In 2003, archaeologists in Britain discovered the remains of a 2nd-century tin containing animal fat, starch, and tin oxide. They concluded that the concoction was a face whitener, essentially an ancient form of cream-to-powder foundation.

Renaissance and Elizabethan Eras Elizabethan

White lead continued its dangerous dominance into the 17th century, with England’s Queen Elizabeth I and her ‘mask of youth’ being one of the substance’s most famous users. Those after a dewy complexion slathered their faces with egg whites, which we imagine was a sticky situation—but at least a safer one.


Victorian and Edwardian Ages

"In the late 18th and early 19th century, Western women went bare-faced," Ciucci says. “Queen Victoria deemed makeup repugnant and only used by harlots and prostitutes." But by the late 19th century, women started wearing a mix of mercury, lead, zinc oxide, acids, and silver nitrate to achieve a porcelain complexion. In addition to staying out of the sun, they also took up (ack!) eating chalk.

20th Century

20th Century In the late 19th century, German actor Carl Baudin created greasepaint by combining zinc, ochre, and lard to close the seam between forehead and wig. Iconic makeup artist Max Factor took it one giant leap further in 1914 when he "made a flexible greasepaint that was more natural and reflective under stage lights," which in turn led to his invention of 'Pan-Cake' makeup. "With talc as a base, this lighter-weight powder foundation created a frenzy among modern women. There was such a demand for the skin of their screen idols, Max Factor began producing this two-in-one product makeup for the masses," says Ciucci.


Today "Today, we are lucky to have so many safe and skin-friendly innovations in foundation formulas, says Jessica Scantlin, lead pro-artist at Blushington. Stila All Day Foundation, for example, features oxygen technology that boosts circulation and gives your complexion a radiant glow, while Becca Radiant Skin Creamy Concealer contains nourishing vitamin E and Orgasol Restore, which replaces lost ceramides. "We also have a wider range of colors to choose from, given that we embrace our own skin colors now, as opposed to masking who we are in society," says Scantlin. Some favorites that cover a broad array of skin tones: Alison Raffaele Reality Base Foundation and Vasanti Liquid Cover Up.

Photos: Ancient Makeup: User:Bibi Saint-Pol, Own work, 2009-08-16. Photographie prise à l'exposition « Le Bain et le Miroir » du Musée de Cluny; Queen Elizabeth I: 1925: purchased by National Portrait Gallery, London; Queen Victoria: Scanned from the book The National Portrait Gallery History of the Kings and Queens of England by David Williamson, ISBN 1855142287, p. 153.; 20th Century: Max Factor: © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS; Today: Blushington Makeup & Beauty Lounge

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