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The History of Eyeliner


Next product we’re going to dive into the history of is eyeliner. This has been my favorite makeup product since I was ten years old. Honestly until I was like twenty the only product I ever needed to get through the day was a good liner. And while I don’t have a lot of liners today, it’s still that one thing I need to apply before stepping out of the door most days.

Credit: Illamasqua

Like most cosmetics products the history goes back to Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt as early as 10,000 B.C. It was used to define the eyes and protect them from wrinkles thata can form after constant exposure to desert wind, sun and heat. It was used by both males and females who held a high status in society. To create this liner they used a mixture of galena (lead sulfide), water, oil, and animal fat to create kohl. Those lower in society also used liner but it was made from fire soot. Kohl pots have been found in the tombs and documented by transcripts on papyrus or artwork. The word however did not come from Egypt. It received that name from Arabic origins. Other civilizations also had their own versions including: India, Pakistan, Africa, Middle East, and South Asian communities. Some used it on children to protect their eyes against evil spirits. This version of kohl has been banned due to the use of the toxic ingredient lead sulfide.

Eyeliner fell out of fashion in Europe but was still remained in Asia cultures. In the 1920s liner came back into fashion for Western cultures specifically in ballet, stage actors, Hollywood, musicians and photography. On screen, actresses wore heavy smokey eyes to accentuate expressions that were otherwise difficult to make out in the silent black-and-white films of the times. Eyeliner came into every day looks after the archeological disovery of Englishman Howard Carter and George Herbert who went into the Giza pyramids that belonged to Tutankhamun. There was coverage worldwide of the discovery and use of eyeliner became widely accepted. And smokey eyes were the standard makeup of choice for women. Unlike the Victorian era where makeup was frowned upon. In 1929, Maybelline created and marketed their very first eyeliner, which was sold alongside the first eyeshadows and the company’s signature mascara as a kit.

As the unregulated industry grew before the Great Depression, many of the products it produced were dangerous to the skin or even poisonous. As mentioned previously, Congress passed the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act in 1938, giving the FDA authority to regulate cosmetics. Initially kohl was not banned but was later updated to include this ingredient.

In my research, I could not find who invented the first FDA approved eyeliner or when liquid or gel liners came into the market. Most brands and historians just gloss over that detail where all of the other product histories go into those details. Not sure why but I did find that interesting. During the 1960s it was noted that liquid eye liner came into fashion.

Credit: Illamasqua

Also in the 1960s makeup was inspired by Mod fashion. Models like Twiggy and Brigitte Bardot and downtown it girls like Edie Sedgwick popularized the copious eyeliner of the decade, which coated not only the lash lines but also the eyelid crease, and often extended down towards the cheeks to mimic eyelashes. In 1965, famous model Pattie Boyd published a tutorial on how to perfect the look.

1970s gave birth to several new fashion types that used eyeliner in new ways. Punk and Gothic fashion relied on dramatic eye effect, and eyeliner, eye shadow and mascara were some of their most used cosmetic products in the 1980s-90s. In the late 20th century, Emo subculture popularized eyeliners even in male population though this was the first appearance of “guyliner”. Artists like David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Lou Reed, and Prince were rocking the look back in the 1970s-80s.

From the Egyptians to Amy Winehouse to Johnny Depp circa 2005, it’s remained a firm beauty favorite year after year, style after style. From grungy kohls, pencils, liquids, glitters, gels and who knows whats next, one things for sure – the eyes certainly do have it.

Love ya,

Mae Polzine

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