What Was Ancient Chinese Makeup Like?


Quick Answer

Ancient Chinese makeup focused on pale skin, bright lips and colored fingernails. Makeup was a signifier of social class, with only aristocrats and the wealthy allowed to paint their faces.

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Chinese people started using gum arabic, gelatin, beeswax and egg white to stain their fingernails as far back as 3000 B.C. The colors were regimented according to social class. Chou Dynasty royals wore gold and silver, although later dynasties wore red or black. People in lower classes were not allowed to wear bright colors on their fingernails.

The tradition of whitening the face started in 1500 B.C. People used rice powder to make their faces look white. They usually shaved off their eyebrows, replacing them with a stain of dark henna dye. They painted their teeth black or gold.

Chinese people have reddened their lips for over 5,000 years. They started by using vermilion, or mercuric sulfide. They added mineral wax and animal fat to vermilion so it became waterproof and adhered to the lips longer. Later dynasties introduced the design of the lips. Women began applying color only as a dot centered on the lower lip and in a pointed shape on the upper lip. The rest of the lip was covered with white powder.

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