Beauty History: Cosmetics Secrets of the Ancient Romans

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. But how were these made?


As many other ancient people, the Romans liked fair, white skin. However, they weren’t naturally fair so they had to rely on cosmetics to lighten their complexions. To ac hive that, they used chalk powder, white marl and white lead, which was poisonous.

Eye Makeup

The Ancient Romans liked large eyes with long eyelashes and eyebrows that almost met. They would darken their eyebrows with antimony or soot and then extend them inwards. On the eyes, they would apply kohl, which they made with saffron, ashes, soot or antimony to make them darker. The kohl was applied with a glass, ivory, wood or bone sticks that had to be dipped into either water or oil before putting them on the eyes. Another way to darken the eyes was to use date stones and charred petal roses. But the Romans also used colorful eyeshadows. To make green, they used the mineral malachite while blue was derived from azurite.

Cheeks & Nails

The Romans believed pink on the cheeks to a be a sign of gold health. So, women would apply several substances on their fa cs to achieve that result. They would use poppy and rose petals, red chalk, alkanet, Tyrian vermillion, crocodile dung, red ochre (it was more expensive as it was imported from Belgium), mulberry juice, wine dregs, cinnabar and red lead (these two were poisonous!). On the nails instead, they applied a mixture made with sheep fat and blood.


The Ancient Romans also made creams and lotions, most of which were made with ingredients derived from plants, to fight and hide wrinkles, pimples, sun spots, freckles and flaking. These masks were a mixture of lentels, barley, lupine, honey or fennel blended with oils, oregano seeds, sulphur, vinegar, goose grease, basil juice and hawthorn. Sometimes an essence of rose or myrrah was added. Other ingredients used in ancient skincare products were placenta and even excrements of some animals like kingfisher or calves! Pimples were cured with a mixture of barley flour and butter while sun spots were treated with the ashes of snails.


Perfumes were very used by the Ancient Roman. Not only they considered smelling good a sign of good health, but they also used perfumes to hide the bad odour some of the ingredients in their cosmetics had. Perfumes were available in liquid, sticky or solid forms and were made by macerating flowers, leaves and roots. These were added to the base of the perfume, a substance called Onfacio derived from the maceration of olives or grape juice. The perfume thus obtained was then mixed with dyes. In addition, they also used deodarants made with alum, rose petals and iris.


Roman women wore wings to hide white hair or hair that was damaged by hair dyes. During the Imperial eras, these wigs were made with real hair: blonde was imported from Northern Europe, while black from India. In addition, the Romans used dyes to accentuate hair colors. Blonde hair was enhanced with a mixture of Beeches Ash and goat’s fat while red was maintained by pulverizing the leaves of the Lawsonia Inermis, a plant in the henna family. Black hair instead was obtained by Black antimony with animal fat, cypress leaves that were first brewed and then saturated in vinegar or absinthe’s ash mixed with rose oil.

Body Hair

The Ancient Roman didn’t like hair on women, unless it was on their heads of course 😉 . So, women would remove them by plucking or shaving. In alternative, they also used a resin paste to strip them or a pumice stone to scrape them.

Men and Makeup

In Ancient Rome, men that wore makeup were considered immoral and effeminate. Still, some of them used white powder on their faces to lighten their complexions. What was acceptable for men instead was the moderate removal of hair and the use of perfume. During the Emperor’s Commodo’s times, dyeing hair blonde become fashionable for men too.

Like this post? Tell your friends!
Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook


  1. says

    Really interesting! It’s nice to hear that bright eyeshadows have been around for such a long time. However, I don’t think I would want to put some of those ingredients on my skin or nails. Sheep fat and blood? No thanks! XD
    .-= Simone´s last blog ..I hate false lashes. =-.

  2. beautifulwithbrains says

    Simone, I agree with you, some of those ingredients are so disgusting! I don’t want them anywhere near me but I guess they had to make do with what they had. :)

  3. beautifulwithbrains says

    Rebecca, that’s what I thought too, some trends never go away and it seems that just like nowadays people always want what they don’t naturally have like a fair complexion when they’re darker-skinned. But yay for no more excrements on skin!

    I was wondering about that too, I was hoping women back then were luckier and didn’t have to shave lol. I don’t like body hair but removing it is a pain! :)

  4. beautifulwithbrains says

    Golden, I’m glad you found it interesting. I guess some things never change, do they? :)

  5. beautifulwithbrains says

    Nikki, I’m glad you enjoyed it and I think you’re right. Men are fast becoming very vain too. :)

  6. beautifulwithbrains says

    All Women Stalker, I agree, that’s disgusting and toxic! But I guess there weren’t too many options at the time. :(

    I’m glad you do, ta. :)

  7. beautifulwithbrains says

    Marina, thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed it. That of Ancient Rome was a really fascinating time. :)

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Susan, what a lovely idea! But I’m afraid I don’t know anyone who does this kind of demonstrations, sorry.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Sara, I love history and I’m always reading history books and doing research online. Most of the info in this post comes from online sources.

  8. M.j says

    During that time, the ancient greek woman would Inject their eyes with a toxic chemical to make their eyes sparkle like the gods. do to the results of the injections, the user would go blind or die from a disease.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Mj, that’s great. Beauty practices through the ages is a fascinating topic, isn’t it?

  9. Shakira says

    Y’all shouldn’t think so badly on makeup but thanks for all this wonderful information that you all gave me this was a great success for my project It even gave me an a plus thanks for everything you all have taught me

    • Gio says

      Shakira, my pleasure. I’m glad this post helped you with your project, and congrats on getting an A plus!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge