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The short history of rouge in the Mediterranean region and Far East Asia or ‘If it is red, purple, orange, lavender or pink, use it!’
Rouge may have been the earliest cosmetic invented by humans (red earths)
–Though this is the issue of ‘chicken versus egg’ as most of these cosmetics could have been also used as lip color
•Used in ancient Mesopotamia, in the Aegean, in the Middle East and Far East and Southeast Asia
•The application of rouge continued through the High Medieval period and Renaissance
•No proof that Egyptians used a rouge (the function of the Cypriot scented pink powder is ambiguous)
•Both toxic and non-toxic substances were used as rouge
•Many colorants were used as dyes in textile processing
•Colorants sourced from minerals, plants and animals.
Hematite and red ochre –the oldest mineral ingredients
•Hematite -mineral form ofiron (III) oxide (Fe2O3), one of several iron oxids(red earths)
–Earliest proof of use comes from ancient Sumer (city of Ur), ~3rd millennium BCE
–Ingredient of choice till medieval Persia
•Red ochre – clay earth pigment which is a mixture of ferric oxide and varying amounts of clay and sand
–Used for both cheek and lip color
–The painted faces and ears in Minoan culture were done with red ochre paste (ointment).
Toxic mineral ingredients
• Vermilion – brilliant red and scarlet pigment originally made from the powdered mineral cinnabar
• Cinnabar – bright red mineral consisting of mercury sulfide, natural ore.
• Realgar – orange red arsenic sulfide mineral, known as masculine yellow, bull’s blood or sandarac.
• Naturally occurring form of lead tetroxide, also known as red lead (minium).
• Vermillion was most desired and the most expensive ingredients for rouge from Bronze Age to Renaissance and later
• Vermilion color was unmatched until mid 20th century when intense red pigment was obtained from petroleum production byproducts.
Colors extracted from plants
•Gromwell (Far East)
•Malabar spinach seeds (Far East)
•Carthamin from safflower (Far East)
•Black mulberry fruits
•Orchil extract (purple dye extracted from lichens)
•Red poppy flower
•Dregs of wine
The dyes were used in liquid form after extraction (like alkanet) or precipitated as lakes (salts) with alum on base of flour, starch, clay, gypsum (like madder or sappanwood).
Colors extracted from animals (mostly insects)
•Kermes – best was collected in Armenia (late antiquity and early medieval period) and Poland (High Medieval period)
•Lac (India and Far East) –deep red colorant extracted from the crude shellac resin excreted by the lac insect, indigenous to southeast Asia
–gives nice pink color on starch base
•Cochineal from Dactylopiuscoccus
–late arrival, used mostly in 16th century and later
•Purpurissum – Tyrian purple (Ancient Greek: πορφύρα, porphúra; Latin: purpura), also known as Tyrian red) dyeing bath mixed with any kind of white earth (like chalk, gypsum, kaolin) and dried to powder
–Tyrian purple dye comes from secretion produced by several species of predatory sea snails in the family Muricidae, rock snails originally known by the name Murex.
A note on presentation for the non-toxic rouge
1 – lead white base in lard base with starch (based on 6th century China recipe from Qimin Yaoshu (齊民要術) and analysis of excavated sample of 胡粉 (húfěn) from 2nd century CE) – reference sample
2 – safe lead white alternative (titanium dioxide, starch, ground pearls) in lard base (modified from 6th century China recipe from Qimin Yaoshu (齊民 術) and analysis of excavated sample of 胡粉 (húfěn) from 2nd century CE)
3 – Londinium ointment (2nd century CE) (tin oxide IV in beef suet base, starch)
4 – safe lead alternative (titanium dioxide) makeup based on Caterina Sforza recipe from late 15th century (in rose water base with starch and micronized mica).
The ideal skin was fair and smooth, not white/whitish, and this beauty canon seems to prevail across Europe and Asia for millennia, very often regardless of gender.
Egyptians were wiser and seemed to enjoy a golden skin tone, brushed with tiny amount of pink.
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Diamandopoulos, A. A. (1996). Organic and inorganic cosmetics in the preclassical Eastern Mediterranean. International Journal of Dermatology, 35(10), 751–756. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-4362.1996.tb00659.
ioscorides Pedanius, of Anazarbos., Tess Anne. Osbaldeston, and Robert P. Wood. 2000. De Materia Medica : Being an Herbal with Many Other Medicinal Materials : Written in Greek in the First Century of the Common Era : A New Indexed Version in Modern English. Johannesburg: IBIDIS
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Kelly Olson. (2009). Cosmetics in Roman Antiquity: Substance, Remedy, Poison. Classical World, 102(3), 291–310. https://doi.org/10.1353/clw.0.0098
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Pasolini, P. D. (2011). Caterina Sforza. Documenti (Vol. 3). Nabu Press. https://www.amazon.com/Caterina-Sforza-Italian-Desiderio-Pasolini/dp/124824365X
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Pliny, the Elder., and Harris Rackham. 1938. Natural History. Historia Naturalis : In Ten Volumes. 4, Libri XII – XVI (Loeb). The Loeb C. Cambridge Mass. [u.a.]: Harvard University Press.
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Ribechini, E., Modugno, F., Pérez-Arantegui, J., & Colombini, M. P. (2011). Discovering the composition of ancient cosmetics and remedies: Analytical techniques and materials. In Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry (Vol. 401, Issue 6, pp. 1727–1738). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00216-011-5112-2
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Wouters, J., Grzywacz, C. M., & Claro, A. (2010). Markers for Identification of Faded Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius L.) Colorants by HPLC-PDA-MS: ANCIENT FIBRES, PIGMENTS, PAINTS AND COSMETICS DERIVED FROM ANTIQUE RECIPES. Studies in Conservation, 55(3).
If you like to make your own accurate rouge like the ones presented here, please contact me for detailed recipes.
Please check before attempting any experimentation for potential allergens. Nobody should be harmed by the hobby!