The History of Everything #01: Blusher

I absolutely loving doing history blog posts over on Shaun’s Musical Musings, so when thinking of ways to put beauty back into my blogging routine, I thought today’s post would be a good place to start. In this series of ‘A History of Everything’, I’m going to take a random thing in each installment and talk through its history for the sake of a mini lesson for us all.

When I think about vintage makeup and what’s been around for a very long time, powder immediately comes to mind and coloured powder pigment – or what is now pretty much blusher – comes shortly after. But where did the evolution of the blusher originally begin?

To start with, the correct name for blusher isn’t even blusher: you’re meant to call it rouge because of the colour! The original idea behind it is to create a youthful glow in a more mature woman’s cheeks to give them a bit of life and the idea started in Ancient Egypt. In fact, the original rouge was a sort of two-in-one as the pigment was also used on their lips to accentuate the colour of those as well (which is now lipstick’s job) for both men and women. The lead they used in their cosmetic products was deadly and it was starting to become more fashionable to be as pale as possible as it was as sign of wealth. Time progressed and the middle ages came in where applying blusher over your white face was seen as a sign of even higher wealth! To achieve this, people would cover their face in eggwhites (I’d love to know how, but whatever) or bled themselves so they lost blood and looked paler, before applying a mix of water and strawberry juices to the cheeks for a rosy glow. As time went on even further, Victorian times came in and connotations were put to the product which suggested that wearing it was something only the lower class did; men stopped wearing it altogether on the most part. Wearing rouge started to be seen as “tarty” and the product became so scarcely available, women started to resort to pinching their cheeks and biting their lips just to add that reddened look to their complexions.

Various different substances have also been used to create rouge. In Ancient Egypt when it was first discovered, mulberries were crushed and the liquid was used. Following that, beetroots, strawberries and red amanranth were also crushed and used as colouring and Ochre powder was used at some points as well for the original powder blushes. The people at Bourjois then saw the potential in modernising the stuff by mixing the colour of greasepaint that an actor would wear (essentially face paint but worse for the skin) and the typical baked powder to make a cream coloured pigment in 1863. By colouring powder, mixing it with water in a mould and then baking it, they managed to create what is believed to be the first cream blush.

Nowadays, blush is made from red-coloured talcum-based powder and is applied with a brush; the process of making a powder blush still works in a similar way as well and Bourjois alongside other companies continue to improve their process of making them as time progresses. Sometimes, they also mix Alloxan and cold cream to make a similar, red creamy solid to use as a blush.

Whether you use it or not, it’s incredible to think that something like blusher – a seemingly normal cosmetic product – has a long enough life to stay it’s been around since Ancient Egyptian times. That’s one big history for sure!

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