Chinese women have a long history with makeup, originating from ancient times. In China, there’s an old saying that the love of beauty is common to all human beings. Ancient Chinese women wanted to look for beautiful things that made them look prettier. While they obviously didn’t have social media like Pinterest and YouTube, the love of cosmetics, perfumes, and garments was everywhere. We’ll walk you through the history of Chinese women’s love of beauty.
Chinese Makeup History in the Zhou Dynasty
The Zhou Dynasty opened up a new era in Chinese makeup history. Eyebrow makeup, lip makeup, face makeup, and a series of cosmetics, such as makeup powder, facial cream, lip gloss, and fragrance became a trend during this time. Generally, the makeup style of the Zhou Dynasty was relatively simple and elegant with black and white, so this era is known as the “plain makeup era.”
In addition to powder and “Dai”( “黛”), the cosmetics of the Zhou Dynasty also included “Zhi” (“脂”) and “Ze”(“ 泽”). Zhi is the grease from animals or the oil from plant seeds. Lip zhi referred to lipstick, and face Zhi aimed to moisturize the face. Ze referred to a shampoo made of fragrance materials.
Chinese Makeup History in the Qin and Han Dynasty
There are few records about Qin Dynasty costumes and dresses in history books, but the Han Dynasty inherited many Qin Dynasty legacies. During the Han Dynasty, the custom of makeup was greatly developed, and women paid more attention to their makeup. Here are some of the advancements in makeup.
- In addition to rice powder, people in the Qin and Han Dynasties invented paste-like lead powder for makeup. The lead powder was usually made of materials such as lead and tin, which were converted into powder after chemical treatment.
- Red powder, also called “fufen”（“敷粉”）, was the first step in applying makeup. Since the Qin Dynasty, “red makeup” had become popular, and women used powder and Zhu （”朱”，a red material） in their makeup. Red powder and white powder were usually used as the foundation.
- Rouge came next after powder. The primary raw material for making rouge in ancient times was safflowers. Rouge has a strong viscosity, so it’s not easy to fade away. Therefore, women would apply a little rouge on the cheekbones based on their light red and pink foundation.
- Cinnabar （“朱”）was made of mercury sulfide with a small amount of iron oxide, clay, and other impurities. It was ground into powder and used for face makeup. It’s a red mineral pigment, also called “Dan,” which is bright and gorgeous.
- Mo Dan （”墨丹”）refers to the mineral “graphite,” and women used it to draw eyebrows. Mo Dan was ground on a special inkstone to form a powder, and then it was mixed with water and applied to the eyebrows.
- Lip grease is made of water and cinnabar, and it can prevent lips from cracking and bleeding. By adding color to it, lipstick becomes an ideal cosmetic, just like with today’s lipsticks.
Chinese Makeup History in the Wei, Jin, Southern, and Northern Dynasties
During this period, women’s makeup skills gradually matured, demonstrating diversified tendencies and bold colors. Here are some of the main changes during this time.
- White makeup (powder) was applied to women’s faces, and no rouge was applied to their cheeks, which was more common in the decoration of the court ladies. This type of makeup showed a simple and elegant beauty.
- Forehead yellow was a kind of ancient face decoration. It was dyed and painted on the forehead with yellow pigment.
- Oblique red was a kind of makeup on the cheeks, including shapes like crescents and even scars. The bright red color was arranged on both sides of the cheeks and between the temples.
- Huadian (“花钿”) generally refers to the makeup on the forehead between the eyebrows. In the Six Dynasties, a plum-shaped flower, called “plum blossom makeup,” was especially popular.
Chinese Makeup History in Sui, Tang, and Five Dynasties
In the Sui Dynasty, women’s makeup was relatively simple, and the people loved the beauty of simplicity. The Tang Dynasty had a prosperous economy, and exchanges with foreigners were very frequent at that time. As a result, many women’s makeup was influenced by foreign countries, and women pursued fashion and advocated novel styles of makeup.
During the Tang Dynasty, makeup technology was also developed to an unprecedented peak. We can roughly divide the order of face makeup for women in the Tang Dynasty into the following: lead powder, rouge, eyebrows, appliqués, dotted face and slanted red, and lipstick. Strong red makeup was the most popular face makeup at the time, and the red makeup of women in the Tang Dynasty varied in shades of color and size. Different shapes of eyebrows also came about during this time, with about fifteen popular kinds of eyebrow styles.
Chinese Makeup History in the Song Dynasty
In the Song dynasty, women’s makeup tended to be simple and natural. Although there were many changes in facial makeup, it was not as rich and gorgeous as the Tang Dynasty. White and red were still the basic colors of makeup, and women preferred to use ink instead of Dai to draw their eyebrows.
Chinese Makeup History in the Ming and Qing Dynasties
The red makeup of the women in the Ming and Qing Dynasties was mostly thin and elegant, which was quite similar to the Song and Yuan Dynasties. Ming and Qing women created many new types of makeup powder. For example, “zhenzhu” powder, a kind of makeup powder extracted from the flowers of Mirabilis jasmine, was mostly used in spring and summer, and Hosta powder was mostly used in the autumn and winter.
Women in the Qing Dynasty advocated curving eyebrows, thin eyes, and thin lips. At the end of the Qing Dynasty, women changed the convention of wearing heavy makeup and put an end to the red makeup custom that had prevailed for more than two thousand years.
By the early Republic of China, women continued to follow the makeup aesthetic of the late Qing: delicate and pretty face, slender eyes and eyebrows, and thin lips. With the influence of western cultures, women considered makeup from a new perspective and different standards, showing that they started to cast off the shackles of the feudal society.