Beauty has been variously called skin-deep, superficial, evanescent, ephemeral and even deceptive. While beauty has been worshiped, most cultures have blamed beauty as a snare, as a shortcut to downfall, from the myth of a Helen who brought down the towers of Ilium, to Cleopatra who brought death and destruction to Rome. Critics and satirists have blamed women for infatuation with vanity. In Rape of the Lock, Alexander Pope pokes fun at the heroine Belinda who seems besotted to the wiles and charms of ‘cosmetic powers’. All the same, we have always kept things beautiful on a high pedestal. We have compared perfection and divinity with beauty. Our poets, sculptors and artists have serenaded female beauty. And whether or not beauty blesses us, we each try to enhance what nature has left us with. Cosmetics are those agents of perfection, those glimpses of divinity that bring us closer to what we cherish, what we want to be.
It is interesting to note that both cosmetic and cosmos comes from the Greek word Kosmos, meaning order, beautification or arrangement. Therefore, cosmetic is an agent of arrangement, the means to an ordered world. Cosmetics have been used for millennia across civilizations. Egyptians used them as far back as 4000 BC. Babylonians, Chinese and the Indians had their own indigenous traditions of beautification, many of them based on scientific premises and still in use. For example, neem, turmeric, aloe vera are used in dozens of cosmetics around the world. The Roman cold cream salvaged from archaeological ruins still fascinates beauticians. Medieval age added much of alchemy to the composition of beauty, and such poisonous materials as arsenic, lead and mercury were freely and widely used, resulting in the critics’ adage that attempts to attain beauty would render one uglier.
Fortunately, today the critical antipathy and the alchemic ignorance have given way to appreciation of beauty and wiser composition of cosmetics. Cosmetics today are not just a medium of beautification, but of better hygiene in general. Nor is it solely the domain of women; men use cosmetics on a regular basis. The range of regularly used cosmetic products would include fairness creams, eye liners, lip stick and lip gloss, talcum powder, cold cream, deodorants, hair gels and an endless assortment of other products. Greater awareness and scientific knowledge has resulted in the removal of misconceptions and superstitions, and has resulted in better hygiene. The prevalence of the glamour world in our consciousness and the media, as well as the assortment of many beauty pageants have removed all antipathies to pursuit and maintenance of beauty.
This section is a reflection of our changing perception, and harbors a host of links to many resources related to the world of cosmetics.