The Story Behind Blush

You may think you already know the history of blush (or rouge, as it was called until recently): that it's always been worn to appear youthful and radiant, but it's actually one of the most controversial forms of makeup worn in our history.

Rouge became popular as early as in ancient Egypt, where both men and women wore it. In addition to heavy black makeup on their eyes, many ancient Egyptians wore rouge on cheeks and lips to add the pop of red.

Rouge originated as a thick paste, and was made from a range of things: from strawberries, to red fruits and vegetable juices, to the powder of finely crushed ochre.

It became popular in ancient Greece, where women whitened their complexion with chalk or lead face powder, and then painted their cheeks with a paste made from crushed seeds and berries. This look was a sign of the wealthy elite, but the lead was also extremely deadly.

The rise of Christianity resulted the decline of rouge. The new stricter dress codes and norms caused people to frown upon artificial cosmetics, and it was seen as too flashy and promiscuous.

When the Middle Ages came around, however, women were more inclined to go back to blush. One tactic was to regularly bleed oneself (to obtain the coveted pale complexion), and then put a mixture of water and strawberries on cheeks for a soft rosy color. Others wore egg whites on their faces for paler skin, as being fair was a sign of high class.

Interestingly enough, there was a fine line drawn where acceptable rouge was concerned. It was most common among upper class women and prostitutes, and was often seen as immoral.

As soon as Queen Elizabeth embraced makeup, it became more acceptable. Many women wore lead paints mixed with vinegar to create a past called cerise for whitened skin, and mercury sulfide for rouge. This combination is the reason why high foreheads were in fashion, because the chemicals caused hair to fall out! AKA: receding hairlines for women.

Lead and cerise are later discovered to cause major health issues for women, including facial tremors, paralysis, and even death. When toxic chemicals were in a rouge that was used on lips as well, it could poison not only the woman, but her unborn children: causing miscarriages.

One product that was eaten to produce white skin was called Arsenic (red flag!!) Complexion Wafers. They poisoned the blood so that less red blood cells, and thus less oxygen, would reach organs. Rouges were also created with mulberry (a harmless vegetable) and cinnabar: which was indeed a poisonous red shade of mercury.

After the French revolution, makeup was again seen as extravagant and improper, and women who wore it were seen as fake: trying to capture lost youth.

Through the years, there were many attempts to ban makeup: whether it was for moral or religious beliefs, or simply so that women wouldn't be able to "fool" men with a false beauty (Clement of Alexandria of Greece and a Greek Historian from the 4th Century believed that women were deceiving men, tricking them into marriage with makeup.). Even as recent as 1770, a law was put forth to the British parliament, suggesting that a marriage could be annulled if the bride used cosmetics before the wedding day.

After a long, and ever changing ride, rouge has evolved into today's blush: an item essential to any woman's makeup bag. Thanks to modern science and technology, blushes aren't just more affordable today, but they're completely safe. And luckily, using it no longer makes you appear promiscuous or improper!

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

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