The History and Definition of Cosmetology, Hairdressing and Skincare

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So what is cosmetology, hairdressing and skincare? A simple answer to this question is that they all involve providing beauty services that include caring for and improving upon the cosmetic condition of hair, skin and nails.  The primary goal of cosmetology, hairdressing and skincare is to beautify the physical appearance of clients. Now let’s take a look at some brief definitions of the three areas, examine the early history of the fields across different cultures, and look at advances in treatments.

Definition of Cosmetology

Simply put, cosmetology the art and science of using various cosmetic treatments to beautify the hair, skin and nails (including providing services like manicures and makeup application). Cosmetologists may work in hair salons, beauty spas or at their own shops.

Definition of Hairdressing/Barbering

Hairdressing is a beauty profession that involves the cutting, styling, dying and dressing for both men and women.  A related profession is barbering, which involves the above tasks, as well as facial hair grooming, for a primarily male clientele.

Definition of Skincare treatment

Skincare treatments are performed by skincare specialists and may involve the cleansing, massaging and moisturizing of the skin – in particular the face or hands. Examples of different skincare treatments include exfoliation, tweezing and facials.

What is the early history of cosmetology, hairdressing and skincare?[i]

Let’s take a look at early examples of cosmetology, hairdressing and skincare treatments by examining the practices of different cultures and the changes during different time periods.

The Egyptians

Egyptians may have been the first to use cosmetics as a part of their personal beauty habits – particularly in religious and funeral ceremonies. Different minerals, insects and berries were used on the face as makeup, and henna (which is still around today) was used to stain hair and nails.  Essential oils from bark, leaves and plants were also used as perfume.

The Chinese

During the Shang Dynasty period (1600 B.C.) aristocrats rubbed a mixture of gum Arabic, beeswax, gelatin and egg whites on their nails to turn them ebony or crimson in color (early nail polish!). During the Chou Dynasty (1100 B.C.) nail color was closely tied to social status so commoners who wore the royal colors on their nails could be executed.

The Greeks

Somewhere during the period around 500 B.C. it is believed that the Greeks developed intricate hair styling practices. As such, they built elaborate baths to aid their hairdressing, skin and nail beautification practices. In terms of cosmetics, kohl was used as eyeliner, white lead lightened the face, and vermillion acted as blush and lipstick.

The Romans

It is believed that Roman women lavishly used both fragrances and cosmetics. Milk, bread, corn, flour, fresh butter and fine wine were all used to make facials. Hair color indicated status in society so noblewomen tinted their hair red, middleclass women colored their hair to make it blonde, and poor women colored their hair black.

The Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, European beauty culture is illustrated in the art of the period, including tapestries and sculptures. Large headdresses and intricate hairstyles appeared popular, and there is evidence of cosmetics on skin and hair. Although women wore colored makeup on cheeks and lips, it appears that no makeup was used on the eyes.

The Renaissance Period

During the Renaissance period, one of the most interesting beauty practices was shaving the eyebrows and hairline to create a larger forehead – it was thought that a bare brow made women look more intelligent. During this period fragrances and cosmetics were used but intense color of the lips, cheeks and eyes did not appear popular.

The Victorian Age

During the reign of Queen Victoria, personal grooming was very important to the culture of the time. Women created beauty masks with honey, eggs, milk, oatmeal and other natural ingredients. It is said to have been popular for Victorian women to pinch their cheeks and bite their lips to create natural – rather than cosmetic – color.

What are some advances in cosmetology, hairdressing and skincare?

These days there are plenty of technological advances that allow people to better manage their skin, hair and beauty routines.  For example, there are now smartphone apps that allow you to upload your image and see how different makeup applications look – no trip to the salon required! When it comes to hair removal, you can buy your own wax or hair removal devices that allow you to treat yourself from the comfort of your own home. Advances in long-wearing nail polish – including nail gels – have meant that women can go less time between manicures.  And improvements in hair dyes have made products gentler and easier to apply – particularly for those who are not professionals.


[i] humbleisd.net/cms/lib2/TX01001414/Centricity/Domain/3019/19th%20cenppt.pdf