HomeThe science of cosmeticsHow does make-up work?

Make-up has been used by women and men for many centuries to enhance the way we look. The earliest historical record of make-up comes from the 1st Dynasty of Egypt (c.3100-2907 BC) when both sexes used a substance called unguent to keep their skin supple, hydrated and wrinkle-free in the scorching heat. Egyptian women also decorated their eyes by blackening the upper lids and lashes with kohl or soot.

In the years that followed, people would try out all kinds of substances to enhance their appearance, sometimes putting their health at risk with homemade cosmetics. In some cultures, for instance, women used lead, mercury and even leeches to give themselves a 'fashionable' pale complexion.

Today we spend more than £1billion each year in the UK on make-up products; thankfully, scientific advancements mean the days of using deadly mixtures as cosmetics are long gone. In fact, thanks to sound science and strict regulation, cosmetics have never been safer.

Cosmetic Colours

Cosmetic colorants are ingredients that are used to either colour the cosmetic product, such as in a coloured bubble bath for example, or in colour cosmetics or make-up to impart colour to the body as a whole or certain parts of it. They impart colour either by absorbing or reflecting different wavelengths of light.

All cosmetic ingredients must be safe to use. In the UK and EU the cosmetics legislation controls what may or may not be put in a product, and only colorants that are specifically listed in the legislation can be used in cosmetics.

Colours are listed in the ingredients list on-pack using their Colour Index (CI) number and they may be listed in any order after the other cosmetic ingredients. For decorative cosmetic products marketed in several colour shades, all the colorants used in the range may be listed on each product, provided that the words 'may contain' or the symbol '+/-' are added.

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