How Cosmetology Has Changed Over Time

Beauty and cosmetology is as old as human civilization. Maintaining a beautiful appearance, how ever that is defined in that time period, has always been an important part of women’s lives.

Cosmetology and beauty treatments in ancient times and the middle ages were present, especially for the wealthy. In the 20th century, styles in beauty, fashion, hairstyles, and makeup began to change more quickly. This was due to mass communication through magazines, movies, television, and in the 21st century, through the internet and social media.

The definition of beauty is constantly being redefined, with styles and trends emerging on a regular basis. For professional cosmetologists, staying in tune with these changes, and keeping their skills honed through practical application and re-education is essential to success.

What is Cosmetology?

Cosmetology is the art and science beautifying the hair, nails, and skin. A cosmetologist is an expert in applying cosmetic procedures, therapies, and treatments to beautify one’s outer appearance., and implementing cosmetic treatments to people’s hair, skin, and nails. Specific disciplines in cosmetology include hairstyling (haircutting and coloring), esthetics (skin care), makeup application, nail care (manicures and pedicures), and other beauty treatments.

Where Did Cosmetology Begin?

The use of cosmetics to improve appearance goes back to before the first century. The Egyptians used various organic and mineral material to create makeup as far back as 4000 BCE. They used crushed red ochre as pigment, and a substance called kohl as eyeliner (made from galena, sulfur, and animal fat). Henna was used to color hair and fingernails.

In ancient Rome, women colored their hair various colors to denote their status in society – red hair was a sign of wealth, the middle-class women dyed their hair blond, and the lower class colored their hair black. A mineral called cinnabar was ground to make vermillion, a red pigment used to color the lips. The Roman standard of beauty set a precedent for many future generations: white pale skin, straight hair, large eyes, and long eyelashes.

Both the Romans and Greeks used chalk powder and even white lead to make their skin pale. Lead and arsenic were used cosmetics to make women’s skin pale in Europe until the 1600s, despite the fact the substances were carcinogenic.

It was not until the Renaissance and Victorian eras that more holistic cosmetics began to be used. In these periods, thick applications of makeup were discouraged. More care was used to accentuate natural beauty and preserve the skin.

Cosmetology in the Early 20th Century

The 1900s is when modern cosmetology matured and flourished worldwide. There were many pioneers in this era. Maksymilian Faktorowicz, better known to the world as Max Factor, moved to Los Angeles in 1904, and provided theatrical makeup to the nascent film industry. In 1909, Max Factor & Company was founded, and helped lay the foundation for modern-day makeup and cosmetics.

In 1910, Madam C.J. Walker incorporated the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company, later the Walker company, which produced a line of cosmetics and hair care products for Black women. Walker is notable for being the first woman in the United States to become a self-made millionaire, as well as a Black philanthropist and activist.

Shortly after, in 1914, Maybelline was founded in Chicago by young entrepreneur T.L. Williams. The name of the company came from combining the name of his sister Mabel, and Vaseline, which was used in the formula for the company’s first mascara.

Many important pieces of legislation and regulation regarding cosmetic products were also established in the first half of the 20th century. The 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act set up new protections for consumers against unlawful or harmful cosmetics, allowing the government to enforce law to prevent harmful materials to be used in cosmetic products.

Cosmetology in the 1960s and 1970s

In the 1960s, conservative fashion gave way to mod fashion and hippie apparel. High boots, short skirts, bright clothes, pastel nails, and bubble hair styles were hallmarks of the mod look. Twiggy was an iconic model of that time period, whose short cropped hair inspired many women to adopt her look.

In the mid to late 1970s, disco styles were in vogue. This look featured long feathered hair, pastel lipstick, and sparkly eye shadow. Several different looks were in fashion during this era. Many women emulated the wavy hair of Farrah Fawcett, Jacylyn Smith, and Olivia Newton-John. Pixie cuts and new wave hair cuts were also in fashion at the end of the decade.

Committees and programs continued to be created in the 1970s that reinforced the industry’s commitment to consumer safety. The International Cosmetic Ingredient Nomenclature Committee agreed that uniform names should be used for cosmetic ingredients industry-wide. In 1976, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel was formed, to review data on the safety of ingredients used in cosmetic production.

Cosmetology in the 1980s and 1990s

In retrospect, the beauty trends of the 1980s seem over-the-top, though at the time, “big hair”, blue mascara, and bright colors in makeup and clothes were commonplace. Frosted hair was also a coloring treatment seen often. Shoulder pads in women’s tops were also a characteristic of 80s fashion. An unrealistic expectation on perfect bodies and becoming abnormally thin was also a trend.

In the mid-1990s, this obsession with becoming thin culminated in the “heroin chic” look, which was rightfully criticized at the time. The 1990s had it’s own styles, as the “big 80s” fascination with overdone hairstyles and makeup gave way to more understated styles, especially while the grunge and alternative trends in music were popular. The gothic look that began in the 1980s become more popular in the 1990s among younger women. In the mainstream, one of the most popular hairstyles for women was “Rachel-from-Friends” layered look popularized by Jennifer Aniston.

Beauty and Cosmetology in the Early 2000s and 2010s

In cosmetics production, there is more emphasis on natural ingredients. Many independent cosmetic companies have risen up to gain market share from established companies such as Estee Lauder, L’Oreal, and Unilever.

Skin care and natural treatments became more of a concern for many consumers over the last two decades. In contrast, microneedling became popular in the late 2010s.

Mask treatments, using green tea, charcoal, and mud masks became a huge product category. Eyebrow needling and permanent makeup shops appeared in many cities in the early 2000s.

Exotic coloring treatments for hair, such as silver hair and “denim hair” for younger women became popular in the 2010s.

Social media, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok became important marketing tools for beauty influencers and bloggers. Also, more diverse body types are being recognized as beautiful. Models from all demographics and more diverse backgrounds are being given opportunities to become beauty icons, which is good for the cosmetology industry as a whole.

Where Cosmetology is Today: the 2020s and Beyond

The last few decades have seen many different cosmetology career paths be created and expand. Cosmetologists might manage or work at a salon, but they might also work as a makeup artist or special effects artist in film production. Other cosmetologists might produce new cosmetic product lines or run fashion shows. With the ubiquity of the internet, many cosmetology influencers earn a living as a beauty blogger or YouTuber. Others may work full-time as an instructor at a cosmetology school.

In the 2020s, you use your cosmetology training as a hairstylist, makeup artist, esthetician, skin care specialist, or choose to work in a salon, in entertainment, or somewhere else altogether.

Careers in Cosmetology

Cosmetologists have many different career paths they can pursue. Many work at salons or spas, resorts, or lease a workspace from a salon owner. Many cosmetologists eventually open their own salon after building up their experience and client base. There are also many cosmetologists that work as hair stylists or makeup artists in the entertainment industry.

Cosmetology Courses and Classes

In California, you must go through a cosmetology program with at least 1600 hours of classroom and practical training, before passing an exam to become a licensed cosmetologist. Many cosmetologists continue to learn new techniques and continue their education and self-improvement throughout their career.

Begin Your Career as a Cosmetologist

At MTI College, we partner with Paul Mitchell the School to bring students comprehensive hands-on training for a career in cosmetology. Our program gives you the tools and training you will need to succeed in cosmetology and beauty, and the business acumen to work for yourself, manage a salon, or work in entertainment or high-fashion.

If starting a career in cosmetology is something you are interested in, contact our Admissions department for more information.

Want to learn more about MTI’s programs?

Our admissions team will help you find the perfect program to meet your goals. Financial aid is available to those who qualify.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Request Info
Close form X