I Wish I'd Had This Makeup Book When I Was in Beauty School

And I wish it was three times as long, too.
Publish date:
August 2, 2016
books, beauty history, historical beauty, Lisa Eldridge

In the comments of my last beauty book review, you overwhelmingly recommended Lisa Eldridge's book Face Paint, and seeing as reading it was already on my to-do list, I got right to it. It helps that Lisa Eldridge makes some of my favorite beauty videos on YouTube (her voice is so relaxing that I'll put her videos on when I'm anxious or having trouble sleeping). She's one of the most respected "celebrity" makeup artists in the world. and she has the industry experience to match; most recently, she became the global creative director of Lancôme.

The launch of Face Paint made a very organic use of Lisa's online presence that I think she did really well — or the publishers did really well, at least. She's made a series of video tutorials on makeup looks throughout history that correspond to topics in the book. The best one by far is "The Ultimate Smokey Kohl Tutorial" where she literally goes to a museum and looks at ancient Egyptian artifacts including kohl sticks and pots that are over 3,000 years old, which is cool enough as it is, and then she makes her own kohl using traditional materials. And then you get the makeup tutorial.

So you might have guessed I'm a pretty big nerd about this, and the book is filled with more of the same. There is no shortage of learning — it's an (almost) comprehensive telling of makeup throughout history. It's the most thoroughly researched book on the history of makeup that I've come across, and that's something I struggled to find when I was in beauty school.

The first section of the book is broken into three chapters, exploring the history of makeup through three key colors: black, white and red. While it's a novel approach, I think it does limit the content somewhat, and (as always) it was a very Western-focused history. I appreciate the fact Lisa touched on the politics of whiteness because it's more than you'll see in most beauty books, but it was still at a very superficial level.

Moving into modern trends, there's no shortage of books that tell you that in the 1920s they had skinny eyebrows, and in the 1960s they wore pale lipstick. Lisa goes much, much deeper than that. She explores the reasons why makeup has been used and by whom throughout different eras, not just recounting the trends. There's also a big focus on the roles that film, television, and advertising have played in makeup's evolution.

She goes into depth about different ingredients (my favorite thing!) and how they've changed as technology has developed. Did you know shimmer was such a big thing in the mid-to-late 20th century because they had only just developed the technology to do it well?

The information about the rise and fall of big beauty brands over the past 100 years or so was a little difficult to follow because it wasn't as chronological as I would have liked, although the profiles of individuals like Helena Rubinstein and Estee Lauder are interesting if a little bland (where's the bit about Elizabeth Arden being investigated by the FBI, for example?!).

The endpapers are printed with items from Lisa's personal collection of vintage and modern makeup. These photos are really interesting to pore over, and while there are a few photographs of makeup packaging in the book itself, I wish there were more. To be fair, though, there's probably another entire book's worth of material just about beauty packaging — a book I'd love to read!

Face Paint really tapers off as we reach the present, and while it's a history book, I think there's more to be said about the current beauty world than just the technological advances that Lisa focuses on here.

I have lots of areas that I wish Lisa had expanded on, not because Face Paint was lacking in any way, but because it made me want more. I think there's a real dearth of thoroughly researched and critical print material on beauty in a format that's also beautiful to browse.

  • Have you read Face Paint?
  • Recommend me more good beauty books!