I was sitting on the train going to work the other day when I heard the characteristic sound of make-up being taken out and popped back into a make-up bag. Any woman who uses make-up will know the sound, it’s unlike any other. It’s the fact that women actually put their make-up on while they are on the train fascinates me, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, how do they do it without poking a mascara wand in their eye or getting eyeliner all over their cheeks? I’ll confess right now, I’ve tried doing the mascara thing on the train or in the car on less than a handful of occasions, when I’ve been in a hurry and running late, and it just doesn’t work for me.

Secondly, I think there is something very personal and faintly sexual about someone watching you put your make-up on, so I don’t really like an audience. Think Michael Douglas and Anne Archer in Fatal Attraction.

Then I am forced to wonder why they have to do it on the train and not at home? I don’t start work at the crack of dawn so by the time I am on the train all those people who do have already started their working day. Why don’t these women put their make-up on at home, in the privacy of their own bedrooms? Surely they are not all running late for a flight? Assuming, of course, that they have bedrooms, but I’m guessing by the fact that they are sitting on a commuter train that they have homes and a job.

What happens if there is a train delay and they have to stand all the way to work? What do they do then? All these things start running through my head just from the sound of a make-up bag.


I’m not averse to a top of lippy during the day in public, or a touch up of powder, but it’s just the whole putting on from scratch thing that I don’t understand.

So of course, I had to look. That was a mistake in itself, because I then get into the “what make-up is she using then?” thing. I am very particular about my make-up; anyone who knows me will tell you that. I absolutely adore the stuff and am like a kid in a sweetshop whenever I get into the cosmetic section of a department store. I study women’s lipsticks like a bacteriologist inspects a Petrie dish under a microscope.

I will make a confession right now; my friend Kate of mine put me onto to using less expensive make-up for every day use about a year ago, when I was on a cost-cutting exercise, so I’ve been using a Rimmel foundation for day-to-day use. Kate was right; you can’t tell the difference in how it looks, if you get the right shade. The difference is in the staying power. My Estee Lauder Double Wear or Lancôme Teint Idole 24 hour (I used to alternate when I wore these every day) do stay on far better, so I still wear them when I know I’m going out straight from work, and I use the Double Wear compact for touch-ups during the day. The other big difference is that there are fewer shades available in the less expensive brands.

My preferences in lipsticks tend to be Clinique, Estee Lauder or Mac, although Elizabeth Arden is pretty good too. I can’t bear the highly perfumed ones that some companies make, and for me, these three brands stay on really well, but I also think there is a bit of trial and error involved in all these things.


Of course, in my early make-up wearing days, as a teenager, I had the regulation Rimmel eye shadow compact with brown, blue, green and white eye-shadow. The green was a very interesting shade. I’m not averse to brightly coloured eye-shadow, when I was younger I even wore red (and, very fetching it looked too, if I do say so myself) but I tend to stick to more muted shades nowadays. I can’t get on with less expensive mascaras either and I probably never need to buy another blusher as long as I live, so that’s a non-topic.

I am fastidious about discarding mascara and eyeliner. I have a reminder on my ‘phone – three months and they are gone. I do not want to get any nasty eye infections, but, of course, it’s not just those items that should be discarded regularly. (As I am typing this, the woman next to me has started putting on her mascara! Maybe I should pluck up courage to ask her why? She’s got a Bobbi Brown compact, so that’s ok, I like Bobbi. But I digress.) Even lipstick gets nasty little buggy things on it so should be discarded although I confess that I am not good at that.

According to, mascara and eyeliner that has a wand that goes back into the tube have the shortest shelf life of any cosmetics, and three to four months is the maximum time they should be kept. I would suggest that this probably applies to cream eye shadows as well, especially those in jars, where you actually have to put something in there to get the product out, although Good Housekeeping says cream eye shadows will last for six months. Remember eye pencils as well, although I do think you can sharpen off the bugs, provided that the pencil sharpener is clean.

Liquid foundation will last for about a year after opening, but don’t stick anything in the bottle (one of the reasons why those with pump dispensers are good, harder to introduce bacteria into the bottle).

Lipsticks and lip glosses are usually safe for between six months and a year. Ahem. Ladies, whilst I cannot recommend that you do this, I am going to take a sharp, clean knife and shave off the very top layer of those lipsticks older than that. I just can’t throw all my lippy’s away, but it is a good way of ensuring I don’t buy so many from now on. I think this time limit probably applies to cream blushers too.

Powders should usually last for two years.

(Looks like the lady on the train is using a Mac Lip Pencil, so that’s good too. And it’s definitely a Mac Lipstick. Actually, I recommend Mac Lip Pencils above all others. They last so-o long so they are really good value and because you sharpen them you get rid of the old bacteria. And it’s a Louis Vuitton make-up bag. How’s that for class? I use the free ones that I get with the Clinique or Lauder promotions.)

So how did we get into wearing make-up?

An unnamed Roman philosopher said,

“A woman without make-up is like food without salt.”

A bold statement to make, particularly as at times through the ages, and in some civilisations, men have worn make-up too.

We know that as far back as 10,000 years BC, the Egyptians, both men and women, used what we would now call moisturisers and cleansers. That hot sun must have played havoc with their skin, unless it was dark (and it is never depicted that way). No sun block back in those days! They used lots of herbs and flowers in their preparations: myrrh, thyme, chamomile, lavender, peppermint, and rosemary, to name but a few, as well as olive oil and almond oil.

By about 4,000BC, Egyptian women had started applying foundation. At least, what passed for foundation back in those days. The used a mixture of copper and lead ore called mesdemet and malachite, which was a bright green past of copper minerals (you may have seen the stone?). They also used a little something that most of us have heard of nowadays… a combination of burnt almonds, different coloured coppers, lead, ash and ochre known as kohl as eye liner. This is what gave Egyptian women (I’m sure the men wore it too) that characteristic almond eye shape that we are so used to seeing. They even used to take their make-up out and about with them, much the way we do nowadays.

It wasn’t just the Egyptians though, the Chinese and the Japanese also used make-up. In fact, the modern cosmetics company, Shiseido, boasts to be the oldest cosmetic company in the world. It is certainly one of the oldest, founded in 1872.

About 3,000 years BC, the Chinese (men and women) started painting their fingernails. Maybe painting is an exaggeration, it was more staining them with various natural substances. (If you want to try this at home, I find turmeric is amazing and stays of for days! Even when I don’t want it to.) In Ancient China, the colour of the stain used to denote the social class, so the Chou dynasty royals wore gold and silver. Later the royalty would wear black or red (I knew there was a reason I loved these nail colours). The lower classes were forbidden to wear bright colours on their nails. Around the same time in Greece, the women started to use a foundation made of white lead and rouge made from crushed berries. They also fake eyebrows….

Doing a fast forward to around 1,500BC, and back to China and Japan, rice powder was used to whiten the face. It was also fashionable to shave the eyebrows off and paint teeth gold or black. Henna was used too, not just to dye hair, but also to dye faces, presumably for a bit of blush in the middle of all that white. Henna has been used in India and some North African cultures for a long time, and that mehndi painting (where they paint the henna patterns on the hands and so on) started about 300AD.

As far as I can tell though, it wasn’t until about 500 years later that the first lipsticks were introduced in Greece, made from clay infused with red iron.

The Romans are feted for their civilisation and they too used a bit of slap. Barley flour and butter were used for zits (?) and they made a nail polish made of sheep fat and blood… Come back Coco Chanel, if there ever was anything to forgive, it is forgiven. The Romans also loved a mud bath (well, who doesn’t?) and the men often died their hair blonde.

It wasn’t until Elizabethan England that it became fashionable to dye hair red, a la Elizabeth I, and women would wear egg whites over their faces to make them paler, however, this later evolved into the use of white lead (not sure I fancy that all over my boat race) and the fashion for red hair becomes blonde. Dyes were made from a mixture of black sulphur and honey and the “client” had to let it dry in the sun. (Must have been an interesting trip to the hairdresser in an English winter…)

In the 1800s, it became popular to use zinc oxide in face powders, and if you check your packaging, you’ll find it is still used nowadays in sunscreens.

It was Queen Victoria, God bless her, who started the anti-make-up campaign. She publicly declared make-up improper and thought it should only be used by actors. I’m not sure she did women any favours with that; women who wore make-up, particularly bright red fingernails, were still often considered “painted whores” right up until the 1960s. It wasn’t until Edwardian times that the beauty business really took off, when women were put under pressure to appear as young as possible. (So that’s how we got to where we are today then?)

Of course, the funniest thing about the second day I saw someone putting their make-up on, the joke was really on me because it had been so cold that my eyes had watered and I had mascara all over my cheeks! Maybe there is something to this putting your make-up on the train lark?

© Susan Shirley 2015


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