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Ultimate Eyeliner Guide and History

How fascinating we are when it comes to our eyes! While they already look so unique on each and every one of us, humans have never stopped finding ways to enhance them and make them even more individual throughout the ages.

We satisfy our need for eyebrows on trend by colouring them, tweezing them or growing them out. We crave the bold look of longer eyelashes and stop at nothing to enhance their volume and length. We choose a colour pallet that suits our mood to cover our eyelids and we line our eyes for even more definition to bring out our eyes natural colour or shape.

Now, I know there have been times where all of the above combined to maximum effect has been the height of fashion – I’m looking at you 1990s – but nowadays more people go for the ‘less is more’ effect and tend to focus on one thing rather than eyebrows, lashes, liner and shadow all at the same time. Or even tone down the look with more natural shades that naturally compliment each other.

Of course, eyeliner is not for everybody and it can provide a real sense of drama that some people may shy away from, but I personally love a good winged eye, so I have been thinking about what suits different people and where the beloved eyeliner originated. Cleopatra, I know I must have you to thank for this. So, let’s take it back to the beginning and see just how it all started.

The History of Eyeliner

When we think of eyeliner’s origins, we automatically go back to the Ancient Egyptians having seen images of eyeliner heavily used on both men and women of the time. Eyeliner is now known to have been worn in even the earliest reigns of Ancient Egypt and has been unearthed (so to speak) by historians who have found different materials in what would have been used for eyeliner over those centuries.

Kohl was used widely to surround the eyes primarily to shield them from the hot desert sun and to repel insects and at the time when it was thought that the eyes were the window to the soul, eyeliner was used as a way to protect them from evil or to spare them from the gods. Eyeliner was of course applied for other reasons, vanity, cultural status and hierarchy. Although it was used amongst different wealth classes, the rich and the powerful would apply more to represent their status and power.

At the time, kohl contained a high concentrate of lead which was a tell-tale sign of status or wealth as citizens of the lower class wore eyeliner made from other materials such as burnt wood, which didn’t have the same lasting effect or look of kohl, but is very much mirrored in today’s society where certain products may be out of reach for someone less wealthy than others.

Uses in different Cultures

After the rise and fall of the Ancient Egyptians, eyeliner still held its ground across other cultures over the centuries but was not really introduced to western culture as a popular and obtainable staple in make-up until the 1920s when the birth of cosmetic manufacturing took hold.

In Eastern Asian cultures, eyeliner has always been heavily used and was seen on geishas whilst carrying a pale face through heavy white make up, tight red lips and very slick and sharp black eyeliner around the eyes to accentuate the look as a whole.
In places like Pakistan and India, the use of eyeliner remained popular in the same make up as ancient Egypt, using lead-based kohl to create the substance and was applied as a way to ward off evil spirits as well as a statement of beauty.

Eyeliner Popularity in Western Culture

In the Western world, heavy make-up was not seen positively amongst the less wealthy, although powders and tints were fashioned for the cheeks, eye make-up, especially eyeliner use was looked up as lower class, although it was easily formed using soot and oil to create a liquid that could applied around the eyes for a more defined look. It was worn amongst the wealthy or higher class but was never a necessity for women in every day culture.

It gained popularity especially as women were realising their femininity. Beauty started to turn into a big business, social classes stuck together and appearances had to be upheld. Real fashion trends started to stick, corsets got tighter, women were encouraged to attract men of higher classes and therefore had to make themselves more appealing and beautiful.

By the early 1900s, there was a demand for make up in the theatrical world, where on stage and the dawn of film, it was a major enhancement for women to add to their character or convey a mood or tone. Make-up was not really available to women going about normal lives and heavy contouring or bright lipsticks were seen as provocative and was not a necessary expenditure.

By the 1910s newspapers and articles mentioned make-up and were aimed at women with the idea of what to do and what not to do. Guides instructed women of what was acceptable and what wasn’t, and the stage and screen actresses of the time started to set trends that your everyday woman started to gain curiosity over. Afterall, if someone tells us not to do something, natural curiosity will always prevail!

By the early 1920s, early Hollywood took hold and women finally had icons to look up to, and seeing fashions and make-up on screen, it felt literally within arm’s reach. Home-made remedies just weren’t cutting anymore, and the first make-up counter opened for business in a department store meaning women could finally have access to these wonderful new products and start to experiment with their own style. Not for cultural status, or wealth, but because they could and they wanted to. Elizabeth Arden, Max Factor and Maybelline were becoming names that lived on a woman’s lips and the make-up lived on their faces.

Post-war western culture was like a fresh start in terms of women’s make-up, with products becoming less available to everyday people, and shortages seen all over, they had to improvise and return to a minimal look for the most part. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the real experimentation started again. The cat-eye line was starting to appear on ladies’ eyes as opposed to a basic line of eyeliner on the top lid that provided a little definition and the appearance of bigger eyes.

The cat-eye look has prevailed and is still a solid fashion statement today. It was a defining statement that exaggerated the eye and was preferred by women who weren’t fans of heavy eyeshadow. You will have seen pictures of the famous pin-up girls and would definitely associate this winged eyeline look with that style.

The 1960s saw yet another shift in eyeliner styles. Think blocks and statement lines for this style. The cat-eye look while still popular made way for a thicker line on the upper lid and more pronounced shapes along with thick and heavy mascara to really bring focus to the eyes. White eyeliner gained notoriety in its use by models of the time like Twiggy, by using the white above the lower lash line and in the corners of the eyes toward the tear ducts, which opened up even the smallest of eyes. Subtle styles were not what this decade was famed for, and we wouldn’t have it any other way!

During the 1960s and 1970s the arrival of liquid liner made it easy to achieve a really bold look that could be achieved by anybody! All you had to do was approach it with a steady hand, a bit of imagination and the confidence to try different looks. The cat-eye wing, or even the double wing, the statement block eyeliner look or even just a subtle line for a bit more emphasis.

From there on eyeliner trends have returned to their roots by becoming a bit more free-hand and a little less about what is specifically in fashion as opposed to eyebrows that have seen vast changes through the ages and a defining look can almost be pinned directly to each decade.

Eyeliner Trends today

With cultures and sub-cultures of society each following their own trends in modern times, there is no real stand out look when it comes to eyeliner as each are so good in their own ways.

The rise of the goth or punk culture saw eyeliner being used by both males and females and still to this day is very popular to define and make the statement of either dark or stand-out eyes. While natural browns and lighter black coloured eyeliner was more widely available on the market, heavy black eyeliner stayed exactly where it was and continues to do so in modern musically driven influences, meaning the trend is there to stay.

Wearing eyeliner on the bottom lids is a trend that is more of recent years, again to provide more definition. While in todays day and age is it seen to be more ageing especially if not applied correctly or maybe if too much is applied, this style can be pulled off if executed correctly. Usually to keep up with the look, eyeliner is applied below the base of the water-line and where the eyelashes sit. This can open up smaller eyes if joined on at the corner to the line on the top lid. So you can see why this might be popular amongst today’s women especially if they don’t already have a doe-eyed shape to begin with.

Different Types of Eyeliner

Eyeliner is used today more as a way to define eyes, we can all find out what suits our face shape when it comes to eyebrows and how to enhance our lips through modern day products that promote growth and volume, but when it comes to our eyes, a lot of actual thought and effort has to go into it if we want to achieve a certain look. We rely heavily on trial and error and having the right make-up product to hand.

Xlash Eyeliner is a pen liner that combines the precision of eyeliner with the staying power of a liquid liner and it really does last all day! It makes you wonder if this kind of product was around in the 1960s what far out looks would have taken the world by storm!

Pen liners or felt-tip style eyeliners have gained a huge following as they are perfect for precision lining, wings or flicks and once you have the confidence to use them, after a bit of practice, can become the most convenient part of your make-up collection. They are essentially a liquid eyeliner all contained in a handy pen applicator or sometimes with a brush.

They are usually high in pigment to offer lasting power and the best part is, you can really experiment with different shapes as the tips are thin and designed for people who aren’t too sure if they want to go thicker. Apply one line, not enough? Go again and make it thicker until you are happy with it. I absolutely love a good pen eyeliner for this reason. Having larger eyes, I tend not to want them to look too bug-eyed but love a good cat-eye wing so these pens allow me to experiment until I’m happy I have the maximum effect and no spillage, smudge or residue.

Liquid eyeliners or gel liners are also amazing to give you the really full and thick lines that everyone went crazy for back in the 1960s. They require a steadier hand than other methods but once its been mastered a gel eyeliner could soon become your best friend. A liquid eyeliner is designed to dry quickly so is more about intense colour and shape than creating a smoky-eyed look. If you are after a smudging tool then liquid liners are not the way to go. And if your new liquid eyeliner smudges then it probably isn’t the way forward either!

Technically liquid and gel liners have been around for centuries, especially when oil or paraffin was used to mix up the substance to create something that could be applied to the skin like paint. But in recent years, liquid eyeliner has become popular for those who really want that added drama and eyes that will get noticed. As it defines the shape more, the liquid liners are perfect for a wing or a flick and it can be seen on models, singers and actresses, showcasing a longer and more pronounced flick to really make a statement. For every day use I would say liquid liners come in last for me. But for that evening look that gives me a real bold line and the chance to experiment with my look depending of what kind of place I’m attending or what kind of wardrobe I’m wearing, liquid liner gets a big old thumbs up from me!

Pencil eyeliners can cover all ground if you have the right one for you. They may not be as precise as pen liners or liquid eyeliners but they offer so much versatility that it would be a crime not to try them. They usually are referred to as “kohl” pencils but don’t be alarmed. The ingredients don’t include lead as they still do in some Eastern countries as in mid Twentieth Century tests found that lead was doing more harm than seen on the surface and eyeliner no longer contained this.

Pencil liners are both cheap and affordable and they last a long time as you just sharpen to reveal more liner as the tip smooths out through use. It has been around for around about 100 years now and it really isn’t going anywhere any time soon. I would always recommend a pencil eyeliner to anyone starting out with this kind of make-up as it gives good practice and allows for more mistakes than liquid, gel or pen eyeliners. Precision is only for the well experienced or the make-up experts!

You can create a bold or soft look on the top eyelids with a pencil, and it is always perfect for blending to give you that smoky eye, even with different shades or colours of eyeshadow.

So I think it depends again on what you are looking to do as to whether you reach for the gel or the pencil, as gels tend to be waterproof or water-resistant at least, and have a kind of ‘once its on, its on’ thing going, and eyeliner pencils tend to come off naturally throughout the day, but its all about what look you are going for as to which one you choose. I personally love to put on a bit of kohl for work in the daytime, also a little bit on the lower lash line is great for smudging with some brown shadow as it frames my eyes perfectly without looking so over the top.

Keeping eyes Healthy while using Eyeliner

Above all else, there are benefits to each method and product that realistically only affect your desired look and possibly your pocket, but the main thing is eyeliner in today’s market is designed to be healthy and keep your eyes and skin in good shape. That’s the best thing with how far make-up and skin care products have come and we shouldn’t take it for granted.

Finding an eyeliner that won’t let you down in the elements is always a priority. I know for me, all it takes is a cute puppy, a happy wedding or an emotionally charged film to make me shed a tear, and I think the “black eyeliner trailing down the cheeks” look went out a long time ago! So being able to last while being equally kind to your eyes should come top of your list.

Years of make-up application has taught me something else. It isn’t just the putting on as it is so much the taking off that matters. I know it may seem contradictory to want something that is going to last and stay on my eyes, but as I said, we have come a long way in make-up and most active ingredients allow the formulas to cling to the skin whilst being able to be gently removed with warm water or gentle, oil-free cleansers.

If you don’t remove your eyeliner, it can have negative effects on the local skin. Maybe not irritation or dryness if you are lucky, but ageing effects. And wrinkles around the eyes are a tell-tail sign of age which is what absolutely no woman wants! So be gentle when you apply eyeliner, remove it carefully each night before sleeping in it, and keep the skin moisturised. Keeping the skin moisturised and hydrated tightens the skin and keeps it looking wrinkle free and smooth, so surely it is worth that extra bit of effort.

Other things you can do to keep your eyes healthy while using eyeliner is to use an eyelash serum. Now this might seem a little bit further away from the eyes but it actually kills two birds with one stone! Give your eyelashes a boost while keeping the skin around them healthy and nourished at the same time. Xlash have developed an Eyelash Serum that promotes growth in a healthy way but contains natural fruit extracts and vitamins to make sure the serum always treats your eyes like VIPs… or VIEs (Very Important Eyes). And if you care enough to make your eyes look stand out on a daily basis, this serum will actually help you do that without compromising your cat-eye wings or your sultry smoky eye.

I suppose we have been on a journey today, from the birth of the eyeliner, right through to the trends of today. Whatever you may take away from this, always remember to take your eyeliner with you and keep those Very Important Eyes looking healthy, ready for the next trend!

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