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Basic Information

Cosmetics are substances applied to the body for decorative purposes - some authorities would include perfume as a cosmetic, but for the purposes of this page, we will not. The most common alternative name for these substances is makeup, but there are a variety of other slang, cant and trade terms for them as well.

The most common application of cosmetics is to enhance appearance for social purposes, enhancing or accentuating those characteristics seen as attractive and suppressing those considered unattractive - so the wearer's skin appears smoother and paler or darker according to fashion. Blemishes may be covered up, lips reddened and eyes emphasised, all according to what the wearer's culture (or subculture) considers appropriate. Who may wear makeup, what they may wear and how it may be worn will be extremely culturally bound - most cultures accept and/or expect it of women but frown upon men doing so1, whilst in others status rather than gender may be the deciding factor with sumptuary laws applied to decide who may or may not paint their face. Exaggerated makeup is commonly associated with prostitutes - perhaps to communicate an "hyper-feminine" character. Specific subcultures may deliberately subvert mainstream norms, wearing specific patterns of makeup to cement a group identity (such as juggalos or goths) or wearing more or less makeup than their social background would otherwise expect (such as, respectively, gay men and puritan women).

Cosmetics may also be applied for ritual purposes, as part of a disguise or as a professional mask. For example a shaman may paint his face either to conceal his true appearance from the spirits with which he deals, or present them with a face they find appropriate (or intimidating) or he may paint a hunter's face with a beast-spirit mask to aid him in hunting a specific species of quarry. Likewise an actor or clown will put on their character's face with makeup before performing as part of the ritual by which they become that character for the duration of the performance. In the same vein, makeup can alter the wearer's appearance either so that they no longer resemble themselves, or so that they resemble someone else. More prosaically a soldier may wear what are effectively cosmetics for purposes of camouflage - whether blacking their faces for night operations or wearing more advanced disruptive schemes for daylight work. Again, a more "primitive" warrior culture may wear elaborate facepaints, partly to put themselves "on a warpath" and partly to present a more intimidating appearance to their enemies. Functional cosmetics may also be a thing - such as glare-reducing eye-black, or partially decorative sunscreens.

The constituents of any given cosmetic can vary, but until the invention of modern synthetic chemistry, they will usually be based on mineral compounds and organic dyes. Historically this has made them quite valuable - and often quite toxic as well. Stability will also vary - dye based cosmetics may soak into the skin and last for weeks (or not…) but the battle for lipstick that stays put is only partially won in the C21.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Access to an appropriate cosmetics kit may grant bonuses in all sorts of skills, from social manipulation (especially seduction?) to disguise and camouflage.
  • Also useful to mitigate the effects of facial scarring and deformities (although severe cases probably need some kind of mask or other prosthetic).
  • Also note the possibility of makeup serving as a shamanic ritual tool.
  • It could also serve as part of a magical disguise, either as part of a ritual, or using magic makeup.
  • "Putting your face on" might well trigger an alternative personality in someone with an appropriate mental disorder
  • One of many things PCs may need to hire professional help with - if the only paint you've ever worn is cammo cream, you're likely to need a makeover before being presented at court.
  • This material may well serve most adventurers best as treasure - a consignment of valuable cosmetics could well be a realistic small volume high value prize.
  • Likely to be very species specific - to the extent of other species makeup possibly being dangerous (historical toxic cosmetics generally only caused long term health effects, orc blusher may take the skin off a human's face).
  • Cosmetics come and go with the flow of fashion. What's cool today may be garish tomorrow, and that's especially true as you cross societal lines and great stretches of time. Hardly anyone today wears a cloth artificial beauty mark glued to their face, but "anyone who's anyone" did in the 17th Century. On the flipside, our modern facial piercings and rainbow hair colors would have been quite shocking in the era when those glued-on dots and powdered wigs were all the rage2.
    • Out-of-decade cosmetics may be a tip-off to the players that an NPC is a time abyss, vampire or alien whose research of the civilization they are infiltrating is out of date.
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