The Aztec's Cosmetics


The Aztec skin was naturally brown or bronze-colored, but the fashionable shade for a woman's complexion was yellow. To achieve this effect the cheeks were either rubbed with a yellow earth or anointed with a cream containing axin, a waxy yellowish substance obtained by cooking and crushing the bodies of fat-producing insects. Travellers also used axin ointment as a salve to prevent the lips from cracking in frosty weather, and to protect the skin from the effect of cold.

Sahagun has left a description of the kind of make-up worn by fashion-conscious women, in particular by the courtesans who were the companions of the young warriors:

Perfumes, rose water and incense were popular, and a kind of chewing gum (made of chicle mixed with axin and bitumen) was used to sweeten the breath. As always, the appearance and manners of the young people did not meet with the approval of the older generation, and this father's admonition to his daughter has a familiar ring: 'Never make up your face nor paint it; never put red on your mouth to look beautiful. Makeup and paint are things that light women use~shameless creatures. If you want your husband to love you, dress well, wash yourself and wash your clothes.'

Men painted their faces and bodies on ceremonial occasions, but it is not certain whether the Aztecs followed the example of their Otomi neighbors who covered their arms and chests with tattooed designs. Sahagun reports, however, that the fifth month of the year was the time when incisions were made on the chests of children as a mark of citizenship or tribal identification.

Mirrors were made from pieces of burnished iron pyrites or from obsidian, a kind of black volcanic glass which was cut and polished into discs up to a foot in diameter. These were provided with wooden frames or with loops of cord so that they could be hung on the wall.


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