Sometimes it feels like the journey to healthy skin is taking an eternity—and quite literally, we’ve been chasing it since before the first century BC. Throughout the years the tools have varied. From actual poison to thick, petroleum-based creams; from ancient mattifying powders to the highlighter porn that’s constantly infiltrating your screen today. Radiant, glowy skin isn’t a passing fad, but its ubiquity is fairly new. How did we get here? And why? Below, some answers. The history of dew and why we’re so obsessed with it right now.
Cleopatra is said to have used olive oil for a shiny, dewy complexion. Olive oil was a regional beauty staple, though it’s also possible Cleopatra’s blend included less ubiquitous oils like goopy castor and fragrant frankincense, too.
The first film studios open in Hollywood, using electric lights to expose film rather than natural light. Unlike sunshine, which is bright but diffused and flattering, electric lights washed them out. Makeup artists started to rely on techniques to re-introduce the natural facial definition that the new lights had flattened. They highlighted the cheekbones, nose, and jawline to illuminate skin for the screen.
Ads for skincare emphasize radiance, and cream cleansers and lotions are all the rage. As one ad for a cleanser reads, “After a hard day of shopping and housework doesn’t your skin feel tired? Nothing in the world will more quickly rob your skin of its radiant, healthy charm than always being tired.”
Marilyn Monroe uses Vaseline as a makeup product—her makeup artist applies it as primer, highlighter on cheek and brow bones, and eye gloss. The combination gives her skin a luminous, soft-focus glow on-screen.
Studio 54, what would become the hub of 70s disco glamour, opens in New York. Famous patrons like Diana Ross, Cher, and Jerry Hall arrive with matte, chiseled cheekbones and leave glistening with sweat.
Breaking a sweat in the name of health becomes something you’re meant to look good doing. Jane Fonda releases her first aerobics video, titled simply ‘Jane Fonda’s Workout,’ and a promotional photo shows her in a high-cut gold leotard, tanned, and positively glowing.
The movie A Time To Kill staring Matthew McConaughey and Ashley Judd is released—and a scene in which the actors sit in a room with no air conditioning makes a particular impression on a matte ‘90s audience. As a contemporary review states, “Their sweat is sexy. And their dewy glow is fashionable. Sweat isn't the result of any on-screen activity. It doesn't tell audiences anything about the characters. It just looks good.”
A big year for glow! First off, Scott Barnes dumps brown pigment, shimmer, and moisturizer into a blender to create the first bronzing cream. Two weeks later he meets J.Lo on the set of her Instyle cover shoot, and the rest is history. MAC also launches its Strobing Cream, the first mass-market highlighter (so, not just for pros). It’s a liquid with iridescent pigments, and it leaves skin looking lit from within.
Meanwhile, in Korea, makeup artists like Kowonhye are pioneering a shift from powdery and matte to glowy and dewy. Similar to with the advent of highlighting in the early 20th century, Kowonhye thinks dewy makeup will look better on screen—high-def TV screens, in particular.
The movie Zoolander is released, starring Ben Stiller as fictional top male model Derek Zoolander. In an ad for Aveda, Zoolander (as a mer-man) proclaims, “Moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty.”
The “glass skin” trend takes hold in Korea—skin that’s so poreless, even, and shiny that it looks almost translucent, like glass. (It won’t take hold in the US until Korean makeup artist Ellie Choi shares her routine four years later, and it goes viral.)
Glossier launches in the US with the slogan “Skin First, Makeup Second” and emphasizes the look of glowy, dewy skin. Hey guys!
The NPD Group, a market research company, reveals that makeup sales increased by 21-percent in the past year. Most of the growth came from complexion sculpting products, and 44-percent of that was from highlighters alone.
Makeup artist Nam Vo coins the term “Dewy Dumpling” to mean super supple, ultra-highlighted skin (the hashtag has nearly 5k posts). And the dim sum aesthetic reaches beyond makeup, too—this year, the skincare industry is valued at $135 billion.
Kim Kardashian West wears a Theirry Mugler dress to the Met Gala that’s dripping in tiny crystal droplets—an instantly iconic full-body dew. 311 products on Sephora’s website have the word “dewy” in their name or product description. Glossier turns 5. We’re dewier, glowier, and shinier than ever before in history—the future’s looking bright. Don’t you wish there was a shortcut there?
Photos via Getty and ITG