Mind Your Own Beeswax: Makeup Before There Was Makeup

Hello again.  Welcome to another edition of Bill’s Bologna.

For some reason, ever since I was little, hearing someone say, “Mind your own beeswax,” always made me cringe a little. If another child said that to me, I usually laughed at it. I guess it’s because it always seemed like something my parents would have told me to say as a substitute for a less child appropriate saying. Being a six year old, that wasn’t something I was about to do when I was with my friends. I went for quite a while thinking that this was all it was, although I could never find any phrase it even remotely resembled.

That’s because it’s not a substitute for anything. It does have a specific origin, though & here’s how I found it:

As most of you know, the only things Wikipedia is good for is casual reading & finding jumping off points for research. I’m not here to give a lesson on writing research papers, but it’s the truth. That’s where I started. Wiki Answers gave me 2 arguments. The first one says this:

A man had a jar of beeswax and someone wanted to know what it was so he said none of your beeswax.

Pass. Aside from the fact that it’s a giant run on sentence & has no punctuation,  it’s like back  in middle school when you’ve done no work on a report & realize it’s due the next day. “Some guy… uh… had a jar…” It also doesn’t make sense. If you have a jar of beeswax & you don’t want someone to know what it is, you don’t say what it is when you’re telling them they’re not supposed to know. Also, who’s this man? Just saying. Anyway, I digress. Moving on.

The second possibility was much more compelling & seemed like a legitimate answer. I did my research & yes, most of the etymology sites & dictionaries backed it up. Here it is:

It comes from the days before makeup, & possibly goes back as far as the 17th Century. It most likely wasn’t made popular until the 18th. Up until the invention of modern makeup, women used to put beeswax on their faces. There are two explanations as to what the beeswax actually did. The first is that it was thought that beeswax  softened the complexion & cleared pores. Cover the beeswax with powder & presto, there’s the smooth pale color which was all the rage back then. The other explanation says that it may have also been used by smallpox survivors to cover up pock marks. At any rate, most sources agree that beeswax was some sort of facial cosmetic. It very well may have seen both uses.


Yep, this guy makes the stuff we use to make candle wax & also smear on our faces.
(Photo Courtesy of Benson Kua)

Back then, it was considered rude to criticize another woman’s makeup, so if someone noticed something wrong & mentioned it, the appropriate response was, “Mind your own beeswax.” It was less insulting than telling someone to shut the hell up & go away. That was beneath nobility.

Fun fact: If a woman sat too close to a fire, the wax would melt. This eventually became known as losing face.

Anyway, that’s the general consensus as to where the phrase originated. Hope you enjoyed it.

Now you know; you’re welcome.


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Filed under Etymology

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