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What could an underwater civilization use to produce makeup and cosmetics? Considering that:

  • The merfolk's tech level is the same as ours (they have fire and metallurgy thanks to magic)

  • Makeup effects should be similar to those more conventionally used by humans (eyeshadow, blush, eyeliner, lipstick, concealer, etc.)

  • They do not trade with the surface so the raw materials have to come exclusively from the sea or coastal regions

  • Makeup needs to be done in a more compact way, so that it doesn't spread in the water

  • Makeup needs to be waterproof (duh)

I apologize for any mistakes, English is not my mother language.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hi Lila, welcome ! I've no time to research any further atm, but did you consider algae ? merfolk can harvest it.. and merfolk love green and brown (land nostalgia actually) ref sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0960852414017350 $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Jan 25 at 17:05
  • $\begingroup$ Do you think Mermaids get pimples? I suppose they might have pimples if they have human-like skin on their faces. But if they have scaly faces then probably no pimples. So less of a reason to wear concealer. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Jan 25 at 17:19

2 Answers 2

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Waterproof makeup is a thing, as one can see in synchronized swimming competition or from any influencer's reel while frequenting seaside or swimming pool.

enter image description here

It can be based on substances not soluble in water, like fats which can be extracted by sea creatures. Think of the blubbers of many sea mammals, or the fat from fishes like tuna.

To this base one can then add pigments of various nature: in the past for example the pigment for making purple was extracted from a shell, which is of course a water creature. And minerals are available also underwater, if one can mine them.

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  • $\begingroup$ If as OP says they have the same tech level as us in the 21st century I'm pretty sure acquiring whatever materials they need will not be a unsurmountable issue. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jan 25 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings, per OP's requirement the raw materials have to come exclusively from the sea or coastal regions $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jan 25 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ +1 good google hint, found some clues. these synchronized swimming girls need vaseline, that can be made of oil products, guess really advanced merfolk would have access to oil ? ref, newsconcerns.com/… $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Jan 25 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ They could use bees wax or another type of wax mixed with the pigment, I was going to suggest Tyrian purple from Murex shellfish also. If they were around in the past when that colour was rare and only for royals they would be rather fetching with that shade of make up on. $\endgroup$ Jan 25 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings colored lard doesn't sound like high tech. kill a seal/shark/any sea animal.... mix their lard with powdered minerals/corals/squid ink voilà... like L.Dutch proposed, easy waterproof make up. $\endgroup$
    – Drien RPG
    Jan 25 at 19:39
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Makeup tattoos.

permanent makeup!

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6f/Composite_permanent_makeup.jpg

Your merfolk use tattoos to color and accentuate their features. If you are looking to replicate cosmetic products, you can do that now with tattoos.

Maybe mermaids want to keep things fresh and not be stuck with one look? Or the artists want repeat business? Have the pigments be organic and fade with time. They must be periodically redone which is an occasion to update your look.

The woman depicted above has a pretty conservative look, I think. Persons wanting cosmetic tattoos can of course be as dramatic as they want - both in the real world and yours.

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  • $\begingroup$ Makeup tattoos do not achieve the look on the photo you've posted. At best the right side is a combination of permanent and regular makeup. Please look at the before and after pictures of actual clients, not the stock photos. It is also worth mentioning that tattoos have to be kept clean and dry for the duration of healing to avoid scarring. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Jan 25 at 20:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Otkin - I admit to rank ignorance as regards what sort of effects cosmetic tattoos can accomplish. I am afraid another choice by me will be equally unsatisfactory. If you would like to edit this post to show a better picture please do. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Jan 25 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6f/… I think this photo from Wikipedia depicts the results in a slightly more realistic manner. It is not the best work, but at least the lady does not wear too much makeup in the after photos. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Jan 26 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Otkin - swapped! $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Jan 26 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ Your answer is still better than the other one. If tattoo healing complications are resolved it is a valid approach. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Jan 26 at 19:30

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