Sunday, July 17, 2011

Fashion History and Makeup Series: Makeup In Ancient Egypt

Beauty was always a priced trait and even in antiquity women did everything they could to improve their appearance and be more desirable.

The first archeological evidence of makeup dates from 4000 BC and it comes from Ancient Egypt. 

Glass kohl tube in the form of a palm column
An interesting thing about ancient Egypt was the fact that cosmetics were used by both men and women and makeup was not only something that enhanced people’s beauty, but also a therapeutical practice. 
The black eye makeup was made from carbon, lead sulphide (galena) or manganese oxide, green makeup was made from malachite and copper based minerals and red makeup was obtained from red ochre and mixed with water or animal fat. Eye makeup palettes were even found in tombs and they seemed very essential in people’s journey after death.  
They also had henna, which was used for fingernail as some sort of nail polish.
Makeup was not only used by rich people, everybody had access to some kohl and other makeup colors. What’s interesting about that period is the fact that there were professional face painters, like makeup artists today.

Eye makeup

Black steatite statuette of a girl holding a kohl pot
Kohl was used as an eye liner and mascara; it was made from galena and other ingredients. The kohl makeup kit contained a vessel which had a small applicator and it was made of different materials like bone, bronze, glass, etc. The stick had two sides: one used for mixing and the other for applying makeup. It was either mixed with water or scented oil.

It is still used in the Middle East, North Africa and India by women and even men and children. It is supposed to protect people of evil eye, eye diseases, and sun damage. Scientists found out that lead is efficient in killing bacteria around the eyes. However, there’s a lot of brain damage involved when it comes to lead. 

Lipstick was made from red ochre and animal fat but there were also lipsticks made from a combination of focus-algin , iodine, and some bromine mannite (which were very harmful). The shimmery lipsticks were made from fish scales and other types of red pigments were obtained from crushed insects like beetles and ants (Cleopatra is known to have used this combination).  

When it came to skin care, Ancient Egypt had a lot of creams and lotions made of beeswax, vegetable oils and resin. They also had scrub and some medical papyruses have recipes for scrub. Soap was made by mixing vegetable oil or animal fat with alkaline salts. They also used a lot of honey, whole milk (Cleopatra is famous for taking milk baths) and myrrh for fragrance. 


  1. hi andreea, looks like the egyptians are one of the most advanced in civilization including facial make ups and body care.
    my race, the malays in malaysia have been traditionally using fresh henna fo coloring nails and for hair conditioning.
    even today, coloring of nails are widely practised especially in weddings, just like the indian mehndi.

  2. Yes I believe the Egyptians were quite advanced when it came to self care. I also have some articles prepared on different practices in other cultures regarding this topic. And YES, I love henna and I believe indian mehndi is absolutely gorgeous! Thanks for the comment :D

  3. Wow very interesting blog post thanks for stopping by mine and commenting :) Im following

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    1. I'm really happy I helped, I'm going to do a more extent series of articles on this subject. Good luck with your project!

  8. The kohl makeup kit contained a vessel which had a small ...