Makeup use began with ancient Egyptians around 4000 B.C., though it wasn’t just women who wore it. Both men and women donned almond-shaped eyeliner and used skin care oils and perfumes to protect the skin and prevent body odor offensive to their gods and to themselves. The ancients even painted their nails and dyed their hair. They were the first appearance-oriented civilization.
Ancient Egyptians depict themselves in hieroglyphics and sarcophagi with wide, almond-shaped eyes totally surrounded with eyeliner. They wore this eyeliner every day and believed it to allow the gods Horus and Ra to keep them from sickness. The liner was made from lead salts, so modern scientists were surprised when they found out it did not make them sick due to the toxicity of lead. Instead, the eyeliner protected them against eye infections. The lead salts actually produced nitric oxide, which boosts the immune system. Egyptians wore black liner made from Galena, a lead-based mineral abundant in the desert. Soot was added to make Kohl or Mesdemet, the name for their eyeliner, which was stored in carved stone pots. They also wore green eyeliner made from crushed malachite stone, a copper ore. They added water or animal fat to the powder to make a paste applied with a bone, ivory or wood stick. The substance repelled flies and protected the eyes from intense sun conditions. Even mummies' eyes were painted with liner before mummification.
Cheek and Lip Makeup
Red ochre was taken from tinted clay dug from the ground. It was washed to get rid of sand and dried in the sun, then burned to get a darker color. The Egyptians applied this mineral to their cheeks and lips with a brush to add color to their faces. Sometimes, oils or fats were added to make it a smooth paste.
Hair and Nails
Henna comes from the leaves of the henna shrub, which is native to Africa. The ancients dried, ground and worked the leaves into a paste. The color was red to orange, but a light application turned yellow. Egyptians used this paste to dye their hair and tint their nails; mummies have been found with henna stained on their nails.
Body and Skin Care
Ancient Egyptians were very good at keeping their skin soft from the desert environment by making creams and oils from animal fats. They were also very good at making perfume. They made cones of scented cream, which when placed on the head would melt to cool them and impart a lovely fragrance. Scents came from flowers and wood from trees like iris, henna, rose, lilies, sandalwood, myrrh and frankincense. Good scents were considered godly and those that did not smell good were looked upon with disdain.
- “National Geographic” News; Cleopatra's Eye Makeup Warded Off Infections?; Kate Ravilious; January 14, 2010
- King Tut: Egyptian Makeup
- Cyonic Nemeton; Ancient Cosmetics and Fragrances; Ty Nemeton
- Fashion-Era: Ancient Egyptian Make Up & Cosmetics: Paula Weston Thomas; November 15, 2007
- Tour Egypt; Ancient Egyptian Eye Makeup; Judith Illes
Deborah Harding has been writing for over nine years. Beginning with cooking and gardening magazines, Harding then produced a gardening and cooking newsletter and website called Prymethyme Herbs in 1998. Published books include "Kidstuff" and "Green Guide to Herb Gardening." She has a Bachelor of Music from Youngstown State University and sings professionally.