Cosmetics and perfume were essential to life in Ancient Egypt, they excelled in the realm of beauty and their rituals continue to hold our interest in the present day.
The importance of cosmetics and perfume were discovered in even the humblest of graves in Ancient Egypt. “ From the earliest times Egyptian men and women included various cosmetic items among their funerary equipment, suggesting that oils, perfumes and eye paints were regarded as virtual necessities” states the Dictionary of Ancient Egypt.
The preparation for cosmetics could be extensive in ancient Egypt with powders being mixed with ointments from animal fat to make the powder adhere to the eye area for instance.
The Infamous Egyptian Eye
Everyone had galena powder, a grey lead ore mixed with oil called Kohl. It was applied by using a small stick made of wood or glass, then dampened and twisted in the Kohl. It was applied to the inner corner of the eye while moving the stick toward the outer corner with the eyes closed. This created a smudged eyeliner effect that to this day evokes their trademark for beauty and sensuality. It is a look that will often be emulated in the beauty industry.
Galena was a fly-deterrent and disinfectant while offering protection from the intense sun. The Egyptians also believed that an unadorned eye was vulnerable to the Evil Eye, therefore men, women and children wore eye makeup.
Burnt almonds were used with minerals to create eye and brow color. Green malachite, jasper, saffron, lapis lazuli and copper based minerals were also used for the eyelid.
They also “traced their veins in their temples and breasts with blue paint and tipped their nipples in liquid gold“.
Egyptian Lips and Nails
The Splendors of Ancient Egypt Educational Guide says, “ Other cosmetics included colors for the lips, cheeks and nails. A type of clay called red ochre was ground and mixed with water, and applied to the lips and cheeks. Henna was used to dye the fingernails yellow and orange.”
The dregs from wine were also used to add color to the lips and cheeks.
The Egyptian ‘ look’ was pale skin made with chalk, dark brows and eyes and a nice red mouth.
One of the reasons the Egyptians used makeup was to appease the goddess Hathor, who was the goddess of beauty, love and fertility.
Bathing and Perfume
The presence of perfume in ancient Egypt is well documented with the belief that cleansing rituals held the presence of the sacred.
Because there was no soap they would use a mixture of oil, perfume and lime to cleanse the skin. Women who had money would make a paste out of water and natron, which is found in sodium bicarbonate or sodium carbonate.
The perfume was made from flowers and scented wood mixed with oil or fat. In doing this, their skin always had a pleasant smell. An oil that was bland became the most desired to not interfere with a fragrance. The choice was balanos oil from the fruit of the Balanites Aegyptiaca tree and even though it is still found in Egypt it is rare.
A cone of perfume would be put on the heads of guests at a party and as it melted it ran down their face with a pleasant cooling effect.
Much has been written about Cleopatra’s ritual bathing in milk and honey. The milk is rich in lactic acid and naturally exfoliating and the honey is a humectant, which keeps the skin hydrated and it contains phytochemicals that kill bacteria. So, it is no wonder that her bathing ritual had significant results.
PS. Thanks, Julia.