Classic and Modern Egyptian Eye Makeup

Tamara Warta
Feel as gorgeous as Cleopatra herself!

Egyptian eye makeup is one of the most noticeable features of this ancient kingdom's style.

Trend Setting Egypt

From papyrus to lavish gold tombs, ancient Egypt has left behind an impressive legacy that we continue to explore and discover today. Out of all these, their penchant for style and trend-setting still reverberates today. Women placed great value in physical beauty, and men also prioritized personal appearance. Egyptian mummy cases usually portrayed an idealized face of the deceased, often decked out in finery and impressive makeup. Egyptian eye makeup was at the forefront for these ancient peoples; whether alive or deceased!

Types of Egyptian Eye Makeup

While other cosmetics such as rouge and nail polish were considered exotic body décor for special occasions, eye makeup was thought to be a necessity and an important status symbol. There were two different types of makeup generally used on the eyes, and both were not only meant to improve physical beauty, but to serve spiritual purposes as well.

Mesdemet

Dark grey in color and usually made out of lead, you would find Egyptians wearing this on the Red Sea Coast. It was brought back from a pharaoh's journey to a far off land, and was given as a gift to many. Of course in this day and age we would never use a lead derivative on our skin, however, in ancient times it was an acceptable and unassuming practice.

Udju

Created from green malachite (derived from copper), this was found near Sinai. The Sinai area was considered to be ruled by the Egyptian goddess of beauty, love, and women. This made the makeup especially treasured and symbolic to female wearers, who believed it worked almost like an aphrodisiac or anti-depressant; releasing positive energy of love and happiness.

Cosmetology of Ancient Egypt

We are spoiled by today's beauty options, but when it came to Egyptian eye makeup, there was extensive preparation and detailing to be had. The makeup was made into a powder and then mixed with animal fat to form a liquid liner. Eye makeup applicators along with the little palettes of powder were so essential they were placed into tombs of both the rich and poor. Archaeologists have been able to determine the income level of many of Egypt's residents based upon the condition of their eye makeup palettes. The poor often applied makeup with a stick, while the wealthy had compacts made of ivory and embellished with jewels.

Eye makeup served a functional purpose as well. Some ingredients found within the cosmetics worked as a fly-repellent and disinfectant. Others served as a sunscreen against Egypt's harsh and dry environment. Many religious sects of ancient Egypt believed eye makeup protected them from evil spirits, and many designs were created to call upon certain goddesses and provide the wearer with good fortune and other positive omens.

Even today, women use kohl (a modern version of ancient cosmetic ingredients) as a spiritual signifier. In North Africa, it is still very common for women to own eye makeup for specific religious purposes. It can be purchased in various marketplaces, and the more homemade, the more authentic the mixture traditionally is.

Many tourists purchase kohl as an authentic souvenir and as an opportunity to partake in a genuine tradition and cultural design of an ancient dynasty. These marketplaces have purposely kept Egyptian eye makeup traditional-looking, both for tourists and due to the fact Egypt takes pride in its history and heritage.

How To Apply

If you have purchased an authentic container of makeup with a stick applicator, the first step toward Egyptian beauty is to moisten the stick and then swirl it in the kohl until the makeup clings to the stick. Next, place the stick in the inner eye corner (be careful, don't hurt yourself!), and close your eyes. Draw the makeup onto your eye, pulling outward. This will leave a smokey line on both your upper and lower lids. Most non-Egyptians need a lot of practice before applying traditional makeup correctly, however, the result can be truly beautiful and perfect for your African travels or for a classy costume party. Egyptian eye makeup has a permanent spot in beauty and cosmetics history, and becoming skilled in the way of the ancient queens and other rulers is a unique and fun skill to have.

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Classic and Modern Egyptian Eye Makeup