History of Makeup in Egypt

Egyptian woman

The history of makeup in Egypt demonstrates just how long cosmetics have been around. If you've ever seen Egyptian art, you've no doubt noticed the dramatic eye makeup present on men and women. Ancient Egyptians of both genders routinely wore makeup and other cosmetic aids, such as perfume. They took great pride in their appearance and sought to enhance their looks with makeup.

A Brief History of Makeup in Egypt

Ancient people had to work with what was available in their environment. Egyptians turned to the natural resources surrounding them to create cosmetics.

Makeup Ingredients

As early as 4000 B.C., Egyptians used the following materials in order to design makeup:

  • Malachite, a copper ore, which provided the green eye makeup color so greatly favored at the time
  • Kohl, used to draw thick, distinctive black lines, creating an almond shape to the eyes
  • Red ocher, which was used as rouge or lip color
  • Henna, which was widely used to stain the fingertips and toes

Once ingredients were gathered, time-consuming preparation was needed to make them ready to apply. Minerals were ground into powder and then mixed with a carrier agent (often animal fat) in order to make it easy to apply and stay on the skin.

Making Up the Eyes

Green and black were the most widely used colors for the eyes. Different eras saw a change in how these colors were applied. In the earliest times, green makeup was worn all over the eyelid, from the lid to the brow. It even extended downward to the base of the nose. In the middle era, green eye color was applied to the eyebrows and on the corners of the eyes. Later, black replaced the heavy use of green.

The Egyptians were very creative in designing makeup applicators. While people from all social standings used makeup, the poorer classes used applicators made of wood, while nobles had applicators and containers made of precious materials such as ivory.

Of course, ancient people had no packaged cosmetics, so how did they remove makeup? Because their culture placed a great deal of emphasis on cleanliness, they developed ways to cleanse their skin and bodies. Chalk and oils were combined to create a cream that cleaned the skin.

Not All About Vanity

Although the history of makeup in Egypt may make it seem like the ancient peoples only cared about appearance, applying makeup had other uses as well. Many Egyptians believed that eye makeup acted as a protection against evil, most notably the "Evil Eye." The way kohl was made also made it a good disinfectant. Doctors suggested that kohl could prevent some eye diseases and it was widely used to deter flies.

In such a hot, sandy climate, the various cosmetics Egyptians used protected their skin from the harsh sun and weather.

Ties to the Past

If you look at eye makeup techniques such as cat eye makeup or using liner to create a desirable almond shape, they have roots in ancient Egypt. You may not want the extreme Cleopatra look of two thick lines extending past the corners of your eyes toward your temple, but you can still get dramatic with liquid black eyeliner and detailed application. If nothing else, you can appreciate the ease with which modern women can put on and take off their makeup, unlike ancient people, for whom it was a drawn-out process, but one that ended in great results.

History of Makeup in Egypt