BEAUTY IN ANCIENT EGYPT
Egyptians appeared to care a great deal about the way they looked. Pharaohs had their own hairdressers and manicurists and cosmetics was big business. Archaeologists have unearthed mirrors, hairpins, make up containers, brushes and other items. Egyptians took a lot of cosmetics and beauty aids with them to the grave which is why we have so much of the stuff today. Apparently they wanted to look good in the afterlife. Beauty og makeup.
Cosmetic surgery was present. The Papyrus Ebers provided tips on fixing up noses, ears and other body parts disfigured by warfare or accidents. Childhood skull shaping was practiced by Egyptians as it was by Minoans, ancient Britons, Mayas and New Guinean tribes. A number of anti-wrinkle remedies were available.
Make-up was applied daily to statues of gods along with offerings of food. Sometimes people painted their entire face green or black to resembled the protective eye of the god Horus. On special occasions ancient Egyptians wore greasy cones of fragrance on their head that melted in the heat and dripped perfume on their wigs.
Ancient Egyptian Cosmetics and Make Up
Duck-shaped kohl spoon In ancient Egypt cosmetics were widely used by both men and women. Black eyeliner was widely used. Ocher was applied for rouge. Oils and creams, often scented, kept skin moist in the dry climate. Sometimes cosmetics were even given as part of one’s wages.
Cosmetics were believed to be imbued with magical powers. Wearing green eye paint, or awadju , was thought to summon the protection of Hathor, the goddess of beauty.
Even in death cosmetics were regarded as a key to maintaining a youthful appearance. Among the objects buried with he dead to meet their needs in the afterlife were cosmetics, cosmetic spoons, palettes for on which kohl and ocher could be ground into cosmetics using polished stones, tubes to store eyeliner, jars of moisturizer, ivory hair combs, fragrant cedar and juniper.
Women's Beauty in Ancient Egypt
woman applying cosmetics Egyptian women had make-up tables and a variety of application spoons, vases, flacons, unguents and boxes of eye shadow. They massaged themselves with scented oils, anointed their bodies with animal fat mixed with frankincense, cinnamon and juniper, whitened their faces with cerussite, painted their lips with a brush,
Beauty shops and perfume factories existed in ancient Egypt. The use of make up was common as early as 4000 B.C. The favorite color of eye make-up was green, the favorite shade of lipstick was blue-black. Cheeks were rouged and lips, nails, fingers and feet were stained with henna. No one has yet found an samples of ancient lipstick.
Women also had their fingernails manicured, shaved their eyebrows, applied false eyebrows and red cheek rouge, painted their nails and toenails ruby red, washed their hair, and used kohl (black eye paint). Some adorned their nipples with gold and outlined the veins on their breasts with blue.
Ancient Egyptian Eye Make Up
Egyptians were particularly fond of eye makeup. They wore black eyeliner---known as mesdemet of kohl, from Arabic, the world's first mascara---in a circle or oval around their eyes, in part to ward off the evil eye but mainly it seems for the same reason women do it today: to accentuate their eyes and make their beauty pop out.
Eyeliner not only helped one’s appearance it also helped keep away flies, cut the sun’s glare and contained lead sulfide and chlorine, which acted as disinfectants. There is no evidence of an toxic results from the lead.
A kind of paste stirred in a jar and moistened with saliva, kohl was generally made from antimony but also from burnt almond shells, fat and malachite, black oxide of copper and brown clay ocher. Applied with ivory, wood or metal sticks, it was also used to darken eyelashes and eyebrows.
Eye shadow was worn on the upper eyelids and lower eyelids. It was usually black or green. Green eye shadow was made of powdered malachite (copper ore). Black came from galena (a dark sulfide of lead), gray was made from calcium carbonate. Goose fat was used as a binder. The ancient Egyptians also wore eye glitter made from the iridescent shells of beetles mixed with powder.
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Ancient Egyptian Cosmetic Ingredients
Toilet box and various vessels Moisturizing creams and oils were made with bullock bile, whipped ostrich eggs, olive oil, plant resins, fresh milk and sea salt and were scented with frankincense, myrrh, thyme, marjoram and essences of fruit and nuts, particularly almonds. Anti-wrinkle creams were made with wax, olive oil, incense, milk, juniper leavers and crocodile dung.
Analysis of Egyptian make-up turned up galena, cerussite (a white carbonate of lead),, laurionite and phosgenite. Shades of gray were made by mixing galena, which is black, with cerussite laurionite and phosgenite, which are white.
Cosmetic powders usually contained around 10 percent grease which was used to provide texture and help it adhere to the skin. The grease usually came from animal fat, perhaps from geese. Modern cosmetics also contain about 10 percent vegetable fat.
Ancient Egyptian Cosmetic Chemistry
Kohl pot in the form of Bes Analysis of make-up powders found in the tombs of pharaohs who died between 2000 and 1200 B.C. showed they were made of chemical compounds such as laurionite and phosgenite that are not found in nature and are made using complicated process. The analysis was done at the Louvre by chemists from L'Oreal cosmetic company.
L'Oreal chemist Philippe Walter told Discover magazine, "To make laurionite and phosgenite, they couldn't use fire and high temperature. Those compounds are not stable above 170̊C. So they had to use gentler methods involving wet chemistry, the chemistry of solutions."
Walter believes the Egyptians made the compounds using methods like those used by Greeks a millennium later. The Greeks heated the galena to get rid of the sulfur and form a lead oxide, which was mixed with water and salt at a low temperature. Adding water for 40 days or so to keep the pH neutral yields laurionite. using some ground up natron produces phosgenite.
Lead-based eye liner and eye shadow contained oxidized chlorine chemicals that are rare in nature and require the difficult process of wet chemistry to make. Chemists believed that Egyptians went though the trouble to make these chemicals partly to produce cosmetics that had medicinal qualities. Laurionite and phosgenite were used by the Greeks and Romans to treat eye diseases. In ancient Egypt, eyes diseases such as conjunctivitis were very common.
Ancient Egypt’s Toxic Makeup Fought Infection, Researchers Say
Cosmetics case Sindya N. Bhanoo wrote in the New York Times, “The elaborate eye makeup worn by Queen Nefertiti and other ancient Egyptians was believed to have healing powers, conjuring up the protection of the Gods Horus and Ra and warding off illnesses. Science does not allow for magic, but it does allow for healing cosmetics. The lead-based makeup used by the Egyptians had antibacterial properties that helped prevent infections common at the time, according to a report published Friday in Analytical Chemistry, a semimonthly journal of the American Chemical Society. [Source: Sindya N. Bhanoo, New York Times, January 18, 2010]
“It was puzzling, they were able to build a strong, rich society, so they were not completely crazy,” Christian Amatore, a chemist at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris and one of the paper’s authors, told the New York Times. “But they believed this makeup was healing---they said incantations as they mixed it, things that today we call garbage.”
Amatore and his fellow researchers, Bhanoo wrote, used electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction to analyze 52 samples from containers of Egyptian makeup preserved at the Louvre. They found that the makeup was primarily made by mixing four lead-based chemicals: galena, which produced dark tones and gloss, and the white materials cerussite, laurionite and phosgenite. Because the samples had disintegrated over the centuries, the researchers were not able to determine what percentage of the makeup was lead.
Although many written texts, paintings and statues from the period indicate that the makeup was extensively used, Egyptians saw it as magical, not medicine, Dr. Amatore said. In ancient Egypt, during periods when the Nile flooded, Egyptians had infections caused by particles that entered the eye and caused diseases and inflammations. The scientists argue that the lead-based makeup acted as a toxin, killing bacteria before it spread.
As for the use of such chemicals today Amatore said that the toxicity of lead compounds overshadowed the benefits and that there had been many documented cases of poisoning as a result of lead in paints and plumbing in the 20th century. Neal Langerman, a physical chemist and the president of Advanced Chemical Safety, a health safety and environmental protection consulting firm, said, “You probably won’t want to do this at home, especially if you have a small child or a dog that likes to lick you.”
Nonetheless, Dr. Langerman said, it makes sense that the Egyptians were attracted to the compounds. “Lead and arsenic, among other metals, make beautiful color pigments,” he said. “Because they make an attractive color and because you can create a powder with them, it makes sense to use it as a skin colorant.” “It’s the dose that makes the poison,” Dr. Langerman said, in paraphrasing the Renaissance physician Paracelsus. “A low dose kills the bacteria. In a high dose, you’re taking in too much.”
Men's Beauty in Ancient Egypt
Many Egyptian men, including pharaohs and ordinary fishermen, wore make up. Men also painted their nails and wore earrings and anklets. A relief from 2400 B.C. in the tomb of the nobleman Ptahhotep, showed him getting a pedicure.
There is evidence that men shaved as far back as 20,000 years ago. The ancient Egyptians equated clean-shaven faces with nobility. Bronze razors have been found in the graves of high-status men.
In King Tutankhamun's tomb, dated at 1350 B.C., archaeologists found jars of skin cream, lip color, cheek rouge and still usable fragrances. Men used cosmetics such as sunscreen and skin lubricant.
Hairstyles in Ancient Egypt
Egyptian men were usually clean shaven and sported both long and short hair styles. Men wore their hair long, boys had their heads shaved except for a lock of hair above their ear. A male body from a working class cemetery in Hierakonpolis dated around 3500 B.C. had a well trimmed beard.
Women sometimes wore long things in their hair. A female body from a working class grave dated around 3500 B.C. had evidence of hair coloring (henna was used to color grey hair) and hair weaving (locks of human hair were tied to natural objects to produce an elaborate beehive hairdo). A grave in the worker’s cemetery at Hierakonpolis revealed a woman in her late 40s or early 50s with a Mohawk. Egyptians darkened grey hair with the blood of black animals and added false braids to their own hair.
The earliest combs are believed are believed to be fish bones. The earliest man-made combs were discovered in 6000-year-old Egyptian tombs. Some had single rows of teeth. Some had double rows of teeth.
Baldness was looked down upon. Chopped lettuce and ground-up hedgehog spines were applied to the scalp as a remedy for baldness. Other cultures have tried everything from camel dung to bear grease to achieve the same result. A male body from a working class cemetery in Hierakonpolis dated around 3500 B.C. had a sheepskin toupee used to hide a bald spot
Scholars often use hairstyles to date objects.
Wigs in Ancient Egypt
Wigs were popular in ancient Egypt as they were in ancient Mesopotamia, Crete, Persia and Greece. Egyptian ones were made from vegetable fiber such as linen, sheep wool, animal hair or human hair stiffened with beeswax. The earliest known ones date back to around 3000 B.C. Many ancient Egyptian wigs have survived in relatively good condition and several museums and universities have fine collections of them.
Wigs were worn at major festivals and events. Members of the upper classes possessed many wigs, elaborate double wigs with intricate braids and curls, curls kept in place with beeswax and hair bands ending in tassels. Most Pharaohs had short cropped hair. The head coverings you see on mummy cases and giant statues are the not headdresses or natural hair but wigs. Pharaohs wore false beards, with length indicating status. False beards were even popular with some Egyptian queens.
Egyptian wigs tended to be helmet-like structures. Some were bright green, blue or red in color and some were adorned with precious metals and stones. Other were quite massive. One worn by Queen Isimkheb in 900 B.C., weighed so much she needed help from her attendants to stand up. Currently kept in the Cairo Museum, it was made entirely from brown human hair and held together by beeswax.
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During Nefertiti’s reign ordinary people started wearing wigs. A luxurious wig stiffened with beeswax was a powerful sexual symbol that linked the wearer to Hathor, the goddess of beauty.
Tattoos and Perfume in Ancient Egypt
Three Minor Wives of Thutmose III Egyptian women were also fond of tattoos. Singers, dancers and prostitutes wore them and some wore cones of unguent at parties that melted and covered their bodies with scent.
"Perfume"--- a Latin word meaning "through smoke"---comes to us from the Mesopotamians and Egyptians, who used the burnt resin from desert shrubs such as myrrh, cassia, spikenard and frankincense for their aromatic fragrance. Pharaohs burned incense as an offering to the gods and were embalmed with cumin, marjoram and cinnamon.
The earliest perfumes were not used for cosmetic purposed but rather as offerings to gods. Incense was burned by the ton during ceremonies. In some cases it was used as a kind of deodorizer for sacrificed animals. By 3000 B.C., Egyptians and Mesopotamian were using perfumes as body scents and bathing oils rather than incense.
The ancient Egyptians believed that bad odors caused disease and good ones chased them away. Perfumes and fragrances were rubbed on the body for health reasons and to ward off curses. At parties men wore garlands of flower and perfume and spread powdered perfume on their beds so their bodies would absorb the scent during the night. Flower petals were scattered on the floor and perfumed water poured from orifices in statues.
Egyptian women used different perfumes for different parts of their bodies. Cleopatra used an oil of roses and violets on her hands and anointed her feet with an oil with honey, cinnamon, iris, hyacinth and orange blossoms.
ancient Egyptian hair pieces The Egyptians developed ornate glass vessels to hold perfume and developed the process of effleurage (squeezing aromatics into fatty oils). Cedarwood was used to give house and mummies a fresh smell, incenses was used to protect papyrus from insects.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum, The Egyptian Museum in Cairo
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated January 2012