Beauty in Ancient Egypt: Cosmetics and Jewelry
Ancient Egypt has been regarded as being one of the most advanced cultures throughout history. The Egyptians came up with many great inventions that today are still in use. But most of all, they were very vain in their appearance. They were known mainly for mastering the art of beauty, and we still use many techniques and products that they came up with thousands of years ago. Cosmetics and jewelry in particular were very highly thought of and valued in Ancient Egypt.
There were many cosmetics available to Ancient Egyptians. First off, the Egyptians regarded cleansing rituals as being very vital. They bathed almost everyday in a river or in a tub at home. The wealthier class had separate rooms for this in their house. Their servants poured water over their master's head. This would be much like a shower to us. A cleansing cream was used instead of soap and was usually made out of oil, lime, and perfume. To prevent the skin from drying out in the harsh climate, Egyptians usually rubbed themselves with scented oil.
The most popular basic oil was called balanos, although the most popular among the lower class was castor oil. This prevented dry and cracked skin caused by the sun and sand. This oil was made by letting flowers or scented wood soak in oil until it had absorbed the scent. At parties or social gatherings, servants would put cones of this perfumed oil on the heads of the people attending the gathering. As the night went on, the oil would melt and run down the faces of the guests. This had a cooling effect on their faces. The Egyptians also had a way of freshening their breath. They would put an aromatic liquid in their mouth, and it would be removed and renewed throughout the night.
Facial hair was thought to be a sign of uncleanliness. Only a thin mustache or a goatee was acceptable. Since there was no soap, oil was most likely used to soften the area and prepare it to be shaved. Tweezers could also be used to remove individual hairs of the face, but it was a very time consuming process.
Hair styles of the Egyptians varied a great deal. Common people usually wore their hair short. Girls usually keep their hair long and in ponytails. Boys usually had their heads shaved, with the exception of a braided lock to one side. Hair could be dyed by using henna, which was reddish in color. Wigs were also worn by men and by women. These were usually made of human hair or even sheep's' wool. Wigs came in all different lengths and were usually worn at social affairs (Ruffle). When not in use, they were stored in beautifully decorated boxes.
The art of makeup was highly skilled and practiced a lot in the Egyptian Era. Makeup was worn by men, children, and women. They portrayed a sense of personal hygiene and health, among other things. The most popular and the most well known cosmetic of the Egyptians was eye makeup. Eye makeup, also called eye paint, primarily came in two colors, green and black. The base powder, which contained the color, was mixed with oil to form a paste. The green paint was made from an oxide of copper called malachite. Green eye paint was the most popular color from the Old Kingdom through the Middle Kingdom.
But by the New Kingdom, black had taken the popular vote. Black eye paint, also known as kohl, was made of galena, a sulfide of lead. The use of this black eye paint continued into the Coptic period (Stead). Eye makeup was usually applied with a small rounded stick. It was applied heavily to the eyelids and also under their eyes. Sometimes there was a line of makeup extending to the sides of the face. It could also be used to line eyebrows as well. Wearing heavy eye makeup was used to help protect the eyes against the sun, and it was also said to have healing properties. "Egyptologists and chemists came to that conclusion after analyzing the contents of the Louvre's collection of 4,000-year-old pots once used in Egyptian makeup...
Cited: Bitterman, Jim. "Researchers Find Health Secrets in Ancient Egyptian Eye Shadow" CNN. 22 Sept, 1999
Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume and Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. New York: Octopus Publishing, 2000.
Ruffle, John. The Egyptians. Cornell University Press: Ithaca, 1977.
Stead, Miriam. Egyptian Life. British Museum Publications: London, 1986.
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