January 31, 2019

Beauty and cosmetics in ancient Egypt

The ancient Egyptians regarded beauty as a sign of holiness. Everything the ancient Egyptians used had a spiritual aspect to it, including cosmetics. Traders traded makeup often, especially in the upper classes. In tombs, cosmetic palettes were found buried in gold with the deceased as grave goods which further emphasized the idea that cosmetics were not only used for aesthetic purposes but rather magical and religious purposes.


  • 1 Chemistry of ancient Egyptian cosmetics
  • 2 Medical uses of ancient Egyptian cosmetics
  • 3 Cosmetic palettes and jars
  • 4 Use of cosmetics in different social classes
  • 5 References
  • 6 Further reading

Chemistry of ancient Egyptian cosmetics[edit]

The two main forms of eye makeup were grepond eye paint and black kohl. The green eye paint was made of malachite, a copper carbonate pigment, and the black kohl was made from galena, a dark grey ore. Crushed charcoal was also used in this process. Mesdemet or Kohl was used for lining the eyes and were revealed to bring along potent health benefits in the form of protection from disease, bugs and sun rays.

Medical uses of ancient Egyptian cosmetics[edit]

The ancient Egyptians created a remedy for burns by mixing the cheek and lip stain with red natron, northern salt, and honey.[1] However, the ancient Egyptians strongly believed that the healing effects of these cosmetics were magical rather than medical.

Cosmetic palettes and jars[edit]

Cosmetics palettes were used to grind makeup. The earliest examples were rectangular in shape and date back to 5000 BC.[2] The palettes later adopted a rounder shape like the Narmer palette.[3] King Narmer’s palette was the earliest piece of its kind. It has decorations of the King smiting the enemies of Egypt and the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, as well as a cavity for the grinding of cosmetics, making it a double purposed palette. These later developed into fish shaped palettes. They might have chosen the fish shape as the fish was a symbol of resurrection and new life. The fish shaped palettes were usually adorned with precious stones for royalty. These palettes have developed into baboon shaped containers to hold the kohl which held symbolic meanings for the ancient Egyptians.[4][unreliable source?]

Use of cosmetics in different social classes[edit]

The use of cosmetics in Egypt varied slightly between social classes, where more make-up was worn by higher class individuals as wealthier individuals could afford more cosmetics. Although there was no prominent difference between the make-up styles of the upper and lower class, noble women were known to pale their skin using creams and powders. This was due to pale skin being a sign of nobility as lighter skin meant less exposure to the sun whereas dark skin was associated with the lower class who tanned while taking part in menial labor such as working in the fields. Thus, paler skin represented the non-working noble class, as noble women would not work in the sun.[5]


  • ^ Manniche, Lise (1999). Sacred Luxuries. New York: Cornell University Press. pp. 134, 138..mw-parser-output cite.citation{font-style:inherit}.mw-parser-output .citation q{quotes:”””””””‘””‘”}.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-free a{background:url(“//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/65/Lock-green.svg/9px-Lock-green.svg.png”)no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-registration a{background:url(“//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d6/Lock-gray-alt-2.svg/9px-Lock-gray-alt-2.svg.png”)no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-subscription a{background:url(“//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/aa/Lock-red-alt-2.svg/9px-Lock-red-alt-2.svg.png”)no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration{color:#555}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription span,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration span{border-bottom:1px dotted;cursor:help}.mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background:url(“//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4c/Wikisource-logo.svg/12px-Wikisource-logo.svg.png”)no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:inherit;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{display:none;color:#33aa33;margin-left:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration,.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-right{padding-right:0.2em}
  • ^ “BBC – A History of the World – Object : Cosmetic Palette”. www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2018-01-23.
  • ^ Narmer palette
  • ^ Ancient Egypt: the mythology
  • ^ “Ancient Egyptian Makeup”. historyembalmed.org. Retrieved 26 October 2016.
    • Bhanoo, Sindya N. “Ancient Egypt’s Toxic Makeup Fought Infection, Researchers Say”. The New York Times. Published LexisNexis Academic.
    • Lucas A. “Cosmetics, Perfumes and Incense in Ancient Egypt” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 16, No. 1/2 (May, 1930), pp. 41–53. Published by: Egypt Exploration Society, Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3854332
    • Manniche, Lise. Sacred Luxuries. 1999 Cornell University Press, New York. 127-143.
    • Spotts, Peter N. “Early cosmetics”. Christian Science Monitor (Boston, MA). Published LexisNexis Academic.
    • Staff “How the Pharaohs Fought Ocular Infection”. Review Of Optometry. http://www.revoptom.com/content/d/news_review/i/1018/c/19409/
    • “Cosmetic Palette”. A History of the World. BBC.co, http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/objects/s-OMbtkESJ6aV6_k6o86oA
    • “Egyptian Make Up” Published by: King TuT.org, http://www.king-tut.org.uk/ancient-egyptians/egyptian-make-up.htm
    • “Personal Hygiene and Cosmetics” Published by: reshafim.org, http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/timelines/topics/cosmetics.htm
    • Shaath, Nadim A., ed. 2005. “Sunscreens: Regulations and Commercial Development. Third Edition.” ISBN 978-0824757946 ril

    Further reading[edit]

    • Ribechini, Erika. “Discovering the Composition of Ancient Cosmetics and Remedies”. Springer.
    • Chaudhri, SK & NK Jain. “History of cosmetics”. Asian Journal of Pharmaceutics.

    Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beauty_and_cosmetics_in_ancient_Egypt

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