I have never been one to wear makeup. Not that I have anything against it, I just personally choose not to. Despite that, I am obsessed with watching other people put on makeup or wear it. I look up to anyone who knows how to do makeup themselves. It’s an art form – from the colors and textures to the way it sculpts the face. Whether it’s a simple and fresh look or dramatic and bold look, I am stunned every time. 

Throughout history, makeup and cosmetics were popular and used for a variety of reasons. When I think of makeup and cosmetics in ancient cultures, ancient Egypt is the first to pop into my mind, and for good reason.

Ancient Egyptian makeup is famously characterized by its bold, dramatic eye with thick, black eyeliner and colored eye shadow. They used the finest natural ingredients for cosmetic products. Malachite, a copper ore, provided the popular green eye color. Kohl was used to draw thick black lines on the eyes, forming an almond shape. Red ochre gave color to cheeks and lips. Henna was used to dye their hair and stain their fingertips and toes. Honey was applied to the skin to heal and fade scars. 

Ancient Egyptian statue.
[Image Description: ancient Egyptian statue.] Via CNN
Rather than just for vanity, these cosmetic products were also used as forms of protection. Kohl was believed to repel flies and ward off infections as well as protect the eyes from the scorching glare of the sun. Eyes without makeup were also thought to be vulnerable to the Evil Eye. 

Although most women and men wore some form of cosmetics, it was wealthy ancient Egyptian women who carried out the most refined beauty rituals. These women performed a skin routine to prepare their skin before makeup was applied. Their skin was exfoliated with sea salts, milk baths, as well as honey and milk face masks. Incense pellets were applied to their underarms as deodorant, and flora or spice-infused oils were used to soften their skin. Furthermore, these wealthy women had lavish and beautifully crafted applicators and storage containers for their cosmetics. 

A cosmetic spoon in the shape of a swimming woman holding a dish.
[Image Description: A cosmetic spoon in the shape of a swimming woman holding a dish.] Via CNN
Ancient Egyptians also made use of perfumes and scented oils made from flowers, roots, and herbs which were ground to a paste and mixed with fat or oil, or made into a cone of incense. Wigs were worn in ancient Egypt to prevent lice, as well as to make them more comfortable in the heat. Wigs were made out of human hair until horses were introduced into Egypt, then both were used. Different wig styles were worn for different occasions.

Ancient Egyptian wig.
[Image Description: ancient Egyptian wig.] Via British Museum
Even in death, makeup was a crucial part of burials. It was common for ancient Egyptians to include combs, scented oils, jewelry, and cosmetic products in the graves of the deceased. 

Both ancient Egyptian women and men wore makeup, oils, and perfumes, not only for their appearance but to appease their gods. Makeup was applied daily to statues of gods along with food offerings. They believed that their beauty was related to spiritual worth and holiness. 

Makeup and cosmetics meant more than polishing up appearances. It was an integral part of ancient Egyptian culture and identity which helped to protect them from diseases as well as fostered a connection to the spiritual world. The detail and care taken by ancient Egyptians in terms of their makeup and cosmetics are the ultimate self-care goals. In fact, an ancient Egyptian-inspired honey and milk face mask and sea salt scrub sounds pretty great right now.

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Tamia Adolph

By Tamia Adolph

Editorial Fellow