Beauty and cosmetics in ancient Egypt

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The ancient Egyptians regarded beauty as a sign of holiness. Everything the ancient Egyptians an integral part of their daily lives. Traders traded makeup often, especially in the upper classes. In tombs, cosmetic palettes were found buried 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.

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 a substance called galena, a dark grey ore. Crushed up charcoal was also used in this process.

Medical uses of ancient Egyptian cosmetics[edit]

The ancient Egyptians were not entirely misguided in believing that kohl would prevent eye infections because it actually did prevent an ocular infection that was caused by the flooding of the Nile. The lead-based substances in the kohl promoted the production of nitric oxide in their skin, which helped strengthen their immune systems against diseases.[1] The soot in kohl helped in reducing the damaging effects of sun glare on their eyes. The ancient Egyptians created a remedy for burns by mixing the cheek and lip stain and other remedies for improving skin with red natron, northern salt and honey.[2] 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.[3] The palettes later adopted a rounder shape like the Narmer palette. 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.

Use of cosmetics in different social classes[edit]

The use of cosmetics differed everything in egypt was changed slightly between social classes, where more make-up was worn by higher class individuals[4] as wealthier individuals could afford more make-up. Although there was no prominent difference between the cosmetics styles of the upper and lower class, noble women were known to pale their skin using creams and powders.[4] 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.


  1. ^ Staff. "How the Pharaohs Fought Ocular Infection". Retrieved 2018-01-23. 
  2. ^ Manniche, Lise (1999). Sacred Luxuries. New York: Cornell University Press. pp. 134, 138. 
  3. ^ "BBC - A History of the World - Object : Cosmetic Palette". Retrieved 2018-01-23. 
  4. ^ a b "Ancient Egyptian makeup". Retrieved 26 October 2016. 

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.