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Egyptian Makeup

A quick look at ancient Egyptian makeup

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3,400-year-old bust of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti.

3,400-year-old bust of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti.

Sean Gallup/Getty Images
In ancient Egypt, as you can see in paintings, people applied eye makeup in a ring around the eye to enlarge and therefore beautify it. Women and possibly men applied malachite from copper ore as a coloring agent. The color is a green that was used under the eyes. Stibium was also used for the line above and the eyebrows --like kohl. Other blackening agents were antimony, black oxide of manganese, lead, and other minerals. They also applied red ochre to lips and cheeks. The rich might henna their nails.

Remains of makeup from an ancient jar have recently been analyzed chemically. More information on the composition of such things may become more available over time. Traces of makeup also remain on prepared Egyptian corpses.

Egyptians thought lead-based eye makeup helped ward off eye disease. Egyptian Eyeliner May Have Warded Off Disease, from Science, says there may be something to this -- the lead may be antimicrobial.

Egyptian Makeup References:

  • "The Diuturnal Use of Perfumes and Cosmetics," by Grace M. Ziegler; The Scientific Monthly, Vol. 34, No. 3 (Mar., 1932), pp. 222-237.
  • The ancient Egyptians and their influence upon the civilization of Europe, by Sir Grafton Elliot Smith (1911)
  • Life in Ancient Egypt, by Adolf Erman, Helen Mary Beloe Tirard (1894)
  • A popular account of the ancient Egyptians:, by Sir John Gardner Wilkinson (1854).
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