Brilliant proof of a refined civilization, ancient Egypt’s use of makeup is impressive. Four thousand years ago, Egyptians from all walks of life, men, women and children knew how to heighten their natural looks by using cosmetics, which were used regardless of sex and social status, both for aesthetic and therapeutic reasons. Ancient Egypt’s beauty secrets included the use of oils and unguents, which were rubbed into the skin to protect it from the hot, dry air of the desert. They used white, black makeup made from carbon or manganese oxides and green makeup made from malachite and other copper based minerals. Red ochre was ground and mixed with water, then applied to the lips and cheeks with a brush.
Ancient Egypt rimmed its eyes, painted its eyebrows and darkened its lashes with a black powder called Kohl, applied to the eyes with a small stick. Upper and lower eyelids were painted black or green in an almond or feline shape, with the line extending from the corner of the eye to the side of the face. Red ochre mixed with fat or gum resin was use used as face paint and lip colour, while cleansing creams were made by mixing chalk and oil together.
Renowned for its magnificent beauties, Egyptian Queens like Cleopatra and Nefertiti knew the art using and making exotic perfumes that were famous throughout the Mediterranean. Greek historian Pliny describes an Egyptian perfume that still retained its full fragrance even after eight years. Mostly based on plants with many perfumes having more than a dozen ingredients, the roots, blossoms or leaves of henna, cinnamon, turpentine, iris, lilies, roses, bitter almonds etc. were soaked in oil and sometimes cooked to extract the essence by squeezing the oil, which was added to produce liquid perfumes. Creams and salves were made by adding wax or fat to the essence.
Like the Indians, Egyptians too believed in good hygiene, and made a cleansing paste by mixing water with Natron, a naturally occurring compound in sodium bicarbonate and sodium carbonate. As far back as 1,500 B.C. the Egyptians made soap from animal oil, vegetable oil and salt for bathing with, and bathed in milk. Famous Egyptian beauty – Queen Cleopatra bathed in asses’ milk everyday knowing its rich lactic acid had great exfoliation and rejuvenation qualities. Aloe Vera was treasured for its skin smoothening and wound healing qualities. They rubbed the oil of frankincense and myrrh into their skins after bathing, both to perfume and soften the skin. They used Balanos oil made from the fruit of a thorny tree, Behen oil from the nuts of Moringa or Horseradish tree and Almond oil for their pleasing aroma and moisturizing qualities that were very beneficial for the complexion, including dry and aging skin.
They removed unwanted facial and body hair individually with tweezers, though the hair on the head was considered one’s crowning glory, Dyed, braided, and cut in countless designs, women with thinning hair used extensions that were carefully woven and knotted into real hair with the help of beeswax and resin. Henna was used to colour grey hair and as colour for the nails.
They knew about the healing properties of the Dead Sea mud and legend has it that Cleopatra travelled from Egypt to the Dead Sea to avail of its benefits. Like Ancient India, the Egyptians too drew on the resources of Nature to make their cosmetics and for natural remedies!