Although the canons of beauty have changed a lot over the centuries, something that has been maintained, in one way or another, is the art of makeup and cosmetics. Yet ancient Egyptians didn’t only apply makeup to enhance their appearances, cosmetics also had practical uses and ritual functions.
In ancient Egypt, cosmetics were used by men, women, and children, regardless of their social class. The Egyptians had a true mastery of cosmetics. Besides beautification, this art had symbolic meanings and used in ritual functions.
Beauty in ancient Egypt
In the tomb of the Sumerian queen Shub-Ad, 5000 BC, numerous beauty tools and tablets were found. These tools describe ancient formulas for preparing ointments and oils. Natural pigments and the synthesized products were mixed with binders made up of fats of animal origin to make different types of cosmetic compositions with varied textures and colors.
Moreover, they had a lot of accessories such as makeup jars, mirrors, combs, applicators, hairpins. The most widespread cosmetic was the Kohl made with galena, lead sulfide, and discovered substances such as cerussite, laurionite, and phosgenite. With all these elements, a paste was prepared and kept in small alabaster jars. They were then moistened with saliva, applied with sticks of ivory, wood, or metal.
The predominance of galena in the materials analyzed by the researchers is confirmed by the presence of black makeup in the list of funeral offerings from that time. Black is described by the term mesdemet which, applied to the eye would mean “Make the eyes speak, make them expressive.”
The eye beauty
They also created the first flashes to beautify the eye. They crushed in a mortar the iridescent shells of certain beetles until they obtained a thick powder that they mixed with the shadows. The green shading, one of the favorites, was obtained from malachite powder that was applied thickly to the upper and lower eyelids. Many of the Egyptians were shaving their eyebrows and applying other artificial ones with henna being used to give the hair a bright red look. Women of lower rank were allowed only pale tones.
Rihanna pays tribute
Queen Nefertiti painted her fingernails and feet ruby red and Cleopatra was in favor of a dark red oxide. In 2017, beauty queens including Rihanna paid tribute to Nefertiti. This is benchmarked on the cover of Vogue Arabia. In their homages, the beauty icons wore saturated blue eye shadow and thick, dark eyeliner.
The Egyptians began the fashion of painting their lips with a dye made of red ocher and natural iron oxide that they extended with a brush or a stick. They also dyed their fingers and toes with henna to achieve a reddish-orange color, and accentuated with a blue tint the veins of her breasts and gave a golden touch to her nipples.
If beautification was a daily concern, makeup was also associated with the health of the eyes and skin, a relationship that is confirmed by ancient texts that relate religious rituals and medical papyri.