The perceived seductiveness of Egyptian civilization has a ton to do with how we’ve glamorized its 2 most known queens: Cleopatra and Nefertiti. In 1963, Elizabeth Taylor outlined the chic Egyptian look once she portrayed Cleopatra. In 2017, Rihanna (herself a makeup magnate) perfected it when she paid tribute to Nefertiti on the cover of Vogue Arabia. Each beauty icons wore saturated blue eyeshadow and thick, dark eyeliner. The pure label of egyptian makeup.
The mysteries of the ancient Egyptians are huge. However, their beauty tricks aren’t any secret. Makeup seems sort of a trendy phenomenon. This has grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry. But cosmetics were equally necessary to everyday life in the ancient world. From the earliest era of the Egyptian Empire, men and women from all social categories liberally applied eyeliner, eyeshadow, and lipstick.
Yet ancient Egyptians didn’t only apply makeup to boost their appearances. Cosmetics also had practical uses, ritual functions, or symbolic meanings. Still, they took their beauty routines seriously. The hieroglyphic term for makeup artists derives from the root “sesh,” which translates to write or engrave.
Plenty of skill was needed to use egyptian makeup
The most refined beauty rituals were carried out at the toilettes of wealthy Egyptian women. A typical regimen for such a woman living throughout the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030-1650 B.C.) would have been indulgent, indeed. Before applying any makeup, she would first prepare her skin.
She might exfoliate with dead sea salts or luxuriate in a milk bath. Milk and honey face masks were in style treatments. She may apply incense pellets to her underarms as a deodorant. Floral- or spice-infused oils soften the skin. Egyptians also fancied a natural technique of waxing with a mix of honey and sugar. “Sugaring,” as it’s called nowadays, has been seen by beauty companies as a less painful alternative to hot wax.
After all this, a servant would usher in the many ingredients and tools necessary to make and apply her makeup. These apparatuses, containers, and applicators were themselves lavish art objects that communicated social rank. Calcite jars held makeup or unguents and perfumes. Containers for eye paint and oils were crafted from pricey materials like glass, gold or semi-precious stones. Siltstone palettes used to crush materials for makeup. Eyeshadow was engraved to resemble animals, goddesses or young women.
These symbols delineate rebirth and regeneration
The act of grinding pigments on an animal palette was thought to grant the wearer special capabilities by overcoming the creature’s power. Members of the lower classes used lesser tools when applying their egyptian makeup.
The servant would create eyeshadow by mixing fine malachite with fat or vegetable oils. The woman sat at her toilette, before a polished bronze mirror. The servant would use a long ivory stick to brush on the rich green pigment. Just as girls do today, eyeshadow would be followed with a thick line of black makeup around her eyes.
This part of the routine had practical functions beyond beautifying the wearer. Makeup was used by both sexes and all social classes to shield the eyes from the intense glare of the desert sun. The Egyptian word for “makeup palette” derives from their word meaning “to protect”. It is a reference to its defensive abilities against the harsh sunlight or the “evil eye.” Also, the toxic, lead-based mineral that it was made of had antibacterial properties once combined with moisture from the eyes.
The final touches to this lady’s makeup would, of course, be red lipstick. A classic look even today. To form the paint, ochre was usually blended with fat or oil. Cleopatra was known to crush beetles for her perfect shade of red. These extremely toxic concoctions, mixed with dyes extracted from iodine and bromine, may lead to serious illness. or even death. Probably where the phrase “kiss of death” derives from.
Egyptian makeup has captured the modern imagination for its elegance, exoticism, and style. Yet the ancient kingdom’s influence on our beauty ideals is more direct through its inventions, right down to the make-up and lipstick we still like to wear.