Egyptian Makeup History

December 26, 2016

Egyptian Makeup History


The Egyptians were one of the first to have worn makeup, as far back as 4000 BC, long before modern makeup and cosmetic companies were selling makeup. Makeup had religious and magical power. Egyptians wore makeup daily, which included upper and lower class. Discovered alongside other artifacts in tombs. Such artifacts were left to prepare for the afterlife.


Eyeliner or kohl, made by grinding stibnite and applied to the eyes. Used as eyeliner and mascara. At first, eyeliner was applied medically. Although the Egyptians viewed medical advancements as nothing more magic. Besides that, kohl contains antibacterial properties. Making it both used medically and cosmetically.  The Egyptians lined the eyes to prevent eye infections due to flooding of the Nile. In addition to the antibacterial properties, the soot stopped the sun’s glare on the eyes when the lower class was working out in the field and controlled eye infections.


Secondary to kohl, henna, which is also still used today is made from the dried leaves of a shrub called Lawsonia inermis. Once dried it becomes an orange-red powder. Mixed with water would form a paste. Egyptians would use this to dye the skin and hair. Traces of henna were found in the finger tips of discovered mummies. Another product used was red ochre, a natural colored clay which was applied to the lips and cheeks. There are many parts of the world which use this today. Such places that still use these products today are, Asia, Africa, India, and the Middle East.


Discovered in upper-class tombs were cosmetic palettes. That showed the value the Egyptians had towards makeup. The palettes took on many different shapes, which included animals as a sign of a hunt. One famous known palette is the Namer palette. Later on, Egyptians developed palettes in a fish shape. The shape of a fish was a symbol of resurrection and a new life.

Social Class

Both men and Women wore makeup and between classes.  Although makeup was widely used. The type and reason for makeup was vastly different especially between classes. Thus, giving makeup a different purpose to both upper and lower class. As the upper class could afford high-end products from traders. They had more variety in makeup. Appearance was everything and upper class was to be seen as different. One way to distinguish classes was the pale look on the upper class. Pale skin showed a higher status and achieved by using creams and powders. Pale skin meant less sun.  Makeup was worn to parties and festivities. However, the lower class, “the working class”,  had darker skin. The lower class wore the traditional black eyeliner around the eyes to protect the sun’s glare and show religious tribute. Unable to afford creams and powders known to the upper class.

Egyptians have fascinated us in Hollywood big screens to the first tomb discovered. Seemingly making makeup hold value to them while alive and in the afterlife. Much like today we hold makeup to a standard and how we view ourselves with and without makeup on. Showing that makeup is timeless and is here to stay.

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