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More than Meets the Eye

Posted on 7/13/2021 12:00:00 AM in Travel Trivia

Parchment drawings from ancient Egypt depict beautiful women who adorned themselves with heavy eyeliner and jewels to look beautiful for their gods.

Question: In ancient Egypt, what protected men and women from both evil spirits and diseases?

Answer: Makeup

Ancient Egyptians had quite the beauty regimens for their day and age, yet there’s a lot more to their beauty than what meets the eye—literally. Based on archeological finds, both the men and women of all social classes in ancient Egypt cared a lot about how they looked, but it wasn’t simply out of vanity. Their innovative cosmetics were used for practical purposes and spiritual rituals. It turns out that makeup had great medicinal benefits too.

For starters, makeup worn around the eyes was meant to imitate the gods and protect the wearer from evil spirits. They believed the bad spirits could enter their bodies through their eyes and make them sick. That along with the harsh desert sun and climate made Egyptians look for every possible way to protect their peepers. They applied thick black kohl makeup with wood, bone, or ivory to gain protection from the gods Ra and Horus.

Along with their kohl eyeliner, they also invented the first version of mascara to protect their eyes—but it’s nowhere near what we know of today. Their version was a paste made from a mix of kohl, honey, water, and crocodile manure. They also used burnt almonds to color their brows and saffron or malachite as an eye shadow. To go along with the eyes, they also created a tint for their cheeks and lips from finely ground red ochre mixed with water.

All of these cosmetics were meant to earn their protection but also impress the gods, especially during their judgment day. Looking good was not just important during life, but even more so in death. The ancient Egyptians believed it was vital to present oneself as beautiful in front of the gods when they died, and they even brought their beauty products along with them to their graves to make sure they looked their best in the afterlife. It was common for items like combs, perfumes, hairpins, brushes, applicators, and containers for paints and oils to be added to the graves of men, women, and children.

However, it turns out that by wearing the cosmetic concoctions on their faces, they really did protect themselves from getting sick—not magically but medicinally. The kohl mineral combination that they lined their eyes with was lead-based which rather than being toxic, actually provided antibacterial properties when combined with moisture from eyes. This means it doubled as an infection fighter, protecting the wearers from bacteria along with bugs and dust in the desert. Their mixtures meant for adding rouge to their cheeks also doubled as a remedy for burns.

Ancient Egypt’s beauty has captured the modern imagination for its elegance and style, but their beauty routines were so much more to them than that. Some of their inventions we still use today—and some, like the crocodile manure mascara, not so much.

Some More Ancient Egyptian Beauty Secrets:

  • Egyptians used the combination of milk and honey in baths as an exfoliating and nourishing treatment. The lactic acid in the milk supposedly removes dead skin cells and the honey acts as a natural moisturizer. This was supposedly one of Cleopatra’s beauty tricks.

  • Another secret from Cleopatra is the salts from the Dead Sea. They were a key part of her beauty routine for their healing properties and ability to replenish the skin with essential minerals.

  • More than 20 different kinds of oils including castor, sesame, and almond oils were used by wealthy Egyptians to preserve their youth and fight the signs of aging.

  • Cleanliness and hygiene were highly favored by the Egyptians. They created a soap paste out of olive oil to cleanse the body which greatly helped to heal damaged skin.

  • They also took body odor very seriously and used myrrh and frankincense as perfumes kept in elaborate bottles.

  • The ancient Egyptians are credited with inventing the popular method of hair removal called sugaring. This is done by mixing sugar, lemon, and water into a paste, and it removes hair without sticking to the skin.

  • Both men and women rubbed the resin of fir trees into the scalp, believing it would promote hair growth. They also used almond and rosemary oils to condition their hair and henna to dye greying hair.

  • Since the desert sun was very damaging to hair, the Egyptians loved to braid it with the addition of beads, ribbons, and jewelry. Some also shaved their heads or wore elaborate wigs.

Travel back to the days of ancient Egypt and explore its enduring legacy during our Ancient Egypt & the Nile River.

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