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Ancient Egyptian Cosmetics

In today’s society, cosmetics is widely known to be a pervasive aspect of human culture. Not only does it help to augment and beautify facial features, it is also widely used during football games to signify national pride or even for camouflages at battles and war. However, the Ancient Egyptian attitude towards beauty is fascinating and multidimensional. Apart from having an aesthetic purpose, it also has spiritual and practical purposes. For example, to reach the afterlife, to ward off evil and even to prevent diseases. Makeup palettes made out of stones and razors have been found in tombs of Egyptian citizens and mummies, therefore underlining the importance of cosmetics in their culture.  

The ancient "Urban Decay eye palette" Get the pun? decay... (:


Make up to ward off evil

We all have heard of the ancient Egyptian God, Horus. Horus was one of the most significant deities in ancient Egyptian religion, who was worshipped from at least the late Pre-dynastic period through to Greco-Roman times. But do you know that his eye was a powerful symbol of protection in ancient Egypt? This “eye of Horus” was also known as “The eyes of Ra”. Ancient Egyptians believed that, an unadorned and thus unprotected eye is vulnerable to evil. Therefore, outlining the eyes thus became a personal protective amulet drawn right upon the skin; an amulet that once applied could not be lost or misplaced. Therefore, eye makeup for the Ancient Egyptians was much more than just a case of looking Ra-vishing. Get the pun? (:


The Eye of Horus

Make up and the afterlife

Egyptians believe that in order for one's Ka (Vital Force) and Ba (Personality) to return to the body, make up and cosmetics are an essential part of mummification, to help guide them back to their bodies. Egyptians adorned the eye to help ward off evil. Not only that, ancient Egyptians also believed that, to reach the afterlife, the eyes should be lined like an “almond shape”. This almond shape we see in lots of Egyptian art is reminiscent of the shape of a falcon’s eye. The reason this shape was replicated is due to Horus, the falcon sky god.


Horus, The God who was a bird.


One example cited from “The Book of Dead” depicts how a priest adorn a deceased eye with “make up”

"I have anointed thy face with ointment, I have anointed thine eyes. I have painted thine eye with uatch and with mestchem. May no ill-luck happen through the dethronement of his two eyes in his body, even as no evil fortune came to Horus through the overthrow of his eye in his body."



Adapted from "The Book of the Dead" An image depicting a priest adorning a person with make up


Furthermore, Egyptians used a combination of black galena (kohl), and green eye paint, made of malachite to adorn the dead during mummification. The heart was left in the body and a green heart scarab was placed over it for protection. This color green symbolizes health and joy, and eternal paradise was sometimes called the "field of malachite."

Black Galena also known as Khol. The ancient form of eye liners.

Make up as a protection against diseases

Interestingly, Egyptians thought that the protective potency of make up is something that could also protect them against diseases. For example, the medical papyri (a material prepared in ancient Egypt from the pithy stem of a water plant) were frequently a prescribed medication, for complaints of the eye. This was common as the Nile had occurring floods that caused the spread of diseases. However, it’s true that lead sulfide in kohl is a natural disinfectant, a shield against the sun as well as an insect repellant.


Egyptian women and vanity

In conclusion...

Cosmetics in ancient Egypt seem to have several religious underpinnings attached to it. However, the above mentioned are just three of the most significant uses of cosmetics in ancient times. Others include the use of cosmetics to signify social classes and standings, or an everyday activity that transforms wearing make up, into a personal, sacred and protective ritual.Furthermore, make up and cosmetics were not only limited to the females in ancient Egypt. Nevertheless, we ought to owe the Egyptians our vast culture of vanity for it will not be made possible if they hadn't discovered the wonders of cosmetics(:



Illes, Judith. “Ancient Egyptian Eye Makeup”. 1 September 2000. Tour Egypt Monthly. Vol. I Number 4 (