The Makeup Episode

The cat eye look is old as dirt

The ancient cat-eye

Woohoo! Time for another episode focused around style and fashion.

This time, I thought we’d focus on a very famous aspect of Ancient Egypt – makeup. Frankly, their famous cat-eye look probably the oldest style in existence which has a close variant that is still stylish today. You can see it here on this image of a queen (you can tell she’s a queen by the specific type of fancy hat she’s wearing).

It’s important to note that although the Ancient Egyptians knew that wearing makeup had certain aesthetic benefits, they were also convinced that it had magical properties as well (as you have probably guessed by now, the Ancient Egyptians thought most things in the world had a magical or spiritual element). Further, makeup did not discriminate in Ancient Egypt. Every person of every class wore makeup daily.

Still going strong

On the subject of daily rituals, it’s worth noting that the Ancient Egyptians were also notorious for being clean. The Ancient Greek historian Herodotus even wrote that the Egyptians “set cleanliness above seemliness.” In a pretty dirty world, the Egyptians idealized being (at the time) shockingly clean. Like makeup, this was not dependent on class. Ancient Egyptians bathed every morning, washed several times a day if they could, and had daily rituals of creams, oils, perfumes, hair removal, manicures, and pedicures. They had toothbrushes, toothpaste, and breath mints. They put so much thought into the recipes for such things that one suggested etymology for our word chemistry is that it comes from the old name for Egypt, Kemet.

So – back to the makeup! The Ancient Egyptian makeup look included malachite-based eyeshadow, which creates a stunning shade of green. Black kohl was used as eyeliner, with galena as an important ingredient. Various substances were used to create a red lipstick, including ochre and even crushed beetles!

Now, galena is a lead ore and does have some health risks. However, the galena in the kohl also served as an antibacterial agent which protected the eyes and could ward off flies. So … ah … you decide if that’s a net positive or a next negative. Copious amounts of kohl around the eyes can also serve to block some sunlight from bouncing off the eye area and into the eye, making it almost serve a function similar to modern sunglasses.

As I mentioned a bit ago, like everything in Ancient Egypt, makeup was believed to have a magical component. For that reason, many Egyptians were buried with makeup supplies. We have some spectacular examples that I want to leave you with today.

I hope you enjoyed another aesthetics-based entry in my blog! Join me next week as we talk about hair … or the lack thereof.

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

Published by headdeskliz

Elizabeth Jacobson is the author of Not by Sight: a novel of the patriarchs. She lives and teaches in sunny California and loves fantasy, science fiction, and historically-based Christian fiction. She has multiple other titles in the works.

2 thoughts on “The Makeup Episode

  1. Just wondering if they had any health consequences of using galena? It is, after all, an ore of lead (PbS = lead sulfate).


    1. Weirdly, we don’t seem to have hard evidence that they did, though we have to suppose Lead Poisoning symptoms happened with enough exposure over time. Given that the average ancient person lived far fewer years than someone today, they just may not have lived long enough to see any large effects.


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