egypt woman
A wall painting of a woman with a thick, kohl-lined eye, holding a sistrum, an ancient musical instrument. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Walters Art Museum

Ever since human beings have been able to look at themselves, they’ve developed the art of make-up.

Click start to play today’s Word Search, where you can find essentials for your vanity, from ‘eyeshadow’ to ‘nail paint’.

Nearly 6,000 years ago, ancient Egyptians were among the first to embrace the power of cosmetics – men would liberally apply kohl (or black eyeliner) while women perfected the application of eyeshadow, lipstick and rouge. You can see it in images, busts and sarcophagi of ancient Egyptian royalty – for instance, a heavy black liner drawn in a sharp angle away from the eye, or green eyeshadow symbolising the deities Horus and Re.

Applying paint to the face was common at the time, as well. But the ancient Egyptians are credited with creating the first lipsticks, according to a report in US-based Chemical and Engineering News website. Their lipsticks were far more advanced than you’d think – they had a shimmering effect, because of the inclusion of a pearlescent substance produced from fish scales.

According to a March 2020 report in US-based news website CNN, wealthy ancient Egyptian women had refined beauty rituals – similar to the kind you’d see today. Before they even applied make-up, they would prepare their skin, by exfoliating with Dead Sea salts or using milk-and-honey face masks. They applied incense pellets to their underarms – a kind of modern-day deodorant – and used spice-infused oils to smoothen and soften the skin. The Egyptians are also credited with inventing a natural method of waxing, with a mixture of honey and oil, which is known as ‘sugaring’ today.

Then began their make-up routine. A servant would bring in the many ingredients and tools required. While calcite jars held make-up and perfumes, there were other containers for eye paint and oils, crafted with semi-precious stones or other expensive materials. Eyeshadow was made on the spot, by mixing powdered malachite with animal fat or vegetable oils. A long ivory stick was used to sweep on the rich green pigment, following which, a thick line of black kohl was applied around the eyes.

Kohl held greater meaning than just as a beauty product. It was used by all social classes, and both genders, to protect the eyes from the scorching glare of the sun. It was also considered to protect against the ‘evil eye’ or the envious gaze of others. In fact, the lead-based mineral that was used to make kohl actually had antibacterial properties, when combined with moisture from the eyes.

A swimmer shaped kohl spoon from 715 to 656BC, now located at the Department of Egyptian Antiquities of the Louvre Museum, Paris. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The final touches in an ancient Egyptian woman’s make-up routine would have been red lipstick – a classic that’s still worn around the world today. Ochre was blended with vegetable oil to create the perfect look, although many tried their own varieties. Cleopatra, for instance, was known to crush beetles for her preferred shade of red.

Unfortunately, more often than not, many of the lipstick concoctions in ancient Egypt were made with dyes extracted from iodine and bromine mannite – which were highly toxic – and led to serious illnesses or even death. Some historians think that’s where the ‘kiss of death’ phrase comes from.

Still, the world of cosmetics owes this innovative civilisation much, not just for make-up trends, but for daily self-care rituals that focused on bringing out one’s inner elegance, grace and style.

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