Ancient Egyptian cosmetics

Makeup was once an important part of everyday life in Egypt – find out why now

In Ancient Egypt, the image of an individual often acted as a substitute for the body in the afterlife. Therefore, in funerary paintings, both males and females are shown in their best clothes, wigs and makeup.

In life, the Egyptians utilised a variety of pigments to adorn the face. The most predominant of these was kohl, which was used to line the eyes. Kohl came from two sources: a green eye paint made of mineral malachite and a black liner derived from galena, a form of lead ore. Women used red ochre to form a light blush for cheeks and lips, while henna was used to paint the nails and dye the hair. Cosmetics were also applied for practical reasons – the military wore it to protect their eyes from the intense glare of the African Sun. Moreover, it had a religious resonance – each day, in the holy sanctuary of the temple, the god was anointed with makeup as a symbol of celestial regeneration.


The applicator was used to add rouge to the lips. It was made of wood, ebony or ivory.

Bronze mirror

The Egyptians used mirrors of polished bronze. The handle was often carved in the form of an Egyptian goddess.


Because of lice infestations, Egyptians often shaved their head. They wore elaborate wigs of real human hair, which were adorned with flowers and braids.

Cosmetic spoon

These spoons are highly decorative – the one shown here is fashioned in the shape of a swimming girl.

Cosmetic jars

The Egyptians’ special oils and unguents were stored in containers made from glass, faience ceramic and stone.

This article was originally published in How It Works issue 52

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