Beauty History: Cosmetics in Ancient Egypt

by Gio
the beauty secrets of ancient egyptians

Beauty was big business in ancient Egypt.

It didn’t matter if you were a man or a woman, rich or poor. Everyone used makeup and ointments. It was part of life.

Blame it on the climate. They Egyptians needed something to protect their skin from the boiling desert sun and the incessant insect bites.

Cosmetics were so important to them, little lotions and potions were buried with the dead, so they could use them in the afterlife, too.

Curious to find out their beauty secrets? Here are all the beauty products the ancient Egyptians knew and loved:

Body Oils

Egypt has a torrid and windy windy climate that dries out your skin, cracks it open and burns it. Ouch! No Egyptian would have left the house without slathering on a good dollop of moisturiser to keep their skin soft and hydrated. This was such a necessity that even workers received body oils as part of their wages. If they didn’t, they’d cause a riot (literally!). If they didn’t have oil, they’d resort to honey to moisturise their skin. While they were at it, they created concoctions to remove stretch marks and prevent baldness… but I highly doubt they worked!


Did you know the Ancient Egyptians believed an unclean and smelly body to be impure? They bathed regularly with soaps made with clay or ash mixed with scented oils. I hope they moisturised afterwards, cos soaps are super harsh and drying on the skin!

Related: Should You Still Use Soap To Wash Your Face?


The Ancient Egyptians used black and green paints on their eyes. The black paint, made from powdered galena (now known as kohl), was to protect eyes from the hot sun.

The green paint, made from malachite powder (a green coloured mineral), was used to make eyes appear larger. Plus, they believed this paint invoked the eye of Horus, the god of The Sky & Sun and healing. If you wore it, the god would protect you.

To make these paints, the Egyptians powdered the minerals on a palette and then mixed them with a substance (probably derived from animal fats) that would make them adhere to the eyes better. To apply these paints they used either their fingertips or little sticks made of wood, bone or ivory.

Red ochre

The Egyptians used red ochre mixed with fat or gum resin to colour cheeks and lips. Red ochre was also mixed with kohl and sycamore juice to create a mixture that could help heal scars caused by burning.


Henna is a natural dye derived from the leaves of the Lawsonia Inermis shrub. Once its green leaves are crushed and dried, they create a reddish powder. The Egyptians would mix this powder with water to form a paste, which they used to paint nails and dye grey hair. FYI, both men and women used it to stain their lips red.


The Egyptians loved strong scents and made lots of perfumes using ingredients like myrrh, cinnamon, cassia, chamomile, lavender, peppermint, lily, cedar, aloe, rosemary, rose, olive oil and almond oil blended with animal fats and oils.

They knew several ways to make perfumes. A common method was enfleurage: flowers, roots or resins were soaked in layers of fat to create creams and pomades. These were worn in the shape of a cone on top of their heads and would melt throughout the day, running down their faces and necks, scenting them.

Another popular method was called maceration. Basically, they would heat fats or oils to a temperature of 65 degrees Celsius. Then, they would add flowers, herbs or fruits to it. Finally, the mixture was sieved and, once cooled, shaped into cones or balls.


On festive occasions, both men and women wore wings made of human hair. Archaeologists also found short fine tooth combs and hair pins used by Egyptians on their hair.


Although everyone, regardless of their social status wore makeup, you could tell who was rich and who was poor by the quality of the applicators and pots they used (kinda like today). Rich people kept their cosmetics in beautiful ornate and jewelled containers and used ivory applicators, while the poor had clay pots and small sticks.

What do you think of the ancient Egyptians’ beauty secrets? Share your thoughts in the comments below.



Dee February 3, 2010 - 12:41 am

I fell in love with Egypt when I was in Fashion History, lol. Its amazing the things they thought of fashion and beauty wise!
.-= Dee´s last blog ..I Hate Movie Maker & I Hate My Phone. =-.

Anastacia February 3, 2010 - 1:49 am

Aww! That is so interesting to know! Thanx for share!
.-= Anastacia´s last blog ..Tutorial: Sweet Eyes Candy Lips =-.

Tavia February 3, 2010 - 11:06 am

Really interesting article. I even saw a documentary on Discovery a while ago about makeup in Ancient Egypt and it was so interesting to know what tricks and plants they used to make makeup. πŸ™‚
.-= Tavia´s last blog ..Update: ORLY Bloom Spring I 2010 Collection – Swatches =-.

beautifulwithbrains February 3, 2010 - 12:03 pm

Dee, you were in Fashion History? That’s very interesting πŸ™‚

I agree, the Ancient Egypts and all aspects of their culture have always fascinated me and it’s nice to know what they used to think of makeup and they things they did beautywise.

beautifulwithbrains February 3, 2010 - 12:12 pm

Anastacia, you’re welcome. It’s very interesting, I agree πŸ™‚

beautifulwithbrains February 3, 2010 - 12:21 pm

Tavia, that must have been a very interesting documentary. It’s fascinating to know how ancient people made cosmetics, isn’t it?

Gejba February 3, 2010 - 9:52 pm

Very interesting post.
If I remember correctly they mixed minerals with olive oil to get make-up.
.-= Gejba´s last blog ..Valentine’s Day with Parokeets =-.

Phyrra February 4, 2010 - 4:18 am

Yay, thanks for sharing this. I knew some of it but not all πŸ™‚
.-= Phyrra´s last blog ..Bright Pink Look =-.

beautifulwithbrains February 4, 2010 - 7:10 pm

Gejba, I’m glad you enjoyed the post and yes, I believe some cosmetics were made like that. πŸ™‚

beautifulwithbrains February 4, 2010 - 7:15 pm

Phyrra, you’re welcome and I’m glad you found it interesting πŸ™‚

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arleih August 13, 2010 - 1:09 am

hey there, i’m doing an assignment on cosmetic, hair and nail beauty and adornment practices throughout history, pre 20th century. i actually have to do this research on atleast 4 different cultures, so the information you have here is great!! although, i’m just wanting to know, what years/decades these practices would have taken place thanks?
thanks so very much!

beautifulwithbrains August 13, 2010 - 8:52 pm

Arleih, good luck with your project and I’m glad this article helped you. Unfortunately my sources didn’t mention years/decades, just talked about cosmetics in ancient Egypt in general. I’ll do a search online and see if I can find more information.

arleih August 16, 2010 - 12:51 am

oh cool thanks so very much for that!

beautifulwithbrains August 22, 2011 - 6:30 am

Arleih, you’re welcome.

raj August 20, 2011 - 11:29 pm

hi thr im doing a assignment on hair care/adornment, nail care/adornment,make-up practics throughout history, pre-20th century i was lost until i found dis article, i was just wondering if u know, what years/decades these practices would have taken place thanks?

beautifulwithbrains August 22, 2011 - 6:32 am

Raj, all the best with your assignment and I’m lead this post helped you. Unfortunately my sources didn’t mention the period so I’m not sure in what decades these practices took place, sorry.

Christine Ross January 31, 2012 - 6:46 pm

I love this history. It was my fav part of cosmetology school!!/pages/CMR-Make-Up-Artistry/146870352040258

Please like my page and support this article because I just posted it on my page!

beautifulwithbrains January 31, 2012 - 7:11 pm

Christine, I’m glad you like it. It’s fascinating, isn’t it?

And thanks for sharing my post on facebook. I just liked your page. πŸ™‚

Laura | Makeup Scholar March 22, 2019 - 4:38 am

Fascinating article Gio!

I did know that the Egyptians loved their essential oils, and that they mixed red ochre and water together to create their own lip paint. However, I had no idea that the ancient Egyptians wore human hair wigs on their heads – or that they dyed grey hair with henna (not too different from us in that respect!).

I only recently learned from research by Hallmann (2009) that the lead used by the ancient Egyptians to create kohl wasn’t actually harmful for the wearer, because they were able to alter the lead in such a way to make it harmless (and actually beneficial) for the wearer. Just like the Egyptians, the ancient Greeks also applied a heavy kohl to their eyes. While their makeup and style was similar in some respects, there were also some significant differences between the ancient Greeks and Egyptians when it came to their look. In case your readers want to contrast the cosmetics here with those of ancient Greece, we recently posted a piece on the real history of the Greek goddess look:

Thanks again for this info – I learned a lot!


Gio March 29, 2019 - 12:43 pm

Hi Laura, thank you for your comment. I didn’t know that. So glad they were able to make it safe for people too.

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