Beauty History: Cosmetics In Ancient Greece

by Gio
the beauty secrets of the ancient greeks

We all want what we can’t have.

The Ancient Greeks were no different. Dark-haired and bronze-skinned, their ideal of beauty was the total opposite: long and curly golden locks, and pale porcelain skin.

So they faked it. Here’s how:

Skin

In Ancient Greece, pale skin was a sign of prestige and beauty. It meant women (and men) didn’t have to work for long hours in the fields to support themselves. They were wealthy – the proof was on their skin (literally).

To achieve the look, women painted their faces with white lead, a toxic substance that shortened their already short lives. If lead wasn’t available, they’d turn to chalk. It was only a last resort, as chalk wears off very easily.

This paint needed a smooth foundation. So, women slathered creams made with honey all over their faces to keep it moisturized. If they wanted a shinier, glowier look, they’d add a few drops of olive oil.

Related: 4 Skincare Uses For Olive Oil

Makeup

Ancient Greek women loved makeup – just like us. But they were so expensive back then, only the rich could afford them.

Not that you could see it. The no-makeup makeup look was all the rage. Natural beauty (achieved with unnatural means) was the ideal.

Next, they brightened their lips and cheeks with red-coloured pastes. Lipsticks were made with red iron oxide and ochre clays, or olive oil with beeswax. Olive oil was an essential ingredient of eyeshadows as well. It was mixed with ground charcoal.

But, the weirdest trend of all was the unibrow. Yep, that’s right. The Ancient Greeks, both male and female, used a dark powder to connect their brows!

Hair

In Ancient Greece, only female slaves wore their hair short. Free women had long hair, but could only wear it loose until they remained single. The moment they tied the knot, they’d tie it up, usually in a bun. If it was straight, they’d curl it. Diadem, jeweled combs, hair pins, scarfs, and other accessories completed the look.

Just like dark skin, dark hair wasn’t appreciated And most women had dark hair. So, they would lighten that too. How? By applying vinegar throughout their locks, and then sitting for hours in the sun. To prevent a tan, they’d wear broad-brimmed hats with a hole in the middle.

To keep their hair soft, moisturized, and shiny, they once again turned to olive oil. Applied and left on the hair for hours, it acts like a conditioning treatment. I do this too sometimes, and the result is amazing.

What do you think of the beauty secrets of the Ancient Greeks? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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59 comments

Vonvon March 3, 2010 - 5:31 pm

Interesting information! Normally, when we study Greek history, we would learn of the events, the wars, the warriors, but definitely not about beauty in the everyday life of an ancient Greek woman.
.-= Vonvon´s last blog ..Photos: My Shu Uemura Makeover =-.

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Saphire battersea July 2, 2016 - 7:19 pm

OMG! ???????

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Gio July 17, 2016 - 11:18 pm

Saphire, it’s crazy, isn’t it? 🙂

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Skyla October 5, 2019 - 5:59 pm

Someone you loved

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beautifulwithbrains March 3, 2010 - 7:17 pm

Vonvon, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Those things you listed are the same we learn here about Greek history too. But I really love history (was my fave subject at school) and discovering what people used to live like in the past. I find that fascinating and I thought it was nice to share it with you all.

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jess November 16, 2015 - 12:50 am

I need the author for a school project who wrote this?

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Gio November 16, 2015 - 3:14 pm

Jess, I did. My name is Giorgia Guazzarotti.

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Mara Hanns March 1, 2016 - 2:25 am

This was super helpful. I did a Greece makeup look for a project and this really helped!

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Gio March 3, 2016 - 8:45 pm

Mara, so glad to hear that. 🙂

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Simone March 3, 2010 - 8:12 pm

Wow, this was really interesting 🙂 I’m very interested in Ancient Greece and I knew what the beauty ‘trends’ were, but I never knew how they achieved them.

Didn’t (wealthy) women in most Western societies continue to use lead-based products to whiten their skin even up until the 18th century? I’m sure I read that somewhere…if not lead, something else that was toxic.
.-= Simone´s last blog ..Review: Sugarpill’s ChromaLust Loose Eyeshadows =-.

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Dao March 3, 2010 - 8:57 pm

It’s so interesting! In ancient history, mineral makeup was common and now, we started with this trend again.
.-= Dao´s last blog ..How to Trim Your Own Side-Sweep Bangs =-.

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Cathryn March 3, 2010 - 10:04 pm

Wait…connected eyebrows as in UNIBROWS?

Haha! I MUST be misuderstanding things. Other than that, amazingly interesting post!
.-= Cathryn´s last blog ..Tatcha Blotting Papers =-.

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beautifulwithbrains March 4, 2010 - 12:44 pm

Simone, I’m glad you found it interested. The Ancient Greek times were a very fascinating period imo.

Yep, you’re right. Lead was used by women up until about a century ago to whiten their skin. That may have shortened their life as lead causes paralysis and death. Mercury was also used for the same purpose and that’s toxic too.

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beautifulwithbrains March 4, 2010 - 1:15 pm

Dao, it is interesting indeed, isn’t it? I hadn’t thought about that, but you’e right. 🙂

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beautifulwithbrains March 4, 2010 - 8:10 pm

Cathryn, all my sources simply said connected eyebrows, but like you, I think that’s unibrows. I can’t see what else it could be. It’s interesting to know what ancient people’s idea of beauty was, even if that’s not really what we like these days, isn’t it?

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Layne May 6, 2010 - 8:59 am

Cathryn,

I remember learning about this in a costuming class in college. Yes, in ancient Greece it was considered really beautiful for a woman to have a unibrow, and if she couldn’t achieve it naturally she would basically pencil it in with charcoal. The unibrow, in their view, looked both attractive and intelligent. Go figure!

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beautifulwithbrains May 6, 2010 - 11:57 am

Layne, costuming class must be so fun and interesting. And it’s also interesting to learn what ancient people considered to be beautiful. Some of their trends were a bit, well strange, but I guess future generations will say the same of our ideal of beauty.

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Carina August 3, 2010 - 10:37 pm

It’s very interesting what the ancient people defined as beauty- painting white lead to brighten their complexions?? Crazyy .. ! 😛

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beautifulwithbrains August 4, 2010 - 10:22 am

Carina, I agree that it’s fascinating to know about the beauty secrets of the past and yes, they would do some crazy things to achieve the beauty ideals of the past. I don’t think we changed that much in that respect though. There are people that use cream with snail slime or have sperm facials done these days… so gross but at least’s they’re not deadly like lead. 🙂

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Patricia September 20, 2010 - 11:16 pm

Hey i’m doing a project about beauty and where it originated from and i need sources…. could you help me out?

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beautifulwithbrains September 22, 2010 - 2:56 pm

Patricia, do you mean the sources I used for this article or about the origins of beauty in general? I don’t remember what sources I used for this post I’m afraid but I can see if I manage to find them again by doing a search online.

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Ana November 6, 2010 - 9:02 pm

Love your blog – I just keep reading more and more!
Oh, I’ll finish now… just one more tip. Oooh, and history – well, I must read that, too. And… and… and…

🙂

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beautifulwithbrains November 7, 2010 - 10:06 pm

Ana, aww thank you! I’m really glad that you are enjoying my blog and I hope to see you around often in the future. 🙂

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Ana November 8, 2010 - 8:32 pm

You certainly will ^_^ !
Can’t wait for a new installment of Beauty History!

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beautifulwithbrains November 8, 2010 - 8:56 pm

I’m already working on that and I hope to have it finished soon. 🙂

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Kayla January 25, 2011 - 11:45 pm

I could not find ANYTHING on the history for Ancient Greek Women and their makeupfor my big project! You are my savior!
(: thankyou so much!

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beautifulwithbrains January 26, 2011 - 1:14 pm

Kayla, you’re welcome. I’m glad this post helped you. 🙂

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Jade March 22, 2012 - 11:29 pm

Fantastic, I used some of these facts for inspiration for my blog! Thanks!

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beautifulwithbrains March 23, 2012 - 6:55 pm

Jade, you’re welcome. I’m glad you found my post inspirational. 🙂

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Jessi September 3, 2012 - 4:11 pm

I’m doing a project on this and this is perfect the only thing i need is the time period for when this was all popular 😮 ? Like around which time period did people in Greece do this?

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beautifulwithbrains September 3, 2012 - 7:06 pm

Jessi, I used some online sources to write this article but unfortunately they didn’t mention the time period. They just said Ancient Greece. I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help and I wish you all the best with your project.

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Sam October 24, 2012 - 3:43 pm

Ancient Greeks would also use pigeon dropping to lighten their hair because the chemicals in the droppings were like a bleaching agent.

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beautifulwithbrains October 24, 2012 - 6:32 pm

Sam, ewww! But good to know, thanks for sharing!

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Kayla March 22, 2013 - 1:14 pm

Thank you soo much!! This was my last resort for my greek mythology class. Your such a great help! (:

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beautifulwithbrains March 22, 2013 - 8:22 pm

Kayla, you’re welcome. I’m glad I could help.

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Rayana March 27, 2013 - 12:41 pm

This is amazing. I’ve never seen so much info on a more social n beauty related things in history especially ancient Greeks. I love that period in time 😀

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beautifulwithbrains March 27, 2013 - 9:50 pm

Rayana, I’m glad you enjoyed it. It was a very interesting historical period indeed. 🙂

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Heavy Hedonist September 14, 2013 - 9:49 pm

Great info, again!

I still wash my face with honey at least once every week or so– it purifies, tones, and makes my skin look great.

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beautifulwithbrains September 15, 2013 - 4:44 pm

Heavy Hedonist, thank you. And that sounds lovely. I’m glad it works so well for you.

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Kay September 14, 2014 - 11:22 pm

would you happen to know how the curled their hair im doing a project and its the last info i need.

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Gio September 17, 2014 - 12:48 pm

Kay, I only know they used bronze rods and sometimes fake curls. Hope this helps.

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Jessica Gibson October 8, 2014 - 5:25 am

Absolutely loved this article. It was exactly what I was looking for. I’m trying to also learn about ancient Rome and Egyptian cosmetics. I want to know the differences and similarities, mainly for useless knowledge to talk about but also so I can feel good about my Halloween costume this year knowing my makeup is accurate..even if my sassy costume won’t be.

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Gio October 8, 2014 - 7:53 pm

Jessica, I’m glad you enjoyed this article. I’m sure you’ll great in your Halloween costume. 🙂

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Jamie November 26, 2014 - 11:53 am

The making of this blog is right on my b-day!!!!!Hhehehehehe….this blog helped me A LOT!!!!!!its awesome!!! Now i can domy research payless and freee!

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Gio November 26, 2014 - 7:00 pm

Jamie, what a lovely coincidence! Thank you, I’m glad it helps you. 🙂

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Sophia Jee September 7, 2015 - 7:09 am

This is great info… Thanks..
It would help if you added whether they used jewellery or not!

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Gio September 7, 2015 - 7:52 pm

Sophie, yes, they did. But I don’t know much about that. Will have to do some research.

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Jamie November 26, 2014 - 11:57 am

Ermm the only thing that puzzled me is that:
Do men wear makeups?why?…..
and……..ummmm……uhh…..AHA!nahhh……ummm…
And….how did they do allthese makeups!and the procedures (pssst write SPG)

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Gio November 26, 2014 - 7:04 pm

Jamie, it’s great what some would do in the name of beauty, isn’t it?

I will do more research and let you know what I find out. 🙂

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[…] but it’s more than just the praise that comes from this beauty, it’s the power. In ancient Greek culture, it was habit for people to be judged solely based on their looks. And although that seems […]

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Em April 4, 2018 - 5:57 pm

Hi, I am using your article for a history paper and I am wondering what references you used for your information. Thank you!

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Gio April 8, 2018 - 11:40 am

EM, I’m sorry but I’ve written this long ago and don’t remember my sources anymore. I read a lot! All the best with your history paper. 🙂

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Leesh May 6, 2018 - 7:53 am

Amazing article, really helpful. I have a question though, what year was it written in?

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Gio May 19, 2018 - 10:22 am

Leesh, glad you found it helpful. It was published on 3rd March 2010.

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Leesh July 4, 2018 - 4:51 am

Thank you Gio.

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Gio July 5, 2018 - 8:07 pm

My pleasure, Leesh!

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Jess December 30, 2019 - 4:30 pm

The most important part of the research is that Olive oil, honey, beeswax, vinegar are still used in cosmetic products today. Still effective millennia later, still no phthalates, parabens, silicone, or processed with hexanes and today’s toxic cocktails!
With the benefit of today’s scientific methods and research labs, the flora and fauna of the ancient world have indeed been proven tried and true! Hence the resurgence of popularity of organically grown items like rose, orange flower, lavender hydrosols facial toners and grape seed, olive, Marula and coconut oils! They are still safe, non toxic and effective to use on the skin and hair.

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