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Beauty History: Cosmetics 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:
Why did ancient Egyptian men wear cosmetics?
Near the Egyptian Valley of the Kings and Queens, on the western side of the Nile River, are the ruins of Deir el-Medina. The maze of waist-high stone walls and shattered artifacts belonged to a village of workers who toiled in the subterranean tombs of New Kingdom pharaohs and queens, including Tutankhamen. From roughly 1525 to 1075 B.C., the royal government supplied these conscripts with all of their basic needs, such as meat, grains and vegetables, in exchange for the sweat of their brows. As the decades gave way to centuries, Deir el-Medina evolved into a robust community, complete with its own village government and cottage industries.
Then, during the reign of Ramses III (1187 to 1156 B.C.), the residents in Deir el-Medina staged what could be considered the first workers' strike in history. Their government-supplied grain hadn't arrived as scheduled [source: Bard and Shubert]. And to make matters worse, officials had also withheld a shipment of massage oils [source: Strouhal, Strouhal and Forman]. The laborers considered the greasy balm essential for their well-being, and without it, they quit working and demanded government intervention.
Oils and animals fats protected the Egyptians' skin from the harsh heat and sunlight of the Nile River delta and soothed their aching muscles. Employers commonly included them as part of a worker's compensation. Sometimes scented or pressed into thick lotions, primitive moisturizers were just one cosmetic involved in an Egyptian man's health regimen.
For instance, before leaving the house for a day's work or heading to a banquet or celebration, an upper-class Egyptian man might take a few moments to adorn his eyes. Like King Tut's thickly lined eyes that stare out from the young pharaoh's sarcophagus, black kohl liner that extended beyond the eyelids to the temples was in vogue during the New Kingdom. Black had replaced green as the shade of choice. Old Kingdom (2650 to 2134 B.C.) fashion had called for a crude emerald eye shadow made of malachite (copper carbonate). To apply their bold highlights, Egyptians might use a flattened and smoothed piece of wood or bone to sweep the powered mineral from the brow line to the base of the nose [source: Stewart].
This ancient Egyptian affinity for cosmetics wasn't purely steeped in vanity. Men, women and children all adhered to remarkably strict personal hygiene regimens dictated by the climate, religion and social hierarchy.
The Ancient Egyptian Cosmetics Counter
The interior passageways of the Valley of the Kings and Queens are embellished with frescoes illustrating daily life in ancient Egypt as well as the afterlife. They showed strapping men sporting dark eye makeup created from ground mineral powders and fats. The smoky kohl liner they wore served both practical and ritualistic purposes. It was thought to repel flies, protect the eyes from the sun's rays and ward off infection [source: Strouhal, Strouhal and Forman]. The dramatic makeup also imitated the facial markings of the sun god Horus, who was often depicted as a falcon [source: Stewart].
Ancient Egyptians paid careful attention to facial and body hair, as evidenced by hair stylists and barbers depicted in their artwork. For men, only during times of mourning were they allowed to abandon shaving or trimming their beards [source: Sherrow]. Male priests plucked out all their body hair, including eyebrows and lashes, to sanctify themselves [source: Sherrow]. Upper-class Egyptians would regularly wear perfumed wigs and false beards of human hair, and even lower-class citizens would don faux extensions made of vegetable fiber.
In addition to their function as skin moisturizers, oils and animal fats were also utilized for hair care. Men might rub the fat from a lion, snake, or other animal onto their scalps as a homeopathic remedy for baldness [source: Shaw]. Egyptians also delayed going gray by covering silvery strands with red-tinted henna dye. On festive occasions, men and women secured scented cones of dried fats on the tops of their heads. Melting in the heat, the cones then released the fragrance of pressed lilies, myrrh, cardamom and other flowers and spices.
Socially, cosmetics and accessories reflected one's rank in ancient Egypt, as in today's culture to some extent. Like designer handbags toted around as a status symbol, one sign of a wealthy Egyptian woman was a portable cosmetics box. On the other end of the social spectrum, female dancers and concubines were tattooed with dotted designs and images of Bes, the goddess of song and home [source: Lineberry].
After death, beauty aids still weren't far from reach. Within the Valley of the Kings and Queens, those laborers of Deir el-Medina transported cosmetic items such as boxes of wigs, glittering jewelry and palettes of eye shadow into the burial chambers. Higher-ranking craftsmen in the village may also have been interred with similar comforts. Even in the afterlife, ancient Egyptian men and women needed to primp.
Ancient Egyptian cosmetics: “Magical” makeup may have been medicine for eye disease
WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2010 — There’s more to the eye makeup that gave Queen Nefertiti and other ancient Egyptian royals those stupendous gazes and legendary beauty than meets the eye. Scientists in France are reporting that the alluring eye makeup also may have been used to help prevent or treat eye disease by doubling as an infection-fighter. Their findings are scheduled for the next (Jan. 15, 2010) issue of the American Chemical Society (ACS) semi-monthly journal, Analytical Chemistry.
Christian Amatore, Philippe Walter, and colleagues note that thousands of years ago the ancient Egyptians used lead-based substances as cosmetics, including an ingredient in black eye makeup. Some Egyptians believed that this makeup also had a “magical” role in which the ancient gods Horus and Ra would protect wearers against several illnesses. Until now, however, modern scientists largely dismissed that possibility, knowing that lead-based substances can be quite toxic.
In earlier research, the scientists analyzed 52 samples from ancient Egyptian makeup containers preserved in the Louvre museum in Paris. They identified four different lead-based substances in the makeup. In the new study, they found that the substances boosted production of nitric oxide by up to 240 per cent in cultured human skin cells. Modern scientists recognize nitric oxide as a key signalling agent in the body. Its roles include revving-up the immune system to help fight disease. Eye infections caused by bacteria can be a serious problem in tropical marshy areas such as the Nile area during floods, the scientists note. Therefore, the ancient Egyptians may have deliberately used these lead-based cosmetics to help prevent or treat eye disease, the researchers suggest, noting that two of the compounds do not occur naturally and must have been synthesized by ancient Egyptian “chemists.”
The full text of their paper is available here. An excerpt follows:
“The present data thus establish that the eyes of Egyptians bearing the black makeup were presumably prone to immediately resist a sudden bacterial contamination with extreme efficiency through the spontaneous action of their own immune cells. Indeed, it is well recognized today that in most tropical marshy areas, such as was the Nile area during floods, several bacterial infections are transmitted to humans following any accidental projection of contaminated water drops into one’s eye. These data fully support that Horus’ and Ra’s protection that ancient Egyptians associated with this makeup and particularly with its laurionite component was real and effective, despite the fact that its “magic” implications seemed a priori totally irreconcilable with our modern scientific views and contrast with our present understanding of the toxicity of lead ions. One cannot evidently go as far as to propose that laurionite was purposely introduced into the composition of the makeup because of any recognized antibacterial properties. Yet, one can presume that ancient Egyptian “chemists” recognized empirically that whenever this “white precipitate” was present in the makeup paste, their bearers were enjoying better health and thus decided to amplify this empirical protective function by specifically manufacturing laurionite. Many examples of such subtle observations and medical conclusions that would have a priori been surprising can be found even in our recent history. It is sufficient, for example, to think about the historical origin of penicillin, aspirin, or quinine. . .
Anyway, whether or not the manufacture of these lead chlorides was deliberately connected to preventive health care by Egyptians, it is clear that such intentional production remains the first known example of a large scale chemical process. It is no wonder that “kemej,” the Egyptian word that referred to the Egyptian land and to the black earth of the Nile valley, was handed to us via the Greeks and then the Arabs to eventually coin our present ‘chemistry’.”
A History of Cosmetics from Ancient Times
Civilizations have used cosmetics – though not always recognizable compared to today’s advanced products – for centuries in religious rituals, to enhance beauty, and to promote good health. Cosmetics usage throughout history can be indicative of a civilization’s practical concerns, such as protection from the sun, indication of class, or conventions of beauty. The timeline below represents a brief history of cosmetics, beginning with the Ancient Egyptians in 10,000 BCE through modern developments in the United States. You can use the following navigation to jump to specific points in time.
Cosmetics in the Ancient World
Cosmetics are an integral part of Egyptian hygiene and health. Men and women in Egypt use scented oils and ointments to clean and soften their skin and mask body odor. Oils and creams are used for protection against the hot Egyptian sun and dry winds. Myrrh, thyme, marjoram, chamomile, lavender, lily, peppermint, rosemary, cedar, rose, aloe, olive oil, sesame oil, and almond oil provide the basic ingredients of most perfumes Egyptians use in religious rituals.
Egyptian women apply galena mesdemet (made of copper and lead ore) and malachite (bright green paste of copper minerals) to their faces for color and definition. They use kohl (a combination of burnt almonds, oxidized copper, different colored coppers ores, lead, ash, and ochre) to adorn the eyes in an almond shape. Women carry cosmetics to parties in makeup boxes and keep them under their chairs.
The Chinese stain their fingernails with gum arabic, gelatin, beeswax, and egg. The colors are used as a representation of social class: Chou dynasty royals wear gold and silver, with subsequent royals wearing black or red. Lower classes are forbidden to wear bright colors on their nails.
Grecian women paint their faces with white lead and apply crushed mulberries as rouge. The application of fake eyebrows, often made of oxen hair, is also fashionable.
Chinese and Japanese citizens commonly use rice powder to make their faces white. Eyebrows are shaved off, teeth are painted gold or black, and henna dyes are applied to stain hair and faces.
Grecians whiten their complexion with chalk or lead face powder and fashion crude lipstick out of ochre clays laced with red iron.
Cosmetics in the Early Common Era (CE)
In Rome, people put barley flour and butter on their pimples and sheep fat and blood on their fingernails for polish. In addition, mud baths come into vogue, and some Roman men dye their hair blonde.
Henna is used in India both as a hair dye and in mehndi, an art form in which complex designs are painted on the hands and feet using a paste made from the henna plant, especially before a Hindu wedding. Henna is also used in some North African cultures.
Cosmetics in the Middle Ages
Perfumes are first imported to Europe from the Middle East as a result of the Crusades.
In Elizabethan England, dyed red hair comes into fashion. Society women wear egg whites over their faces to create the appearance of a paler complexion. Some people believe, however, that cosmetics blocked proper circulation and therefore pose a health threat.
Italy and France emerge as the main centers of cosmetics manufacturing in Europe, and only the aristocracy has access. Arsenic is sometimes used in face powder instead of lead. The modern notion of complex scent-making evolves in France. Early fragrances are amalgams of naturally occurring ingredients. Later, chemical processes for combining and testing scents surpass their arduous and labor-intensive predecessors.
European women often attempt to lighten their skin using a variety of products, including white lead paint. Queen Elizabeth I of England is one well-known user of white lead, with which she creates a look known as “the Mask of Youth.” Blonde hair rises in popularity as it is considered angelic. Mixtures of black sulfur, alum, and honey are painted onto the hair and lighten with sun exposure.
19th and Early 20th Century Global Cosmetics Developments
Zinc oxide becomes widely used as a facial powder, replacing the previously used deadly mixtures of lead and copper. One such mixture, Ceruse, which is made from white lead, is later discovered to be toxic and blamed for health problems including facial tremors, muscle paralysis, and even death.
Queen Victoria publicly declares makeup improper. It is viewed as vulgar and acceptable only for use by actors.
In Edwardian Society, pressure increases on middle-aged women to appear youthful while acting as hostesses. As a result, cosmetics use increases, but is not yet completely popularized.
Beauty salons rise in popularity, though patronage of such salons is not widely accepted. Because many women do not wish to publicly admit they have assistance achieving their youthful appearances, they often enter salons through the back door.
From its earliest days, the United States has been at the forefront of cosmetics innovation, entrepreneurship, and regulation. The timeline below represents a brief history of the important developments and American usage trends, as well as a regulatory history of cosmetics in the U.S.
Growth of the Industry
David McConnell founds the California Perfume Company (CPC), then located in New York. Over time, the company continues to grow and experiences great success, selling five million units in North America during World War I alone. In 1928, CPC sells its first products – toothbrush, powdered cleanser, and a vanity set – under the name by which it is commonly known today: Avon. The Avon line of cosmetics was introduced the next year, in 1929.
The extremely competitive nature of the industry drives a group led by New York perfumer Henry Dalley to found the Manufacturing Perfumers’ Association. The group evolved over time and, after several name changes, is now known as the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC).
The number of U.S. firms manufacturing perfumery and toilet goods increases from 67 (in 1880) to 262. By 1900, cosmetics are in widespread use around the world, including the United States.
Eugene Schueller, a young French chemist, invents modern synthetic hair dye which he calls “Oréal.” In 1909, Schueller names his company Societe Francaise de Teintures Inoffensives pour Cheveux (Safe Hair Dye Company of France), which today has become L’Oréal.
American women begin to fashion their own form of mascara by applying beads of wax to their eyelashes.
World War I & Aftermath
The onset of World War I leads to increased employment among American women. This gain in disposable income, with more discretion over its use, leads to a boom in domestic cosmetics sales.
Chemist T.L. Williams creates Maybelline Mascara for his sister, Mabel, the product’s inspiration.
Congress passes the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, commonly known as Prohibition. As originally drafted, the Amendment might have outlawed perfumes and toilet goods because of their alcohol content. The Manufacturing Perfumers’ Association (MPA), however, mobilized its forces and persuaded Congress to clarify the language to exempt products unfit for use as beverages.
The Roaring 20s
The flapper look comes into fashion for the first time and, with it, increased cosmetics use: dark eyes, red lipstick, red nail polish, and the suntan, which is first noted as a fashion statement by Coco Chanel.
Cosmetics and fragrances are manufactured and mass marketed in America for the first time.
Max Factor, a Polish-American cosmetician and former cosmetics expert for the Russian royal family, invents the word “makeup” and introduces Society Makeup to the general public, enabling women to emulate the looks of their favorite movie stars.
The first liquid nail polish, several forms of modern base, powdery blushes, and the powder compact are introduced.
The Manufacturing Perfumers’ Association (MPA) changes its name to the American Manufacturers of Toilet Articles (AMTA).
Max Factor, now living in Hollywood, unveils the very first lip-gloss.
A pound of face powder was sold annually for every woman in the U.S. and there were more than 1,500 face creams on the market. The concept of color harmony in makeup was introduced simultaneously, and major cosmetics companies began producing integrated lines of lipsticks, fingernail lacquers, and foundations.
The Great Depression
Due to the influence of movie stars, the Hollywood “tan” look emerges and adds to the desire for tanned skin, first made popular by fashion designer Coco Chanel, who accidentally got sunburnt visiting the French Riviera in 1923. When she arrived home, her fans apparently liked the look and started to adopt darker skin tones themselves.
In the midst of the Great Depression, brothers Charles and Joseph Revson, along with chemist Charles Lachman, found Revlon, after discovering a unique manufacturing process for nail enamel, using pigments instead of dyes. This innovation was ultimately responsible for Revlon’s success it became a multimillion dollar corporation within just six years. Revlon also borrowed the concept of “planned obsolescence” from General Motors Corp. to introduce seasonal color changes. Until World War II, women tended to use an entire lipstick or bottle of nail polish before purchasing a new one.
Drene, the first detergent-based shampoo, is introduced into the marketplace by Procter & Gamble.
Max Factor develops and introduces pancake makeup to meet the unique requirements of Technicolor film. When actresses started taking it home for personal use, he realized his new invention looked wonderful both on and off camera and decided to introduce pancake makeup to the general retail trade.
Eugene Schueller (founder of L’Oréal) invents the first sunscreen. Despite its relative ineffectiveness, this development leads to the invention of Glacier Cream by Austrian scientist, Franz Greiter. Introduced in 1938, this product is cited as the first commercially viable sun protection cream. In 1962, Greiter introduced the concept for the Sun Protection Factor rating system (SPF), which has since become the worldwide standard for measuring the effectiveness of sunscreen.
Cosmetics were excluded from the Pure Food & Drug Act of 1906 because they were not considered a serious public health concern. However, an incident linked to use of an eyeliner product forced Congress to pass the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act, which greatly expanded FDA’s authority to regulate cosmetics.
World War II & Aftermath
Leg makeup is developed in response to a shortage of stockings during World War II.
The FDA is transferred from the Department of Agriculture to the Federal Security Agency and Walter G. Campbell is appointed the first Commissioner of Food and Drugs.
Companies such as Procter & Gamble (who made products such as soap and laundry detergents) begin to sponsor daytime television programs that will eventually be called “soap operas,” the first of which was called These Are My Children.
The Modern Era of Cosmetics
The Modern Era of the cosmetics business begins as television advertising is first implemented in earnest.
Mum, the first company to commercially market deodorant, launches the first roll-on deodorant (under the brand name of Ban Roll-On), which is inspired by the design of another recently invented product – the ballpoint pen.
Crest, the first toothpaste with fluoride clinically proven to fight cavities, is introduced by Procter & Gamble.
Congress passes the Color Additive Amendments, in response to an outbreak of illnesses in children caused by an orange Halloween candy, which requires manufacturers to establish the safety of color additives in foods, drugs, and cosmetics. The Amendments included a provision called the “Delaney Clause’" that prohibited the use of color additives shown to be a human or animal carcinogen.
“Natural” products based on botanical ingredients, such as carrot juice and watermelon extract, were first introduced. False eyelashes became popular.
The first aerosol deodorant is introduced – Gillette’s Right Guard.
Congress enacts the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA), which requires all consumer products in interstate commerce to be honestly and informatively labeled, with FDA enforcing provisions on foods, drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices.
The Toilet Goods Association (TGA) changes its name to the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association (CTFA).
In response to a citizen petition filed by the CTFA, the FDA Office of Colors and Cosmetics established the Voluntary Cosmetic Reporting Program (VCRP) in 1971. The VCRP is an FDA post-market reporting system for use by manufacturers, packers, and distributors of cosmetic products that are in commercial distribution in the United States it demonstrated the industry’s commitment to cosmetic safety and furthered the safety evaluation of cosmetic ingredients.
CTFA establishes the International Cosmetic Ingredient Nomenclature Committee (INC) – comprised of dedicated scientists from industry, academia, regulatory authorities and sister trade associations – to develop and assign uniform names for cosmetic ingredients. “INCI” names are uniform, systematic names internationally recognized to identify cosmetics ingredients that are published biennially in the International Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary and Handbook.
The environmental movement brings challenges to the cosmetics and fragrance industry. The use of some popular ingredients, including musk and ambergris, is banned following the enactment of endangered species protection legislation.
CTFA, with the support of the FDA and the Consumer Federation of America, establishes the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel. The goal of the CIR is to bring together worldwide published and unpublished data on the safety of cosmetics ingredients, and for an independent expert panel to subsequently review that data. The seven-member panel consists of scientists and physicians from the fields of dermatology, pharmacology, chemistry, and toxicology selected by a steering committee and publicly nominated by government agencies, industry, and consumers. The panel thoroughly reviews and assesses the safety of ingredients and ultimately publishes the final results in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Toxicology. Today, CIR has reviewed thousands of the most commonly used cosmetics ingredients.
The 80’s saw a dramatic change from previous decades where women typically wore makeup that was natural and light. Instead, the new order of the day was to experiment with heavy layers of bold, bright colors. Gone was the golden glow of the 70’s, replaced by foundation that was one or two shades lighter than women’s natural skin tone. Smokey eyes in bright colors such as fuchsia, electric blue, orange, and green were hugely popular. The 80’s was all about taking your look to the extreme, championed by superstars such as Madonna and Cyndi Lauper.
Concerns about contaminated makeup emerged late in the decade. An FDA report in 1989 found that more than five percent of cosmetics samples collected from department store counters were contaminated with mold, fungi, and pathogenic organisms.
PCPC donates $1 million to fund a national center for the development of alternatives to animal testing – the Johns Hopkins School Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT). Its mission is to promote and support research in animal testing alternatives. To date, CAAT has funded to approximately 300 grants totaling more than $6 million.
Look Good Feel Better is founded by the Look Good Feel Better Foundation (formerly the Personal Care Products Council Foundation) – a charitable organization established by CTFA to help hundreds of thousands of women with cancer by improving their self-esteem and confidence through lessons on skin and nail care, cosmetics, and accessories to address the appearance-related side effects of treatment.
Animal testing for cosmetics continues to be a hot topic in the beauty industry, driven by consumer preferences. In June 1989, Avon became the first major cosmetics company in the world to announce a permanent end to animal testing of its products, including testing done in outside laboratories. Other companies subsequently follow suit throughout the next decade and efforts intensify to develop and gain governmental approvals for alternative methods to substantiate product safety.
The first ever Cosmetics Harmonization and International Cooperation (CHIC) meeting is held in Brussels, Belgium. At the conference, representatives from the U.S. FDA the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare (MHLW) Health Canada and Directorate General III of the European Union discuss broad cosmetics topics, including: basic safety substantiation, exchange of data and information, development of an international alert system, and an international memorandum of cooperation.
Consumers in the early 2000s are pressed for time. As the pace of work and home life became more stressful and hectic, cosmetics and personal care products that emphasized relaxation, but which could still be used quickly, constituted a strong category within the industry. Among these products are aromatherapy scented body washes, as well as other liquid and gel soaps, which start to replace traditional bar soaps.
The industry experiences increased challenges including product safety concerns, calls for scientific data to document product claims, increasing environmental concerns, and pressure from the growing animal rights movement. Congress began investigating possible revisions to the traditional “drug” and “cosmetic” definitions established under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
The European Union (EU) implements an animal testing ban on finished cosmetics products.
The CTFA develops the Consumer Commitment Code, which highlights the voluntary, proactive, and responsible approach to product safety supported by cosmetics companies. The Code is intended to enhance confidence and transparency for consumers and government regulators.
The Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association (CTFA) changes its name to the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC). PCPC supports numerous legislative initiatives in the states of California, Massachusetts and New York, and launches Cosmeticsinfo.org to assist consumers in understanding the products they use as well as the industry’s record of safety in the formulation of those products.
The International Cooperation on Cosmetics Regulation (ICCR) is established, comprised of a voluntary, international group of cosmetics regulatory authorities from Brazil, Canada, the European Union, Japan, and the United States. This group of regulatory authorities meets on an annual basis to discuss common issues on cosmetics safety and regulation.
The European Commission (EC) issues regulation governing product claims, protecting consumers from misleading claims concerning efficacy and other characteristics of cosmetic products.
PCPC commissions a study to help quantify the important contributions the cosmetics industry makes to the economy and society. The findings illustrate the deep commitment of personal care leaders to promote and advance environmental, social, and economic benefits to its consumers.
PCPC begins working with FDA and Congressional staff on a multi-year process to develop a framework for cosmetics reform legislation that would strengthen FDA oversight and provide for national uniformity and preemption of disparate state cosmetic regulations.
Due to rising concerns about the potential environmental impacts, the cosmetics industry supports the enactment of the Microbead-Free Waters Act, which prohibits the manufacture and sale of rinse-off cosmetics (including toothpaste) that contain intentionally-added plastic microbeads.
PCPC successfully petitions FDA to issue draft guidance for lead impurities in lip products and externally applied cosmetics, providing critical regulatory certainty consistent with international policies.
PCPC issues an updated Economic and Social Contributions Report, documenting the vital role the industry plays in every state.
CIR completes the scientific safety assessments of 5,278 ingredients since the program began. Findings continue to be published in International Journal of Toxicology.
Recognizing that sunscreens are considered “drugs” and therefore banned in schools, PCPC successfully spearheads a coalition of more than 30 stakeholders in support of state legislation that allows students to have and apply sunscreen at school.
5 Ancient Egyptian Cosmetics
The ancient Egyptians fascinate us. Our modern culture devotes museums, books and movies to the study and celebration of Egyptian society and traditions. From King Tut mania to Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra, we're obsessed. This is likely because they left behind so many well-preserved artifacts and we have so much to sift through and admire.
One facet of the ancient Egyptian culture we find particularly interesting is their use of makeup. Even for the afterlife, the Egyptians found cosmetics important. It's not uncommon for archaeologists to find small clay pots of makeup in even the most humble tombs. Yes, beauty was important to the Egyptians, but makeup served another purpose. Some of their beautification rituals also helped protect them from the elements -- repelling insects or warding off the sun's burning rays. Many times, the application of makeup also served as a ritual to honor their gods or goddesses.
So what sort of makeup and beauty items did our ancient Egyptian friends favor? How do our cosmetics today compare? Keep reading to find out.
Probably the most distinctive look among the ancient Egyptians is the eye paint. The Egyptians used both black and green paints to decorate the area around their eyes. The black eye paint came from powdered galena (a type of crystal rock). Today, we call the galena powder kohl. The dark lines around the eyes helped protect them from the sun -- similar to why today's football players put black smudges under their eyes during play.
The green came from malachite powder (an emerald-colored mineral). Interestingly, scientists later found that the malachite powder actually helped protect the eyes from infection -- another good reason to wear this makeup [source: Filer].
To make the paints, Egyptians would powder the minerals on a palette and then mix them with something that would help the color adhere to the eye. Researchers believe they used ointments made from animal fat, judging from what's been discovered in ancient tombs. Egyptians applied this eye paint using either a finger or a custom applicator -- usually a little stick of bone or wood.
In ancient Egypt, everyone wore makeup. However, you could tell who was rich and who was poor by the quality of their applicators and pots. Wealthy people typically had ivory applicators and jeweled containers. Poor people used clay pots and small sticks to apply their eye makeup.
Perhaps because fragrance was so abundant in Egypt -- from scented flowers along the Nile to imported oils and tree resins -- the ancient Egyptians created a lot of perfume.
Their tastes ran toward things like frankincense, myrrh, cassia and cinnamon. Artisans would distill these with oils or fats to extract the scent. Using a method called enfleurage, they would soak flowers, resins or roots in layers of fat. After a while, they'd have lumps of scented creams or pomades. Egyptians would actually wear these pomades in the shape of a cone on the tops of their heads. As the day or evening progressed, the pomade began to melt and fragrant oil would run down the face and neck, scenting the hair and body.
In another process called maceration, Egyptians heated oil or fat to 149 degrees Fahrenheit (65 degrees Celsius). They added flowers, herbs or fruits to the hot mixture and then ran it through a sieve. After allowing the mixture to cool, they shaped it into cones or balls. This is the sort of solid perfume we still use today.
These oils also protected the skin against harsh elements like sun and sand.
In addition to perfumes, ancient Egyptians also used soaps. They believed that an unclean body with unpleasant odors was undesirable and impure. The soaps they used were not like the bars or body washes we use today. Many of these soaps were a paste of ash or clay, mixed with oil, sometimes scented. This resulted in a material that not only cleaned the body, but also soothed any skin disease or damage.
The reason these soaps helped heal the skin was that the Egyptians often used olive oil for their cleansing rituals. Olive oil provides many benefits to the skin and body. It moisturizes and nourishes the skin, rather than drying it out -- something very important in a dry climate like Egypt. Also, olive oil contains polyphenols. Polyphenols can actually help the skin recover from sun damage and stress.
More wealthy Egyptians had several washbasins and water jugs at their disposal. Mixing sand in jugs filled with water and salt helped scour the body clean.
Ancient Egyptians also used soaps to prepare wool for weaving, making it more pliable and easier to work with.
The blistering sun and windswept sands of ancient Egypt caused dry skin, burns and infections for its people. Because of this, skin care was an important regimen for the Egyptians.
Body oils were so central to their well-being that workers actually received them as part of their wages. Both men and women used moisturizers on their skin to protect it from the arid climate. Sometimes people used honey on their skin -- both for the fragrance and its ability to hydrate. Additionally, evidence shows that women sometimes used oil to remove stretch marks after pregnancy. And men rubbed certain oils on their heads to stimulate hair growth or ward off baldness. Not so different from today!
Although oils were a necessity for day-to-day living, the addition of fragrance transformed them into luxury items. The most valuable oils were those blended with flowers and other scents. The ancient Egyptians even anointed statues of their gods with aromatic oils to honor them.
Some historians claim that Cleopatra's secret to supple skin and youthful glow was bathing regularly in the milk of donkeys [source: Ruiz].
Still used today for body decoration and hair coloring, henna is a natural dye. It comes from the dried leaves of a shrub called Lawsonia inermis. Its leaves are green, but after drying and crushing, they form a deep orange-red powder. The powder is mixed with water to form a paste. Henna is a temporary dye and lasts on the skin or hair for several weeks before fading away.
Archaeologists report discovering traces of henna on the fingernails of mummified pharaohs. The henna not only decorated the nails of these members of royalty, but conditioned them as well. Henna, as well as being decorative, has medicinal properties. Physically, Egyptians felt henna improved the quality of hair and nails. Spiritually, they believed henna provided good fortune. This belief still holds true in many parts of the world -- for example, the henna ritual for brides of many cultures.
Both women and men also used henna to stain their lips a deep red. Cosmetics companies offer henna-based lip stains even today, touting the long-lasting effects of the natural dye.
Around 100 A.D., the Romans stayed beautiful by using wine as a cheek stain and painted their faces and bodies with chalk to achieve a pale, whitish look. They even created acne treatments by combining barley flour and butter. The Romans also dyed their hair, but they used lye—causing many people to lose their hair and forcing them to wear wigs. The Greeks stained their cheeks and lips using vermillion and the juice from berries. They darkened their lashes with black incense.
Unlike today when tans are coveted, in the Middle Ages being pale was all the rage! Women wanted so badly to be pale that they allowed themselves to be painted or even bled in order to achieve the colorless look. Tattoos became popular during this time period in addition to colored eyeshadow, such as blues, greens, grays, and browns.
1970s & 1980s
Through the later 20th century, makeup for men was hardly mainstream. Instead, it was reserved for the fringe: artists and rock 'n' rollers like Boy George, David Bowie, and Prince. Around this time, though, many of the most legendary male makeup artists began working in the field. The late Way Bandy began his work in 1967, followed by Kevyn Aucoin in 1982, and a plethora of male makeup artists followed suit. One such artist was Scott Barnes, whose brushes have graced about every big name in Hollywood. When asked whether he's seen a change in the men behind the scenes in makeup, Barnes responded to us with a gender-subverting revelation: "There have always been men as makeup artists. Actually, right now, there are more female makeup artists than ever before."
Bentonite clay is a popular cosmetic and health ingredient as we return to ancient beauty treatments. According to BurtsBees.com, ‘clay has skin-softening properties and helps exfoliate dead skin cells and draw out impurities from the skin.’
Another ancient beauty treatment would have been the use of hemp seed oil as a moisturizer. BurtsBees.com says that hemp seed oil is excellent for skin due to the ‘high content of proteins and essential fatty acids. The fatty acids in hemp closely resemble our own skin’s lipids, so they are readily absorbed into the skin. The oil is said to help slow skin’s aging and provide a healthy moisture balance. Additionally, it offers relief to acne, minor abrasions, psoriasis and eczema.’
The History Of Wooden Chests And Storage Boxes
From the earliest days, humans have furnished their dwellings with the items they needed to survive and over the centuries the wooden chest, storage boxes and trunks have become the most common piece of furniture found in the home. Over time the simple storage chest has evolved into different styles and been modified for different uses: wooden boxes, storage chests, tool chests, treasure chests, blanket boxes and steamer trunks. Wooden chests and trunks have became the most useful, and most versatile piece in furniture’s history.
As long ago as 3,000 years ago the Egyptians had already developed advanced methods for building boxes and wooden chests with dovetail joints, including their ceremonial and burial sarcophagi with incredible carving, metalwork, inlaid jewels, and gilding. Even the poorest Egyptians would have used reed wooden chests to store things. Image 1 King Tutankhamun’s Painted Chest (ruled 1332–1323 BC). Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt
King Tutankhamun’s Painted Chest (ruled 1332–1323 BC). Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt
In ancient Greek and Roman times people stored their belongings in wooden chests and coffers, whilst the wealthy owned more ornate beautifully made trunks and treasure chests.
Image 2 A strongbox found in an ancient Roman villa
The image above shows a Roman storage chest used as a strongbox contained over 200 coins together with a collection of gold and silver jewellery- it was found in the peristyle. The wooden framework of the box is covered with iron sheets, and is inscribed “Pythonymos, Pytheas, and Nikokrates, the workers of Herakleides, made [this].” The items of jewellery include a bronze seal ring bearing the inscription L.CRAS.TERT.
However in Britain, life for even rich Saxons was hard and trunks were very simple. Very little is known about Saxon trunks and chests but they must have been basic and heavy. The storage chest really only came into its own in the Medieval and Middle Ages when wealthy nobles would own literally hundreds upon hundreds of wooden treasure chests and trunks, as indicated by their wills. They served as both furniture and luggage and storage chests, as well as treasure chests, tool chests and weapon chests, as well as to keep clothing clean and dry. They could even be used as food larders. The image below shows a Saxon storage chest.
The designs of wooden chests and trunks were heavily influenced by their intended use. Designs without feet or legs were easier for travelling, especially by cart or wagon. Designs of trunks and chests with legs were much better for use as a storage chest and kept their contents cleaner and with the addition of herbs were able to keep linen and clothes freer from lice and moths. Wooden storage chests usually had flat lids, which would make them more useful as furniture for seating or other purposes and travelling wooden chests were often covered in waxed leather to improve their weather resistance.
Oak was the favourite material for medieval wooden chests whilst walnut was another common wood for wooden chests in France, but not in England. Wooden chests were sometimes made of poplar or pine, and several softwood wooden chests survive from what is now Germany.
Aside from being the most important practical possession in a home, these early wooden chests began to reflect the life and status of the owner, which were reflected in their decorations and carvings. Panels and friezes began to be added to wooden chests, such as in the Tudor period where they had arches and rosettes or in the Renaissance period when motifs of flowers and scrolls began to appear.
During this period wooden chests were also referred to as coffers and often had large hand forged iron handles for ease of transportation. Coffers would often be covered in leather with a nail head trim. If an invading army was closing in and a person had to leave at very short notice, all their belongings would be loaded into the chest and they would leave quickly in the knowledge that everything they owned was safely with them.
The different types of early wooden storage wooden chests / boxes:
The Dug Out chest: In medieval Europe, the earliest type of wooden chest was the hollowed out, dome-top chest, made from one solid piece of timber dug out from the inside, then given a rounded top following the shape of the log. In the 1500s, two types of joined wooden chests evolved: the first, a simple, planked box chest held together with nails, and the second which now included framed-up panels worked with the grain of wood. By nailing together a structural frame then fixing panels to the frame with the grains cross-wise, panels could move along the grain with the expansion of the frame (because wood always shrinks across its grain, never in the direction of the grain), all without breaking or splitting.
13th century Dug out chest at Spetchley, All Saints Church.
The Evolution Of Wooden Chests
The Wooden Box : A wooden chest is a variation of a wooden box: a simple flat-lidded piece of furniture. The construction is very simple, with a single board for each side, bottom, and the lid. A total of six boards. The boards are simply butted against each other and nailed together. Their basic construction means their joints are weak and metal bands or iron straps to act as reinforcement. As they are used often used for stacking or transportation they have no legs and are usually undecorated.
The Standard wooden chest: probably the most popular basic design for a wooden chest and often used for travelling chests. It follows the basic wooden box design, no legs, butted joints, undecorated and when used for travelling will have banding and strapping for strengthening. The top is often curved to allow water to run off its top. Additionally leather or a waxed or oiled covering is used to preserve the wood.
The six-board chest: takes the standard storage chest design further by elevating the chest off the ground by extending the end panels. Although more complicated designs existed the six-board chest was cheaper to fabricate and so were popular between c9th and c16th. This is perhaps the most common household wooden chest for this period
. Viking chests – were developed from six-board chests. With extended side boards to lift the chest off the ground. Overall Viking chests were strengthened with better overlapping joints as well as broad straps for reinforcement and protection. The bands were then often then decorated.
The Viking Chest :The Viking wooden chest is very similar to the six-board chest. The two end pieces are extended down to form slab legs, raising the wooden chest off the floor (or ship deck). Instead of the simple overlap design used in the six-board chest, where the front is nailed to the end-piece, Viking wooden chests have both the front and end-piece overlapping each other, so nails reinforced the joint in both directions. Although this is a better joint than the simple lap of the six-board chest, the resulting joint is still not very durable, and Viking wooden chests often show the use of metal reinforcing straps. Pirate chests have always been modelled on this type of chest!
. Image 7 9th century Viking chest from the Oseberg ship burial, Oseberg, Sem, Vestfold, Norway. Universitetets Oldsaksamling, Oslo, 149
Hutch Chest: during the c13th the simple six-board chest was developed to extend the front and rear panels to the floor to lift the chest off the ground. more durable tongue and groove joints were used on the longer panels and tops were flat. They continued to be popular through to the c15th. Large front panels gave a larger surfaces for carving and decorating.
The Panel Chest: used panels of thinner and lighter wood that were inserted into stiles that were joined together. Like the hutch chest the panels are often decorated with carvings or painted.
The Dovetail Chest: dovetail joinery was not new in c15th it was not a popular chest style as the joinery technique was challenging. The best chests of this era were dovetail chests. Of course it was a style that was to dominate the c18-c20th.
A dovetailed corner of a chest
The c16th saw the most change in the evolution of the storage chest. During the Elizabethan period, the humble chest or trunk began to evolve. Legs and extensions were added to create boarded chairs, stools, court cupboards, tool chests and drawing tables. Settles were chests with flip tops that turned into a table to a bench with storage.
Elizabethan Chest c1600 – 1650 Cotehele, Cornwall (Accredited Museum)
The most notable change occurred around the mid 1600s with the introduction of drawers. Chest makers were adding two drawers below the chest for storage of smaller items. These chests were also called mule chests. The simple addition soon led to the entire frame being filled by drawers and the top being fixed to the frame. In a very short time the chest became a ‘chest of drawers’. The humble chest was now transformed into a function piece of furniture that allowed stored items to be organised and easily accessible. Like the evolution of the chest, chests of drawers’ construction improved to ensure better joints and styles.
Image 9 17th century chest, Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire (Accredited Museum)
Image 10 Rare early 17th century oak carved press cupboard, with naive carved face, circa 1640
In the early 17th century wooden chests were plainer and heavier and almost always made from Oak. By the end of the century wooden chests were more finely decorated and often made of walnut or mahogany. They were now decorated and inlaid with other materials such as mother of pearl or bone, and began to be lacquered in bright colours.
In the c19th and c20th with the expansion of the British Empire into new continents and lands and mass emigration storage chests were required for people to store and transport their belongings and simple pine chests were often used. Travel trunks were made especially for transatlantic ship travel. Steamer trunks were made from metal and wood and were styled like small portable wardrobes. These travelling wardrobes were fitted to hang clothes and were fitted out with multiple drawers and compartments.
In the c20th the styles of chests have changed as we experienced Art Deco and Arts and Crafts styles. During WWII, as materials were scarce, more simple chests and boxes were made, from easily accessible woods such as pine, to store and transport military supplies.
Today chests are still a popular furniture item in homes. The construction of modern chests has not changed in the last 300 years with dovetail joints being used for better quality chests and simple butted joints or mitred joints for others. The current trend for antique and vintage furniture including wooden chests and simple storage boxes from by-gone eras with their charming patina and intriguing history and stories has seen the resurgence of old chests from many times and styles. People have also taken an interest in researching the history of their chests and fining out about a particular style is not very hard.
Antique teak storage chest from south east India
Antique Pine Chest used by emmigrants travelling to North America and Canada