Ancient Egyptian Make-Up - Everything you need to know for KS2
Updated: Mar 4
Everyone wants to look good! That's true today and it was true thousands of years ago in Ancient Egypt. One way to achieve that is by using make-up to accentuate various bits of your face; from eyes, to cheek and lips. Let's take a look at Egyptian make-up then!
The distinctive Ancient Egyptian eye make-up, called ‘Kohl’, was worn by men, women and children alike.
But why wear it at all?
First off, as demonstrated by Lizzy Taylor (above), Kohl enhanced the natural beauty of the wearer – Ancient Egyptians, like everyone else, liked to look good.
It also identified the wearer’s status to others, a member of the royal family may have incredibly intricate make-up, whilst a peasant might have slapped on their Kohl using the backend of a chunk of limestone.
It also had ‘magical benefits’, supposedly protecting the wearer from disease and warding off that pesky ‘evil eye’.
Whilst we can’t validate its effectiveness at evil eye warding, Kohl was brilliant at preventing disease. In recent studies scientists have recreated samples of Kohl and have since proven that Kohl can prevent and treat eye disease.
That's not all though! Malachite-based green eye-paints were great at both making the wearer's eye's pop (not literally, we are not proposing that Ancient Egyptians wore make-up to make their eyeballs explode. That would be silly) and for antibacterial properties. Basically these eye-paints would kill germs.
Galena-based eye-paint - called mesdemet - was even more useful. This bad boy of the make-up world would trap dust and sand before it got into the eye, offered protection against the unwanted attention of flies and even helped absorb the rays of the sun - no sunglasses required!
Many Egyptians favoured a glittery appearance to their eyes - this would be achieved by applying to the eyelids sparkly powder made from the crushed the shells of brightly coloured beetles.
Also, fun fact, make-up wasn't just for people. Kohl and eye paints were regularly applied to the rock solid faces of freshly carved statues. Why did the Egyptians spend their time giving statues a make-over? As an offering to please the gods - even the divine beings want to look their best!
What about the rest of the face?
It's tempting to think that Ancient Egyptians were all about eye make-up and didn't bother accentuating any other areas of their face but that's not the case.
The cheeks and lips would be blushed with red ochre. Red ochre was a clay that would be dried in the sun until it turned into the desired colour. At which point in would be slapped on the face.
Many, many other powders were used to cover up unwanted blemishes on the skin. These were made from all sorts of different substances though one ingredient was common - geese fat! The blubber of a goose was applied to the powders to give them texture and make sure they stayed stuck to the face.
Egyptians also liked to moisturise. To prevent the skin of a face from feeling dry and cracked, plant resins, oils, milk and even whipped ostrich eggs would be applied regularly. If that all sounds a bit stinky, fear not! Frankincense, marjoram and almonds would all be mixed into the moisturiser to make it smell a bit nicer.
Finally, to avoid getting wrinkles, the Egyptians even developed anti-aging cream. These were made from olive oil, incense and juniper leaves. I wonder if they worked and gave the user the youthful face they wanted?
Are you a teacher? Yes? Then you'll definitely want Imagining History to bring their 'Ancient Egypt: A Time Travel Tour' Interactive workshop to your school.
Our Award-Winning sessions combine role-play, storytelling, demonstrations and drama and performance to bring history to life for your students.