Why Ancient Egyptian Men Wore Eye Makeup

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Why Ancient Egyptian Men Wore Eye Makeup
Ancient Egyptians believed eye make-up had spiritual and medicinal properties. (commons.wikipedia.org)

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Make-up in Ancient Egypt

Eye make-up in ancient Egypt was applied for more than just decorative or aesthetic purposes. While the ancient Egyptians had their equivalent to today's rouge, lipstick, lip gloss and even nail polish, these were worn more as adornments than necessities. Eye make-up, on the other hand, was used for spiritual and medicinal reasons. This is why not only women, but men and children as well, wore eye make-up in ancient Egypt, regardless of social status. They did not reserve it for special occasions either, as it was worn on a daily basis through all dynastic periods.

Types of Ancient Egyptian Eye Makeup

The most common eye make-up colours in ancient Egypt were black and green. The green variety was made from malachite, while the black one--known as "mesdemet"--was derived from a substance called "galena." It survives today in the form of kohl. Saffron, which is yellow, was used as eyeshadow. To colour and shape eyebrows, burnt almonds were combined with minerals, which developed into a substance that could also be worn as eyeshadow.

To create ancient Egyptian eye make-up, the dry ingredients were finely ground into a powder on a palette. Animal fats would then be added to create paint that would adhere to the eyelids. The resulting mixture was then transferred to a glass jar or other container. The make-up was extracted and applied with a stick that served as an eye make-up applicator. As can be seen on ancient Egyptian busts, funerary masks and other artwork, eyes were lined all the way around, with a considerably extended tail on the outer corners.

Eventually Egyptians began using soot to create the pigmented black effect on their eyes. This practice was later adopted by ladies in Western society to enhance and darken their eyelashes before the invention of mascara.

Practical, Medicinal and Spiritual Properties

The ancient Egyptians believed that rimming the eyes with kohl deflected any negativity brought about by the evil eye. As early as the time of birth, children's eyes would be smeared with kohl to strengthen their eyesight.

Malachite, or "udju," was mined from Sinai, considered the domain of Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of love, beauty and women. Wearing it as eye make-up was believed to work as an aphrodisiac.

Galena served as a disinfectant to treat eye irritations, as well as an insect repellent in the hot and dry Egyptian desert. Along the same lines, kohl was the ancient Egyptians' remedy to keep the glare of the sun out of their eyes.

The discovery in tombs of make-up kits containing these cosmetics is proof of how ancient Egyptians valued these items. A supply of eye make-up was apparently a must even in the afterlife.

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