ElizabethTaylor as Cleopatra in 1963

Makeup like an Egyptian

Isn’t makeup marvellous? It can transform our confidence in five minutes, make us feel more ready to face the world and even get rid of that pesky spot that we don’t want anyone to see.

This multi-billion-dollar industry has developed makeup for practically every application you can think of. From making eyes pop with eyeshadow palettes to hiding large pores, makeup has come such a long way. Even vegan makeup is a huge contender in the industry.

Sometimes I feel a little overwhelmed as there are just too many options, and so many brands with too many products. I always think back to my training and being taught we don’t need a lot. I loved learning about how makeup really began.

To understand the origin of makeup, we must travel back in time about 6,000 years. We get our first glimpse of cosmetics in ancient Egypt, where makeup served as a marker of wealth, believed to appeal to the gods.

If you’ve ever seen Egyptian art, you’ve no doubt noticed the dramatic eye makeup present on men and woman. Ancient Egyptians of both genders routinely wore makeup and other cosmetic aids such as perfume. However, they had to work hard and be very creative by choosing what was available in their surrounding environment.

As early as 4000 B.C., Egyptians used materials in order to design makeup. Some of the common cosmetics in ancient Egypt included malachite, a copper ore, which provided the green eye makeup colour so greatly favoured at the time. Kohl was used to draw thick, distinctive black lines, and red ochre was used as rouge or lipstick. Most of these were ground into powder and then mixed with a carrier agent (often animal fat) in order to make it easy to apply and stay on the skin.

It wasn’t just about appearance and appeasing their gods; both men and women used to use various cosmetics and rubbed them all across their skin to protect it from the drastic atmospheric conditions and the strong sun.

They believed kohl helped fend off various diseases and helped with the glare of the sun. They also believed eyes bare of makeup were vulnerable to the evil eye.

The most obvious way to differentiate the upper classes from the poor was to look at their cosmetics applicators and storage. The poorer relied on sticks and simple clay pots while those with money had beautiful ivory containers and applicators that were carved and bejewelled. Even the well-off women were often buried with two or more pots of lip paint (just in case, eh?).

I cannot talk about Egyptian makeup without talking of Cleopatra, the queen of beauty innovation and a beauty icon still to this day. Aspects of her look are still so relevant today and I find this so fascinating. It’s believed she used milk and honey facemasks for their moisturising properties (honey is known still for its hydrating ability). Her famous milk baths were for rejuvenating the skin and Dead Sea salts were commonly used to exfoliate.

Her eye makeup was dramatic and interesting to say the least. She wore golden-flecked bright blue eyeshadow on top of her eyelids with the popular green paste on her lower lids. Her lips were always very dark red as this showed her extreme importance. The darker the lip the wealthier and more affluent the person.

But she didn’t apply her own makeup. Hell no! She had a servant who was skilled with cosmetics to do it. The very first makeup artist, we could say! Cleopatra would sit in front of a polished bronze “mirror” and this application could take an hour or so.

It’s fair to say the Egyptians have heavily influenced the world in beauty rituals and cosmetics. Mystery still surrounds them, but their beauty tricks are no secret. The strong red lip and heavy kohled eyes will forever be a permanent fabulous fixture in the makeup world. They helped pave the way for this vastly wealthy industry that doesn’t seem likely to stop growing anytime soon.

By Sharon Phillips
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Sharon Phillips is a well-known, fully qualified makeup artist from Ireland. She has been working in the makeup industry in Portugal for nearly a decade and specialises in bridal makeup, editorial photoshoots and film and television. Her passion is helping women feel and look fabulous through makeup.

Ancient Egyptian Cosmetics
Egyptian tomb
ElizabethTaylor as Cleopatra in 1963