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Ancient Cosmetics

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ancient cosmetics

Aesthetic beauty was a way of life for many ancient people. Cosmetics were often used to help women and men look their best for special occasions, but they also had an important role in health and well-being.

Tombs from ancient Egypt reveal that women were equipped with a wide variety of beauty tools. These ranged from sand as a scouring agent to body oils for softening skin and keeping it smooth.

Sand as a scouring agent

For a long time sand was considered to be the gold standard for removing grease from kitchen surfaces. Today, sand is the base of many commercially available household cleaning products. A recent study in the sands of time indicates that sand has also made a comeback in ancient cosmetics. One example is the scouring powder. It is a dry buffing powder with a small amount of silica based abrasives that have the ability to clean hardened deposits like stains, smudges and fingerprints. It is the modern incarnation of the sand-based cleaners that were commonplace in antiquity.

The best thing about sand is that it is readily available in most countries and is readily biodegradable.


Soap is an antibacterial product that can be used for cleansing the body and clothes. It can be made from various substances, including water, lye (sodium hydroxide), and oils.

Several types of soap have been used in ancient cosmetics, including castile soap and glycerine soap. These are good for mature skin and provide excellent moisturizing properties.

In the Fertile Crescent, an inscription on clay cylinders discovered in Babylon dating back to 2800 BCE describes a soap-like substance. It contains ingredients like water, alkali and cassia oil.

Another earliest recorded soap recipe is found on a papyrus from Ebers, written in 1500 BCE. It explains how to combine animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts to produce a soap-like substance for washing and treating the skin.

A soap-like mixture also appears in records of ancient Egypt, where they bathed regularly and used it to clean woolen clothing.

It is believed that soap was produced by a process called saponification, which involved mixing fats with ashes to form a substance that could be used for cleaning. It was invented by the Babylonians and later spread throughout the world. Soap-making guilds formed in Italy, Spain and France during the 6th and 7th centuries. These guilds specialized in producing scented, handmade soap. These soaps were very expensive and reserved for the elite. Eventually, these hand-made soaps were replaced by commercially available soaps with synthetic detergents.

Body oils

One of the oldest forms of cosmetics, body oils were used by the Egyptians for over 4,000 years. They were a popular choice, and were particularly useful in dry climates like theirs, where supple skin was prized above all else.

The Egyptians were certainly not the first to use a variety of moisturizers, but they definitely topped the list for their ability to keep skin healthy and youthful. A plethora of vegetable oils were used by men and women alike, including castor oil, olive oil, jojoba oil, aloe vera and shea butter.

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Red ochre

Red ochre was used to highlight the beauty of the lips and cheeks. It was also a common cosmetic for ancient Egyptians who painted their faces in red to make them look more stunning.

Ochre is a naturally tinted clay that contains iron oxide. In its natural form it is a pale yellow, but when hydrated it turns red. Ochre is a popular pigment for painting, and it has been used for hundreds of thousands of years.

Many of the earliest cave paintings have ochre in them, and the first ever ochre-based paint kit was discovered at Blombos Caves in South Africa in 2008. Archaeologists found that this pigment was used to mark bones in burial rituals during Palaeolithic times.

In addition to being a decorative paint for body parts, red ochre was also used to protect the skin from the sun. This was because it contains a pigment that absorbs UV light and blocks it from the body.

As well as being a pigment, ochre was used to dye clothing and fabrics. It also played a role in medicine, especially in Aboriginal culture.

Throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance, artists often used red ochre in their works. Rembrandt used it to create warm glowing scenes in his art.

Milk and honey for hydrating the skin

Throughout Egypt and other regions, milk and honey were used as skin care remedies. Cleopatra, for example, kept her skin soft and hydrated by taking milk baths regularly.

Today, milk and honey are incorporated into many beauty formulas for their anti-aging properties and to help control fine lines and wrinkles. The lactic acid present in milk helps to exfoliate the skin and remove impurities.

In addition to this, the antioxidants and flavonoids in honey can help to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It can also increase the elasticity of your skin to keep it looking youthful and radiant.

This combination can be easily created at home by mixing equal quantities of milk and honey. The result is a mask that will leave your skin feeling soft and smooth, while gently exfoliating the face.

If you want to try this homemade face pack, mix the two ingredients in a bowl until you have achieved a cream-like consistency. Apply the mixture on your face and let it sit for 10 minutes before rinsing it off.

A combination of milk and honey can be applied as a facial mask, or even used in place of a cleanser to help improve the skin’s hydration levels. The lactic acid found in milk can also help to remove dead skin cells, leaving your complexion looking brighter and more vibrant.


In ancient civilizations, women used makeup as a way to improve their looks and distinguish themselves from others. Apart from aesthetics, makeup also had medicinal value.

Lipstick was used to enhance lips with a vibrant color. Its earliest devotee was Queen Schub-ad of ancient Ur, who enhanced her lips with a reddish tint made from lead and iron-rich rocks.

Later, Egyptians became wild about lipstick and used red ochre, carmine, and other dyes to create a variety of shades. Interestingly, Tangee’s lipstick was a light orange that turned coral pink when applied.

Today, lipsticks are usually formulated with a wax component and an oil component. The wax component, which gives lipstick its shape, is usually made from a mixture of beeswax and carnauba wax. The oil component, which keeps the lipstick soft and hydrated, is usually a mix of castor oil and lanolin.

Modern day lipsticks use polyparaben, a preservative that prevents bacteria and mold growth. However, this added ingredient has been found to be an irritant and allergen for some people.

During the Dark Ages, lipstick use was very common in Asia and Africa. While no work short of a book could cover the history of lipstick across all time and space, some interesting information about its use during this period can be found in books on Ancient Egypt or ancient Greek cosmetics.

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