What You Didn't Know About Cleopatra's Famous Eye Makeup

Picture Cleopatra. You're probably thinking of a woman with straight dark hair, a lot of jewelry, and eyes lined with black makeup. Cleopatra might not have looked like Elizabeth Taylor, but she definitely wore eyeliner.

Egyptians often wore makeup not only to enhance their features but also to ward off potential bacteria. According to A Moment of Science, ancient Egyptians crushed minerals like kohl or rocks to create both eyeshadow and eyeliner. The eyeshadow protected the eye from the midday sun glinting off the Nile river, and the liner was to keep harmful bacteria and sand away. Before the invention of makeup, it was common for Egyptians to contract infections when dirt got in their eyes.

By the time Cleopatra was born, Egyptians already developed different pigments to color their makeup. The New York Times reported Egyptians mixed makeup using lead-based chemicals like galena, cerussite, laurionite and phosgenite with plants, minerals and other items. Scientists believe the lead killed bacteria before it could reach the eyes.

Their makeup and skincare game was on point

Wearing eye makeup to ward off bacteria and infection was not the only reason for Cleopatra's distinctive look. She, like many other Egyptians during and before her time, was vain. A Moment of Science said Cleopatra used cosmetics to attract attention. She may not have really looked like Elizabeth Taylor, but she knew how to get men to look at her and keep their attention on her.

CNN writes that makeup not only had practical purposes, but also served ritual and symbolic uses while enhancing features. Egyptian women took their beauty regimen seriously. Like today's disciples of the 10-step Korean beauty routine, ancient Egyptian skincare was indulgent. They exfoliated using Dead Sea salts and bathed in milk, and unlike today's Dead Sea salt scrubs and milk baths, these didn't cost them a lot of money. Or a trip to Sephora.

Egyptians, explained Culture Trip, believed wearing makeup assured gods like Horus and Ra would protect them from sickness. Cosmetics were imbued with a sense of magic for ancient Egyptians — so much so that the tools they used to make and apply it depicted their gods and goddesses. Cleopatra's signature look not only makes her image indelible to people, but it truly held a deeper purpose. Too bad makeup wasn't enough protection against Roman invaders.