How Ancient Egyptians Used Eyeshadow As A Form Of Protection

The history of makeup dates back thousands of years. In ancient Egypt, both men and women commonly used makeup not just to enhance their looks; using makeup also had a spiritual significance. The use of makeup was associated with wealth, and ancient Egyptians believed that it appealed to their gods, per Britannica. The containers of their makeup had various symbols, and in some cases, animal pigment was added into the makeup mixture, as they believed it transferred powers to the wearer (via Natural History Museum of Utah).

Applying makeup is also a ritual in itself. According to CNN, women prepared their skin by exfoliating with sea salt and then having a milk bath. They made use of milk and honey face masks, as well as oil infused with spices to make the skin soft and supple. Men and women of wealth kept their makeup in containers made of gold, precious stones, and glass engraved with images of goddesses and animals that represent regeneration. In addition to beautifying the wearer, makeup also served as protection.

The practical uses of makeup in ancient Egypt

Images of ancient Egyptians are most commonly depicted wearing black makeup around the eyes. They used kohl, also called galena, and mixed it with malachite powder. Galena is a mineral that was abundant near the Nile River. It was crushed and mixed with malachite, a green mineral, as well as animal fat to make it easier to apply to the skin (via Encyclopedia).

Kohl was used on the rim of the eyes as well as on the eyelids of both men and women. According to The Collector, the makeup shielded the eyes from the harsh rays of the Egyptian sun. The mixture of the minerals also kept flies away and was believed to protect against infections. As noted by Egyptologist Helen Strudwick, "Significantly, kohl had therapeutic value in protecting the eyes from infections caused by sunlight, dust, or flies," (via World History). The makeup mixture consists of lead, which has antibacterial properties. Although toxic, the Egyptians processed the ingredients before using them, which significantly decreased the levels of lead and made them safe for use as eyeshadow or eyeliner.

Protection against the Evil Eye

Many cultures believe in the curse of the Evil Eye that is transmitted through a malicious glare, often rooted in jealousy. Ancient Egyptians believed in this as well, and they used amulets as protection from the curse. In addition, they used eye makeup as a form of psychic protection as well, according to Ancient Pages. It was common for Egyptians of all ages and classes to wear eyeshadow and eyeliner as an amulet, as bare eyes were deemed unprotected and susceptible to the curse of the Evil Eye.

Eye makeup was so significant for the ancient Egyptians, in fact, that they were buried with eye makeup tools. Per Tour Egypt, makeup palettes, applicators, and grinders have been found among burial sites of both rich and poor Egyptians. The practice of using eye makeup wasn't just for cosmetic purposes, it also served as protection from the elements and infections, as well as from evil curses.