Cosmetics and Perfumes, Egypt, 10,000 BCE

by Mindy Cohen, '99


The Egyptians were among the first to use cosmetics and perfumes. As early as 10,000 BCE, both men and women used scented oils and ointments to clean and soften the skin (and to mask body odor), and dyes and paints to color it. They rouged their lips and cheeks, stained their nails with henna, and lined their eyes and eyebrows heavily with kohl, a dark-colored powder made variously of crushed antimony, burnt almonds, lead, oxidized copper, ochre, ash, malachite and chrysocolla, a blue-green copper ore.

Such measures were intended not only to be aesthetically pleasing, but also to protect the wearer from the heat of the sun and the dust of the desert. Myrrh, thyme, marjoram, chamomile, lavender, lily, peppermint, rosemary, cedar, rose, aloe, olive oil, sesame oil and almond oil provided the basic ingredients of most perfumes, which were important in religious rituals and in the process of embalming the dead.

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