5 Ancient Egyptian Cosmetics



Still used today for body decoration and hair coloring, henna is a natural dye. It comes from the dried leaves of a shrub called Lawsonia inermis. Its leaves are green, but after drying and crushing, they form a deep orange-red powder. The powder is mixed with water to form a paste. Henna is a temporary dye and lasts on the skin or hair for several weeks before fading away.

Archaeologists report discovering traces of henna on the fingernails of mummified pharaohs. The henna not only decorated the nails of these members of royalty, but conditioned them as well. Henna, as well as being decorative, has medicinal properties. Physically, Egyptians felt henna improved the quality of hair and nails. Spiritually, they believed henna provided good fortune. This belief still holds true in many parts of the world -- for example, the henna ritual for brides of many cultures.

Both women and men also used henna to stain their lips a deep red. Cosmetics companies offer henna-based lip stains even today, touting the long-lasting effects of the natural dye.

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  • "Ancient Egyptian Beauty Aids." EMuseum at Minnesota State University. April 29, 2009. (Oct. 30, 2009) http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/prehistory/egypt/dailylife/beautyaids.html
  • "Ancient Egyptian Hairstyles." EMuseum at Minnesota State University. April 29, 2009. (Oct. 30, 2009) http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/prehistory/egypt/dailylife/hairstyles.html
  • Conger, Cristen. "Why did ancient Egyptian men wear cosmetics?" HowStuffWorks.com. April 28, 2009. (Oct. 30, 2009) https://history.howstuffworks.com/ancient-egypt/ancient-egyptian-cosmetics1.htm
  • Dollinger, Andre. "Personal Hygiene and Cosmetics." An Introduction to the History and Culture of Pharaonic Egypt. 2009. (Oct. 30, 2009) http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/timelines/topics/cosmetics.htm
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Does the lead in lipstick cause cancer?

Are there dangers lurking in your lip color? Find out if lead in lipstick can cause cancer at HowStuffWorks.