Makeup ingredients since Ancient times.
From Prehistoric Minoans, Ancient Greek, Egyptians, Roman to Queen Elizabeth I, what have they been applying on their skin?
The fresco is Over the Ladies in Blue Knossos Palace, Crete.
Whenever we travel, we always incorporate some historical locations as we believe this is a great educational lesson for our children. We can better understand the people, and just how advanced the previous generations were. In Santorini, we stopped by Akrotiri, the prehistoric home of the ancient Minoans from over 4000 BC, which was well before Pompeii was founded. Situated on the southern part of the island, near Red Beach, what started as a fishing & farming village soon became a prosperous trade destination between the Middle East and Europe. The findings from this Neolithic period are astounding. The Minoan people lived in two and three-storey houses, which had underfloor heating, hot and cold running water, balconies, ventilation and proper toilets.
It’s believed that Santorini, previously known as Strongili, meaning Round in Greek fell victim to the 1500 BC volcanic eruption. This caused giant waves to reach Crete which was located some 70 Nautical miles away, destroying the Minoan civilisation. The central part of Strongili sank into the sea, known as the Caldera, whilst subsequent earthquakes destroyed a big part of what was left of the island. What happened to Strongili has been closely associated with the legend of Atlantis. Strongili was also referred to as Ancient Thera, but under Venetian rule, the name give to the island was Santa Irini, from which the name Santorini developed.
The Minoans were also living in Crete, and traces of their civilisation were found at other various locations like Knossos Palace, Malia and Gournia, whilst discoveries including jewellery, frescoes, weapons and funeral coffins can be found at the Museums of Heraklion. At Knossos Palace we were able to see copies of the frescoes that were saved. It fascinates me how artists depicted the beauty of the people of the time. My favourite painting was the Prince of Lillies below.
Gallery of Pictures taken at Knossos Palace , Prince of Lillies Fresco, Crete, Santorini’s Akrotiri & Red Beach.
This brings me to the next part about history.
When looking at the beautiful artwork of these ancient times, it interests me what the artist is trying to capture with the final outcome. The subjects whether male or female are usually extremely handsome or beautiful, with striking features which stand out whilst others are often angelic and innocent in their appearance. In ancient times, the artist had full control of what the final painting would look like. However, what happened if the subject wasn’t happy with the result? Would the artist simply start again or amend the work? Would the artist remove facial and body ‘faults, blemishes or imperfections’ to please the person being portrayed?
Let’s look back at what the Ancient Greeks were doing in their time. Make-up was expensive so it was a luxury for the rich. Their idea of prestige and beauty was having pale porcelain skin tone, with long curly golden hair.If their skin was pale, it meant they were wealthy, as they didn’t have to work in the fields to support themselves.The women used to paint their faces with a toxic white lead that ultimately shortened their glamorous rich lives. If this wasn’t in stock, they used chalk, though this wore off quickly.The paint required a soft and even base underneath, so the women would apply creams made with honey all over their faces to keep it hydrated, adding some olive oil if they wanted to have that extra special glow. The hype around make-up was to appear natural, though it was often achieved using toxic unnatural substances. For their lips and eye-shadows, they used rich colours from red iron oxide, earth-based pigments or ochre clays, olive oil and beeswax, mixed with ground charcoal. The dark powder was also used to connect their eyebrows, creating the Unibrow for both Ancient Greek men and women! From the three Graces (Charities) called Beauty, Charm & Grace, to Aphrodite and Helen of Troy, they are some of these Greek Goddesses & strong women featured on this list: Goddesses Of Greece.
What about Cleopatra and the Ancient Egyptians? In general, men and women alike loved using cosmetics for vanity, religious rituals and after-life as well as to protect them against the desert’s sun and bites from insects, regardless of status and wealth.The eye shadow, made from dark pigment, was painted around the eyes to beautify but also to safeguard their skin from the sun’s burning heat beating down on the desert sands.Often seen in pictures of the ancient Egyptians was the bright green thick paste which came from the mineral stone, Malachite Greek: malachites lithos, ‘the mallow-green stone’. This green colour wadj has been linked to death, the power of resurrection, combined with fertility and new life.For them, there was a ‘Field of Malachite’ after death, an eternal paradise of life without pain or suffering, though in the present world, the colour petitioned the protection and healing of Horus, the god of the Sky and Sun.
In the 1BC, Queen Cleopatra had an array of rainbow-coloured cosmetics made from plants, minerals and rocks from the area.She applied the bright green malachite paste on her lower eyelids to make them appear larger, whilst the deep blue eye-shadow and golden flecks from ground lapis lazuli stone was used on the upper eyelids.A concoction of black kohl, animal fat and powdered lead sulphide was used to lengthen her lashes and enhance her eyebrows.Using red iron oxide & earth-based pigments or ochre clays as rouge on her cheeks and lipstick.The Egyptian privet tree was the source for the reddish-brown dye called Henna, which was used to create gorgeous designs on her palms, as well as for painting the nails.
Impurity was associated with an unclean and stinking body, so for hygiene, the ancient Egyptians ensured they were well-groomed and cleaned, frequently washing with soaps consisting of scented oils combined with clay or ash. Due to the harsh weather conditions that the Egyptians were subjected to, their skin was often left dried out, cracked open and burnt. This made moisturising the skin a necessity, even for the workers, who received their body oils or honey as part of their wage allowances. To read more about the Female Rulers of Egypt.
Ancient Romans used makeup initially for rituals, but as time passed, applying cosmetics became a natural part of a woman’s life. The wealthy imported cosmetics from Germany and China, whilst those who couldn’t afford these bought cheaper brands, which needed to be reapplied throughout the day.Prosperous women had female slaves called Cosmetae who not only made the lotions, creams and cosmetics but applied the makeup for them as well.The ancient Romans, who had a naturally darker complexion, also wanted to have light coloured skin, so many applied toxic white lead, marl or chalk powder to make it fairer.To enhance the large eyes and long lashes, they put Kohl on sticks made from either glass, ivory, wood or bone which had been dipped in water or oil. The Kohl was incorporated with saffron, soot, ashes or toxic antimony.Date stones and charred petal roses was also used to darken their eyes.For eyeshadow, they used the green mineral malachite like the Egyptians, with blue azurite.
Other ingredients used by the ancient Romans included poppy and rose petals, or red ochre clays imported from Belgium, poisonous red lead, red chalk, alkanet, mulberry juice, wine dregs, Tyrian vermillion or crocodile dung, a well as sheep’s fat and blood for their nails…. Eeewwww! To deal with wrinkles, sun spots, freckles, acne and flaking skin, they made creams and lotions.Some of the ingredients include barley, lupine, honey, lentils, fennel mixed with oils, oregano seeds, vinegar, goose grease, basil juice, hawthorn and sulphur, often adding rose essence or myrrh. For more information about this list of Interesting Women of Ancient Rome.
Gallery of Pictures Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, Helen Of Troy, Queen Elizabeth I & Livia Drusilla, 1st Empress of Rome
If you have never seen Horrible Histories you have to watch this British show which is not only hilarious but a fun way for kids to learn something about the Kings, Queens and history of the world.In no time, they’ll be singing songs about the ‘Terrible Tudors, the Kings of England and William Wallace, Scottish Rebel’. During these episodes, my kids always ask why Queen Elizabeth I, the daughter of Henry VIII to his second wife, Anne Boleyn, is made to look hideous.Elizabeth was called England’s Gloriana, the Virgin Queen, married to her country England who helped bring prosperity during her Golden Age of reign.Her ‘mask of youth’ skincare routine incorporated covering her hands, face and neck with layers of toxic white lead and vinegar whilst kohl-lined her eyes, and red paste from plant dye and beeswax made to colour her lips. She wore wigs to match her own colouring and as she aged, the wigs covered her grey hair.Queen Elizabeth, I ruled for 44 years, the once young and pretty woman became bald, frail, with black teeth that were rotten and foul-smelling, who had scars caused by pox, was battling depression and had the worst headaches. For more interesting facts about her, read here Queen Elizabeth I.
Today with modern technology and social media, there’s a constant push for image manipulation. We have access to photoshop, airbrushing, beauty apps, image enhancers that we can use to create or enhance our mood, colour, shape, size to create what we think is a perfect image for others to see, covering up what’s real and true. This is a conversation I am constantly having with my pre-teen, about what’s really beautiful and what isn’t. Why can we not ‘Love the Skin we’re in’?
In the next blog, I will share what kinds of ingredients are added from 1800’s to the 21st century cosmetics. It will help us understand that despite the evolution of the ages, that women in particular, have been applying cosmetic treatments to not only enhance their beauty, but to give the impression of nobility, purity, wealth and stature.
- What did you find to be the most intriguing ingredient for ancient times?
- And the worst?For me it was the crocodile dung!!
- Feel free to comment and share your personal stories below.
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Check out the Gallery of Pictures – Products overlooking the Caldera, Last day in Santorini, Heraklion Street Art Crete.