Artifacts recovered from ancient Egypt reveal a culture that cherished beauty through art and the built environment. This is no less true for Egyptians' personal appearance; aesthetics and fashion were treasured throughout society, and figured prominently in their gods' traditions. Beauticians were a key part of ancient Egypt culture, and carried out many functions such as wigmakers and makeup and body artists.
Beauty and Deities
Gods and goddesses figured prominently in many aspects of ancient Egyptian culture, and beauty practices certainly fell within their sphere of influence. Hathor was considered the goddess of beauty, and was associated with malachite, turquoise, gold and copper. Beauticians ground malachite for use as an eye makeup, which symbolized adorning one's face with Hathor's essence. The goddess is also tied to myrrh, a fragrance thought to further reflect a woman's feminine, sensuous nature. Nefertem was a god known as the Lord of Perfume, but Egyptians considered him aligned with healing practices such as aromatherapy in addition to pleasing cosmetic scents.
Hair was an area of particular focus for beauticians of ancient Egypt. According to the Beauty Encyclopedia, a common practice among Egyptians was to shave themselves bald, both in an effort to stay cool in the hot temperatures and for hygienic purposes. This ensured that wig-making was a highly specialized field for beauticians; their materials ranged from human hair and ornamental gold to wool for the less wealthy. Not all Egyptians chose to wear wigs. Hieroglyphics show many hairstyles throughout the course of Egyptian history, from the "triparti" haircut worn by women to the side-lock given to children.
Egyptian beauticians are widely considered to be the world's first cosmetologists. Cosmetics were commonly used by both men and women regardless of social standing for beauty as well as healing. Kohl was the black makeup used as an eyeliner, while ground red ochre was used as a blush or lipstick. Many Egyptians likely applied their own cosmetics, while those with means paid "face painter." Egyptians also used scented oils to keep skin supple and protect against the sun.
Egyptian Body Art
Beauticians also employed tattoo art and henna to adorn the skin of ancient Egyptians. Tattoos ranged from geometric designs to pictures and ritual scarring. Historians speculate that Egyptian tattoos most often symbolized a connection with the divine, and were usually worn by women. One image frequently used as a tattoo is Bes, a demigod considered to be a protective guardian. Henna is a less permanent means of beautification. Although widely associated with India, the plant-based dye is believed to be first used by ancient Egyptian beauticians and was even found on the nails of mummified pharaohs.
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