Cleopatra’s heavy eye makeup was not just for looks – it also protected her from infections

Ama Nunoo October 27, 2020
Cleopatra is a beauty icon and her eye makeup is said to have warded off infections. Photo: Depictions of Cleopatra

Cleopatra VII Philopator of Egypt is celebrated for many things including her exaggerated make-up and lavish hairstyles that have influenced the style of women centuries after her existence.

Cleopatra was the last active ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt. The Ptolemaic Kingdom was a Hellenistic kingdom based in Egypt. Centuries after her death, she still manages to keep people fascinated about her life to this day.

One such fascination is the reason behind her heavy makeup which according to studies was not peculiar to Cleopatra alone but women of her time.

The striking thing about hers was her eye makeup. Her eyeshadow was bright blue, which she accentuated with green paste on the lower eyelids. Deep dark kohl was used to make her eyelashes look longer and darken her eyebrows.

Some researchers are of the view that there was more to her makeup than just to augment her beauty. It helped protect her eyes from common eye diseases along the Nile’s tropical marshes like conjunctivitis, researchers say.

Experts analyzed makeup residue of ancient Egypt and found that it contains nitric oxide which stimulates immune cells that help to prevent eye infections and aid in the treatment of bacterial eye diseases.

Egyptians at the time also reported a 240% increase in their nitric oxide levels from wearing eye makeup. The ingredients of the eye makeup also contained traces of lead salts that are thought to have boosted the immune system.

Although large amounts of lead are harmful to humans, traces of it in makeup is quite beneficial to humans. Also, a scientific study revealed that lead chloride salt is what produces nitric oxide when in contact with the skin.

Additionally, the black kohl used by Cleopatra and women of her time had the ability to deter flies from settling around the eyes because of its antiseptic properties. The extended eyelashes helped keep dust and other particles out of the eyes. The smokey eyes effect that women of today rock effortlessly was done to shade the eyes from the brightness of the sun.

The makeup at the time was not off the rack like it is today. The ancient Egyptians used certain ingredients in certain products that took time to curate. There were naturally occurring ones from rocks, animal fats, minerals, and plants. Nonetheless, some did not happen to be in their natural habitat, so they had to make them from scratch.

“In my opinion, [the ancient Egyptians] were aware that these compounds brought good health, and they were making them on purpose,” said study co-author Christian Amatore, from the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, France.

Cleopatra and ancient Egyptian women used red ochre, a type of clay-colored red by iron oxide for lipstick and blush. The nail polish was from henna and the skin was sometimes covered in beautiful henna designs.

Aside from the health benefits of applying their makeup which was worn by almost everyone in Egypt at the time, it is believed that those who wore makeup were protected by the gods Ra and Horus against several diseases.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 27, 2020


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