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The Common People of Ancient Egypt, 3000 BC-1070 BC


Egyptian Skin Care for the Common Man, Woman and Child
It is no secret that Egyptian royalty took great care of their skin and general appearance. In Egypt's arid climate, however, proper skin care was important for everyone. Men, women and children of all social classes were expected to keep to a high standard of cleanliness. While average working people may not have had access to the great range of cosmetics enjoyed by Egyptian royalty, they took care to keep themselves clean and to protect their skin from the ravages of the desert sun. It is believed that Egypt's international trade in cosmetics was second only to their trade in timber, and the country's common people played a large part in this trade.

Many Egyptians found that a shaved head or short cropped hair was the best way to combat the sun. Although they could not afford the vast collections of elaborate wigs worn by their royal counterparts, most kept their hair short. While shaving all of their hair off was not as common, especially among women, who tended to wear their hair longer, it was not unheard of. Men paid equal attention to their facial hair. Beards were considered holy, and were therefore only suitable for royalty, priests and gods. Unwanted hair was removed using razors, tweezers and depilatory creams. (You can read more about the Egyptian attitude toward hair here: http://www.king-tut.org.uk/ancient-egyptians/egyptian-wigs.htm )

A Holistic Approach to Beauty
The removal of facial hair was not the only aspect of skin care to have religious connotations. In fact, Egyptians saw holistic body care as an integral part of their daily life. Cleanliness and health were associated with holiness. Beauty was considered to be the physical manifestation of both health and holiness. Proper hygiene was considered to be an important part of magically protecting the body from harm. While queens and pharaohs were believed to be closer to the gods than regular men and women, it was thought that anyone could benefit from the magical protection of good health and hygiene. Even the poorest peasants went to great pains to take care of their skin and appearance.

For the average Egyptian, good health and hygiene started with daily cleansing. Those who could afford it would wash themselves with a paste made from natron. Chemically similar to baking soda, natron is a combination of sodium bicarbonate and sodium carbonate that occurs naturally. Egyptians also used natron mixed with myrrh to clean their teeth and even used the compound during the mummification process. Even the poorest Egyptians, who could not afford natron paste, were painstakingly clean, making sure to bathe themselves in water every day. (You can read more about the connection between beauty and Egyptian religion here: http://www.touregypt.net/egypt-info/magazine-mag06012000-mag4.htm )

Practical Beauty: Skin Care Regimens of the Nile
Oils and lotions were another important part of everyday Egyptian life. They were used to moisturize the skin and protect it from the effects of the sun. While this type of skin care was important for all Egyptians, it may have been even more important for the workers who spent the day outside in the dry desert air. In fact, many workers were paid with tubes of body oil that were used by themselves and their families. Although most did not have access to the specialized formulas made to treat stretch marks or hair loss, it was important that every Egyptian keep their skin soft, well scented, and protected from the sun.

The Egyptians also put an importance on make up that transcended gender and social class. Eye make up in particular had a number of purposes that went beyond simple aesthetics. The thick eyeliner seen in most Egyptian paintings was usually made of kohl, galena or stibnite. While there is no doubt that lined eyes were considered attractive, it was also believed that eye liner protected the wearer from the Evil Eye. Galena and stibnite were often prescribed by doctors for their medicinal properties, and galena was known to deter pesky flies and other insects. It also performed a similar function to the grease paint used by today's football players to keep the sun out of their eyes. This function was particularly important for those who spent the day working outside.

While Egyptians may not have invented the idea of holistic beauty, they developed it and perfected it to an extent that we still have yet to reach. The practical, the medicinal, the spiritual and the aesthetic were seen as inseparable and were important for every Egyptian, regardless of social class. Even today, many Egyptian ingredients such as aloe, sodium bicarbonate, myrrh and frankincense are used in the finest natural skin care products.


© 2013 J.K. Knowles

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