DFW Beauty History: Queen of the Nile

Unearthing Beauty Secrets of Ancient Egypt...

In ancient times, skincare was built on a foundation of secrets passed down through families. People were taught to use simple ingredients not only well suited to their skin type, but also well suited to the environment they lived in. While DIY skincare might seem like a trend that will come and go, this new series on iconic beauties of ancient and pre-modern times aspires to prove the opposite. In researching the beauty routines of great female beauty icons – Queen Nefertiti, Helen of Troy, and Yang Yuhan – I have found that the ingredients they relied on thousands of years ago are today’s green DIY staples. As the series unfolds with historical background, biographical information and DIY recipes, keep in mind both your personal heritage and the current environment you live in to find skincare ingredients that will work 

This week is dedicated to Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile. Cleopatra (69 BCE – 30 BCE) was the last active pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, and was a member of the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty. The female pharaoh was known for her commanding, solo rule of Egypt and her passionate – and ultimately fatal – love affair with Roman general, Mark Antony. Amidst dynastic power struggle and daily governance duties, Cleopatra even managed to do some beauty writing herself. “Cosmetics,” as her book was called, examined the medical and pharmacological aspects of beauty. Cleopatra’s skincare routine appropriately reflected her environment, which was hot and arid. She, and other Egyptians of her time, depended on ingredients such as milk, almond oil and egg yolk for moisture, and honey for its antiseptic qualities. While outlandish ancient beauty rituals definitely existed, here you’ll find three doable recipes made of ingredients found at your local grocery store. Furthermore, these recipes focus on moisturizing the skin, so all three products are appropriate for fall/winter skincare. 

Milk and Honey Bath:

In a warm bath, pour in... 1⁄2 cup honey + 3 cups milk + 5 tablespoons almond oil (or olive oil) Sit in the bath for at least 10 minutes; it will leave your skin looking and feeling radiant and soft. Dry skin (everywhere) stands no chance against this luxurious soak.

Face Cream:

Combine 2 tablespoons aloe vera juice + 1 tablespoon almond oil + 2 tablespoons beeswax + 4 drops rose essential oil. When making the cream, melt the beeswax slowly using a double boiler. Take the beeswax out of the heat and combine it with the other ingredients while still warm. This cream can be used twice daily for those with dry skin, or if you have normal to oily skin, apply at the end of the day after washing your face for an overnight, deep-conditioning treatment. 

Face Mask:

Stir together... 1 egg yolk + 1 tablespoon of almond oil + 1 teaspoon of honey. Beat the ingredients together with a whisk, apply to the face, then leave on for 10 to 15 minutes. This mask has both antiseptic and moisturizing qualities, so it can work for all skin types. 

If you are assuming the form of Cleopatra this Halloween, then proceed with the following authentic makeup tips from the Queen herself. Egyptians emphasized their eyes with both black and dark green eyeliner. Black was made of a crystal rock called galena, which helped to protect eyes from the harsh Egyptian sun. Green was made from malachite powder, and protected eyes from infection. Both black and green minerals were mixed with animal fat, and then applied to the face using a finger or small bone. 

To get this look today, use a thick (i.e. as wide as a finger) black eyeliner pencil on the top eyelid, and a green liner on the bottom eyelid. If you don’t have such eyeliners already, I recommend tarte’s smolderEYES Amazonian Clay Waterproof Liner in Golden Black and Olive. This liner goes on smoothly and is a vegan product. 

For eye shadow, Egyptians applied saffron spice mixed with animal fat to their eyelids. While I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable applying this concoction to my eyelids, you can get the same look by combining a touch of Vaseline with crushed dark red eye shadow in the palm of your hand. Mix with your index finger and apply directly to your eyelid. 

Not unlike today, ancient Egyptians also enjoyed a thick eyebrow. For proof of this, just take a look at Queen Nefertiti’s iconic limestone and stucco bust. Egyptians used burnt almonds to darken their eyebrows. Instead of going through the hassle of trying to do it the authentic, ancient Egyptian way, use a dark brown eyebrow liner and apply with long, rounded strokes. For a dark brown eyebrow liner, try tarte’s EmphasEyes for Brows High in Rich Brown. Cruelty-free, and without parabens and sulfates, this is my favorite eyebrow pencil. 

As for lips, ancient Egyptians used red ochre to color their lips a dark reddish-brown. To get the look, try Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics Colour Pencil in NSFW, following up Urban Decay Vegan Revolution Lipstick in F-Bomb. Extra credit: For those looking to challenge themselves in the costume department, try recreating the way ancient Egyptian royalty wore perfume. Using a method called enfleurage, Egyptians would soak flowers and herbs of their choice in layers of fat. Once the mixture congealed into a scented pomade, they would wear these aromatic lumps on top of their wigs. As the day progressed, the pomade would melt and oil would run down their heads and body, encasing them in perfume. Top three favorite scents in ancient Egypt? Frankincense, myrrh, and cinnamon. 

For those who were expecting the quintessential, outlandish ancient beauty technique, experiment with the following herbs to recreate Cleopatra’s breast enhancement serum. While original measurements for the recipe are not available, it is said that Cleopatra combined fennel + fenugreek + dill to enlarge her bust. The science behind the rumor? These herbs contain phytoestrogens, plant hormones that mimic estrogen found in a woman’s body. 

Twyla Shelmire Senior Beauty Editor

Twyla Shelmire

Senior Beauty Editor