We Tried The Ancient Egyptian Beauty Routine
Perhaps the reason we're so fascinated by these tips is that in our minds, they are proven performers. The women who follow them are breathtaking, therefore if we steal a secret or two, maybe some of that supernatural flawlessness will rub off on us. At least, that was my theory going into this story. I wanted to see what would happen if I switched out my usual routine for two weeks and adopted the habits of a famous lady in history. And, who better to kick things off with than the OG famous beauty, Cleopatra?
Only, it turns out Cleopatra — the real one, not the Elizabeth Taylor one — wasn't the legendary beauty everyone made her out to be. According to Dr. Joyce Tyldesley, senior lecturer in Egyptology at the University of Manchester and author of Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt: From Early Dynastic Times to the Death of Cleopatra, "We don't actually know that she was beautiful — though she was certainly a strong and confident woman. The only absolutely confirmed images that we have of her are her coins — and they are not particularly attractive to modern eyes." The real, confirmed queen bee of ancient Egypt, says Tyldesley, was Nefertiti.
The ancient queen, who lived way back around 1,300 B.C., has plenty of confirmed images, notes Tyldesley, all of which show her as a classic beauty. Unfortunately, Nefertiti's exact beauty regimen is unknown, but Tyldesley says she most likely followed the common rituals of the time. "Most of our information about ancient Egyptian beauty rituals comes from elite tombs — beauty and hygiene were considered so important that the wealthy were buried with the equipment that would allow them to look well-groomed in the afterlife." Talk about dedication.
So, what does that mean? "Skin care would probably start with the removal of unwanted hair, using metal razors, knives, and tweezers. There was no soap, but ashes and naturally occurring salts could be used as non-lathering detergents. Linen towels were used for drying. The clean skin would be rubbed with moisturizing oils which, it was believed, would remove facial wrinkles," explains Tyldesley.
"Makeup was used by both men and women; it was believed to have medical benefits. In particular, eye makeup was believed to protect against eye disease. This was applied in what we would recognize as a bold, 1960s style with paint, or kohl, applied to the upper and lower lids, outlining and exaggerating the eye. The eyebrow was also darkened and lengthened. Two main colors were used: green and dark gray." Riiight. What the hell have I gotten myself into?
Tyldesley also told me that many ancient Egyptians would shave their heads and wear elaborate braided wigs made out of human hair, as well as concoct their own deodorant from ostrich eggshell, tortoiseshell, and gallnut. But, even I have my limits. Sorry, guys.
I started off my experiment with a distinctly ancient custom — a laser facial. What, you didn't know the ancient Egyptians had lasers? How do you think they built the pyramids?! Okay, fine — I cheated. Barely two hours in, and I was already taking liberties. But, in my defense, at least I can say it was research for another story. After that giant misstep, my resolve was very firm — I was sticking to this B.C. beauty routine religiously for the remaining days. It was a whole lot harder than I thought. Damn tempting modern conveniences.
First up on my new regimen: hair removal. I am what can kindly be described as the biggest klutz in the world, so foregoing my usual wire-wrapped, ergonomically designed-handle safety razor for an old-school straight edge scared the crap out of me. I chose Oui Shave's Carrie razor, a single-blade, refillable option. The brand says that the key to shaving with the razor is to apply no pressure whatsoever and just let it glide at a 30-degree angle over the skin. I half-considered digging around in my junk drawer to get a protractor and measure that sucker out, but resisted.
I picked up the razor, felt the heft of its weight in my hand, closed my eyes, and placed it against my leg. Then, I immediately opened my eyes and berated myself for being such a moron. Eyes open when wielding sharp instruments, ding-dong. The razor slid effortlessly over my skin, and I felt nothing — the hair was gone in an instant. The ankles and backs of my knees were a little tricky, but in general I didn't even notice a difference, other than that I was being a lot more attentive to my shaving and going at a slower pace.
I didn't use shaving cream, and yet my legs were silky-smooth and there was no razor burn. So far, so good.
On to skin care. Since I don't have a fireplace, and hence, no spare ashes, nor any animal fat around to make my own soap, I went for the next best option and bought some handmade charcoal soap from a local apothecary. Using the same bar of soap on my face and body made me feel like every guy I ever knew in college, and was a far cry from my usual cleansing-oil-and-face-wash routine. In the shower, my skin started to feel tight after washing off the soap and I worried I was drying the bejeezus out of it. But, I kept at it. You will not defeat me, bar soap.
My face-oil game is already pretty strong, so I was the least worried about this one. I was merely going from using an oil two to three times a week to using it all the time. With one exception — in the morning. Unlike the ancient Egyptians, I know what melanoma is, so you can pry my SPF moisturizer out of my cold, dead hands.
In the evenings, I used Tatcha's Pure One Step Camellia Cleansing Oil to remove my makeup, and then patted my face dry with Napoleon Perdis' Cleansing Muslin Cloths. Not really the most absorbent. After shaking my face around a bit like a dog and using my hands to try to pat off the excess water, I then placed a few drops of Kypris' Beauty Elixir II in my hands and pressed the oil all over my face.
Mornings consisted of cleansing oil, followed by my trusty Skin Laundry Advanced Protection Moisturizer SPF 35. My body got a healthy application of Caldrea's Aloe Water Apricot Body Oil, a nice change for me because I'm the type of person who's just too lazy to apply lotion. There's one good thing about this experiment already.
How are my legs still stubble-free? Did I break my hair follicles? How many layers of skin did that razor remove?
Kohl eyeliner is still pretty commonplace in the makeup world, so I had no problem finding that. Harder was limiting myself to gray and green, two colors that aren't in my normal eye-makeup repertoire. I stared forlornly at my extensive eyeliner collection, 99% of which I couldn't use anymore. I'll pause here while you get out your tiny violins and play a sad, sweet dirge for my suffering.
That was beautiful, thank you. I grabbed Maybelline's Master Kajal Liner in Charcoal Skies and drew on a reverse cat-eye for the ages. Hey, if I'm only allowed to wear kohl liner and brow powder, I'm going big.
Oh good, more oils. I'm starting to miss the feeling of a nice gel-cream on my face.
Okay, finally, there's some stubble! Razor time. The poky pace of my shave has added an extra 20 minutes to my morning routine. I've gotten adept at apologizing for my tardiness. I mean, I could also wake up a little bit earlier...nah.
My skin is starting to look kind of amazing. The charcoal soap, even though it feels a bit tight after rinsing, is actually doing wonders for my skin. My breakouts — face and body — are clearing up, and my pores are looking significantly less noticeable. There's something to this stuff.
Note to self: Do not put silk pants on directly after slathering your legs with body oil. It will not end well for you or the pants.
I really need to get better at using brow powder. I can't get the hang of using the brush to create tiny flicking motions like I do with my usual brow pencil. Instead, I just get big smudges of colors randomly dotted through my arches that I have to try to rub in vigorously with my finger. I look like Groucho Marx's angry daughter.
Blearily reached for a duo-chrome eyeshadow this morning before realizing Nefertiti probably wasn't swiping sparkle pigments on her lids. Damn Nefertiti. Gray kohl liner it is.
I'm so bored with wearing the same makeup look for the past two weeks that I just said "Screw it," and went bare-faced today. To my surprise, I actually looked kind of good. The charcoal soap has given my skin a smoothness and clarity I haven't seen since my pre-pubescent years, and the oils have been imparting a nice dewiness to my face that puts illuminators to shame.
Razor time again. Starting to look forward to using my chic little gold hair remover. It makes me feel so fancy. Fearful for my life, but also fancy.
Two weeks, one scary razor, a gallon of oil, and more kohl than one woman needs in her life have all taught me that I am really glad I live in modern times. Convenience is something I will never take for granted again. Tyldesley agrees with my assessment, noting that with hygiene and good grooming being an important aspect of our daily rituals, we're better off now. "The products available to the ancients were not ideal: The detergents would have been very drying on the skin; the oils may well have smelt rancid, and the eye makeup was not necessarily good for the eyes. Today, we are lucky enough to have much better products at our disposal." Preach, sister. Also, duo-chrome eyeshadows. Just sayin'.
However, there is definitely something to this beauty routine. The charcoal soap, oils, and straight razor have stayed in my regular rotation — I've just switched them out here and there with other products. The eye kohl, on the other hand, has been retired. Modern woman was not made to wear gray liner alone.
So, which famous routine should I try next? Let me know in the comments what you want me to guinea-pig. Be gentle, guys.
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