The Ancient Greeks are more commonly known for their plays, democracy and philosophy, but just like today, beauty was also an important part of their culture. Socrates and Pluto were a couple of Greek philosophers who had decided views on beauty. One believed features should be kept pure and the other believed that beauty should be even and symmetrical. In practice, their idea of beauty was pale skin, golden locks and natural makeup, however only rich women could afford to wear makeup in Ancient Greece due to the fact that it was so expensive.
Back in those days, pale skin was considered a sign on prestige and beauty as it symbolised not having to work long hours in the sun like slaves and lower class citizens. To lighten their complexions, women would paint their face with white chalk (which would wear off easily) or worse still they’d use white lead, which is highly toxic and shortened their lives. Anything for vanity!
Only minimal makeup was used and their lipsticks were a paste made with red iron oxide and ochre clays mixed with olive oil or beeswax. A red powder was also used on their cheeks. Eye shadows were made with a mixture of olive oil and ground charcoal and even though minimal makeup was ‘the look,’ the ladies went all out with the eyebrows, using dark powder to exaggerate the thickness of their brows, going so far as to join the brows together. Talk about a monobrow!
In Ancient Greece, female slaves wore their hair short and free women had long hair. Unmarried women would wear their hair out while unmarried women would wear it up, usually in a bun. Their hair was then decorated with a diadem, jewelled combs, hair pins, scarves and other accessories. Greek women would also artificially wave and curl their hair.
In addition to lightening their skin, Greek women – most of whom had dark hair – would also lighten their locks. To do this they would apply vinegar on their hair then spend time in the sun. Archaeologists have found broad-brimmed hats with a hole in the middle which were used to lighten the hair while keeping skin in the shade so that it would remain pale. Olive oil was also used as a deep conditioning treatment, making their hair soft, moisturised, and shiny.
The Ancient Greeks had very high standards about the way they looked, yet their beauty standards were based on enhancing natural features and not so much on covering up imperfections.
The word ‘cosmetic’ comes from the Greek word ‘kosmetikos,’ meaning a sense of harmony, order, and tranquillity. Not surprisingly, most beauty products in Ancient Greece were made from ingredients found in their natural environment.
Because olive trees are so naturally abundant in Greece, olive oil was the lifeblood of Ancient Greek culture. It was a staple for daily personal hygiene and body care, especially for women. They used it as a skin cleanser, after-bath moisturiser, and conditioning hair treatment among other things.
The use of honey as a cosmetic in Ancient Greece dates all the way back to 5000 BC, when skincare was based on bee products, goat’s milk, flowers, herbs, and olive oil. Greek women enjoyed honey and milk baths as part of their nightly beauty regime. Now that’s a lot of goat’s milk!
An Ancient Greek cosmetic foundation called fucus was made from powdered chalk and white lead. Women in classical antiquity were unaware of lead poisoning, so they freely painted their faces with the toxic metal to create pale, radiant complexions. They also slathered on a lead-based facial masks to clear up blemishes and remove impurities from their skin. Don’t do this at home, girls!
This sooty, black substance – usually made from sticks of charred wood – proved useful as eye makeup. Like the Egyptians, Greek women defined and emphasised their eyes by staining them with black powders. They used charcoal, soot, and ashes as eyeliner, brow filler, and eye shadow. They also used kohl or powdered antimony, another toxic chemical similar to lead.
NATURAL PIGMENTS AND VEGETABLE DYES
Many herbs, flowers, vegetables, and fruits indigenous to Greece found their way into ancient cosmetics. Roses, anemones, mulberries, lotus flowers, marigolds, lavender, and chamomile are just a few examples. They were also known to create beauty products from natural pigments, plant roots, red wine and mastic, an aromatic resin. Red vegetable dyes – such as beetroot – were especially common to give a flourishing, rose-pink hue to the lips and cheeks.