Beauty Care and Cosmetics in Ancient Greece

Ancient Greek women and men took a lot of care of their appearance and body with the help of ingredients found affluent in their natural environment. How they look emphasized their status and wealth. The word cosmetic derives from the Greek word ‘Kosmetikos’ meaning the awareness of harmony, organisation and tranquillity.

The pale complexion mainly for women was very fashionable but to achieve this they used harsh, toxic materials without knowing they were dangerous and hazardous for the human body. The pale skin was thought to be a sign of esteem and affluence.

The most common products they based their cosmetics and beauty care on are:

Olive oil,
At the beginning olive oil was used for making fragrance oils. Later, Greeks used it for food, lighting, pharmaceutical purposes and cosmetics. Olive oil was a necessity for daily personal hygiene and body care. Women used it as skin cleanser, personal lubricant and after bath moisturizer. Greek men rub their bodies before exercising or going to battle.

Honey
Honey with its many useful properties was also an ingredient for cosmetics in Ancient Greece since 5000BC. At that time skin care was based on bee products, goat’s milk, flowers, herbs and olive oil. Minoan women took pleasure from their nightly beauty treatment by having baths with honey and milk.

White Lead
Not being aware of the danger to human health ancient Greek women made up their faces with a cosmetic foundation made of powered chalk and white lead to achieve a pale complexion. They also used lead as a base for facial musk to clear and remove impurities from their skin.

Charcoal
Ancient Greek women loved to emphasize their eyes with makeup from black powders taken after burning sticks. They used charcoal, carbon and ashes as eyeliner, for shaping their eyebrows which they preferred very dark, heavy and connected, the ‘unibrow’ as we call it. These black powders were also used for eyeshadows.

Natural colours and Dyes
Herbs, flowers, vegetables and fruits, like roses, anemones, mulberries, lotus flowers, marigolds, lavender chamomile, natural pigments, plant roots, red wine and mastic were products used for cosmetic preparations and beauty treatment. Red vegetable dyes such as beetroot, replaced todays lipstick and rouge.

Many materials and beauty products that the Ancient Greek women made themselves beautiful with are still used in our cosmetics like olive oil, honey and beeswax.