Greek and Roman Beauty


This project will dig into the cosmetic development, uses and trends in the ancient world primarily focusing on the cultures of Ancient Greece and Rome.This project will uncover how these beauty concepts got started, will compare the similarities and differences between the trends of Greek and Roman beauty and will talk about the chemicals used to make the products.


The Ancient Egyptian culture was a leader in many areas in the ancient world this includes cosmetics as well. One example where we see this is with Egyptian hair.

Example of Egyptian hair on Egyptian artifact

Example of Egyptian hair on Greek Artifact

As pictured here we see a picture of an Egyptian tomb statue versus a Greek Kouros. This wig-like, rough, braided hair style started in Egypt before it became adapted into the Greek and Roman cultures. The same is for some beauty products. Egyptians were one of the first cultures to experiment with products that could alter their appearance.

Cosmetics were so popular in Egypt that essentially everyone used them. Cosmetics also tended to be used for versatile reasons. Cosmetics were used to make one’s appearance look more attractive like they are today but they were also used as protection against Egypt’s harsh climate (beautiful with brains). For example, if a worker were to be out in the sun they would cover their skin in attempt to protect it against the harsh elements (beautiful with brains). Cosmetics weren’t just for women in Egypt men used them too. Also how much money you possessed didn’t matter the rich and poor both used cosmetics.

What we mostly relate with Egyptian cosmetic trends is the stereotypical Egyptian eye. This look was widely used in their culture. The main ingredient to this trend was kohl.  Kohl was the black liner used that was used to draw dramatic attention to the eye by lining it but also protected the eyes from the intense rays of the sun (beautiful with brains).

Present day imitation of Egyptian eye makeup

Along with kohl around the eyes a green eye shadow would be found around the eye formed by a green mineral called malachite.The mineral would be ground into a powder and mixed with animal fat to make it adhesive to the skin.

Example of Malachite Mineral

The last beauty product that had great importance was perfume. Egyptians were used to always being in a hot, sweaty climate so they wanted to hide their sweat and odor. The Egyptians would use the heat to their advantage while creating scents. Due to this they used the enfleurage technique. This would be made by mixing scents like rosemary, lavender and rose then would soak it in fat to create a cream (brains and beauty). After this process was done they would then rub the mixture into their body where it would melt throughout the day and would create a liquid perfume.


We may wonder why these societies used cosmetics to begin with. They didn’t have magazines pushing products on them or any airbrushed celebrities to give them pressure to look a certain way. Though that is true you may be surprised to find out the issues that bothered Greek and Roman women seem to be the same issues that trouble women today.

The women of Ancient Rome wanted to banish pimples, sunspots and freckles. They also cared to hide wrinkles or banish them if at all possible (beautiful with brains).  Along with all of those concerns they tried very hard to lighten the color of their skin. Due to the fact sunscreen wasn’t available to these cultures you can imagine the damage the sun had on their skin.  Since pale pigmented skin wasn’t natural to the Roman women so they would use certain creams to lighten their skin.

The women of ancient Greece had similar worries with their skin and would use similar products to the women of ancient Rome.

Example of the ideal skin type a woman would want


Example of the Greek beauty standard

According to the article Beautiful with Brains the Greek idea of beauty was pale skin, golden locks and natural makeup. This is vastly different than that of the early adapters to cosmetics the Egyptians and soon we will find that to an extent this ideal is far less dramatic to that of the Romans.

In fact, I think we can conclude that most of the Greek and Egyptian makeup trends are vastly different. In Greece only rich women were able to use cosmetics due to their price (beautiful with brains).

When it came to Greek women and their hairstyles different lengths and arrangements meant different things. If one was a female slave she would wear her hair short, if a woman wasn’t a slave she would have long hair (beautiful with brains).  After a woman was married she would usually wear it up in a bun-like style tied with jeweled accents and various hair accessories. When the Hellenistic period was introduced Greek women started to put waves in their hair (beautiful with brains).

Example of Hellenisitc Greek hair

Not only did Greek women lighten their skin they would lighten their hair too. Most Greek women had rather dark hair so they would put vinegar in their hair before going in the sun. Archaeologists even found hats with holes which were probably used to lighten hair while keeping skin shaded from the sun (beautiful with brains).


As you were introduced to earlier in this article Roman women were concerned about skincare so they would use various products/mixtures to hide wrinkles, pimples and sunspots.

Though the Greeks didn’t have too much in common with Egyptian cosmetic trends the Romans did. Similar to the Egyptians the Romans would line their eyes with Kohl and would use malachite, the green mineral introduced by the Egyptians, and azurite (a blue mineral) to add color to their eyes (beautiful with brains). Along with darkening their eyes they believed that dark eyebrows that almost met was attractive. To achieve this they would use suit to darken and extend them inward (beautiful with brains).

Like the Egyptians, the Romans were concerned with smelling good. To achieve this they would use perfumes that were a solid (like the Egyptian enfleurage technique) or liquid, like the perfumes we use today. Obviously the Romans wanted to cover up bodily odors by using scents but they also wanted to cover up the band smells that some of the cosmetics they used had(beautiful with brains).

Examples of ingredients used in perfume

Unlike the Egyptian culture only wealthy woman in Rome used cosmetics. The Ancient Roman culture even had female slaves called “Cosmetae” who had specific jobs to put makeup on women and mix the cosmetics together (cosmetics history).

Example of a Roman woman with her Cosmetic

To view what cosmetics would be like in the Ancient Roman culture watch the video below by The History Channel UK.


According to the Article  “Suffering for beauty has ancient roots” by Diane Mapes for MSNBC the beauty products that were used in these ancient civilizations caused many dangerous and unpleasant health conditions. According to the dermatologist interviewed, Dr. Joel Schlessinger, the kohl and lead used by the Ancient Egyptians would “eventually lead to irritability, insomnia and mental disease.” Lead was the most dangerous chemical used in these cosmetics and seemed to be found from anything from face powder to eye makeup.

Greek and Roman cultures would use a white led-based powder to lighten their complexions. According to Mapes this use of led could lead to skin ruptures to madness to infertility.  It wasn’t until the later 18th centuries people would realize the dangers of these chemicals.


Please note this is a blog research post for a class project. I read multiple articles to get his information. Here’s a list of the articles used to give me information.

BBC News: Ancient cosmetics brought to life

BBC News: Roman cosmetic secrets revealed

Life in Italy: History of Cosmetics

Beautiful with Brains: Beauty History: Cosmetics in Ancient Greece

Beautiful with Brains: Beauty History: Cosmetic Secrets of the Ancient Romans

Beautiful with Brains: Beauty History: Cosmetics in Ancient Egypt

MSNBC: Suffering for Beauty has Ancient Roots

All pictures were found off Google

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