Beauty History: Cosmetics in Ancient Greece

Cosmetics were an important part of the life and culture of the Ancient Greeks. Their idea of beauty was pale skin, golden locks and natural makeup and, just like it happens nowadays, they would try everything to achieve it. However, only rich women used to wear makeup in Ancient Greece, which was probably due to its expensive price. Here are their beauty secrets:

Skin

The Ancient Greeks considered pale skin to be a sign of prestige and beauty. To lighten their complexions, women would paint their face with white lead, which we now nowadays to be toxic and may probably have shortened their lives. In alternative to lead, women also used chalk, but that would wear off easily and quickly. In addition, they used to take care of their skin by moisturizing it with honey. Olive oil was also used on their skin to make it look shiny.

Makeup

Ancient Greek women used only minimal makeup because they wanted to look pale and natural. Their lipsticks were a paste made with red iron oxide and ochre clays or olive oil with beeswax. A red powder was also used on the cheeks. Eyeshadows were made with olive oil mixed with ground charcoal. Also, the Ancient Greeks liked connected eyebrows and to achieve them they would decorate their eyes with dark powder.

Hair

In Ancient Greece, only female slaves wore their hair short. Free women had long hair, but after they got married, they would wear it up, usually in a bun. Their hair was then decorated with a diadem, jeweled combs, hair pins, scarfs and other accessories. During Hellenistic times, Greek women also started to artificially wave and curl their hair.

In addition to lightening up their skin, Greek women, most of whom had dark hair, would lighten up their locks too.  To do that, they would apply vinegar on their hair and then spend time in the sun. Archaeologists have found broad-brimmed hats with a hole in the middle which were probably used to lighten hair while keeping skin in the shade so that it would remain pale.

To take care of their hair, Ancient Greek women used olive oil. They would apply it on their hair as a deep conditioning treatment: it would make their hair soft, moisturized and shiny.

35 Comment

  1. Vonvon, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Those things you listed are the same we learn here about Greek history too. But I really love history (was my fave subject at school) and discovering what people used to live like in the past. I find that fascinating and I thought it was nice to share it with you all.

  2. Wow, this was really interesting :) I’m very interested in Ancient Greece and I knew what the beauty ‘trends’ were, but I never knew how they achieved them.

    Didn’t (wealthy) women in most Western societies continue to use lead-based products to whiten their skin even up until the 18th century? I’m sure I read that somewhere…if not lead, something else that was toxic.
    .-= Simone´s last blog ..Review: Sugarpill’s ChromaLust Loose Eyeshadows =-.

  3. Simone, I’m glad you found it interested. The Ancient Greek times were a very fascinating period imo.

    Yep, you’re right. Lead was used by women up until about a century ago to whiten their skin. That may have shortened their life as lead causes paralysis and death. Mercury was also used for the same purpose and that’s toxic too.

  4. Cathryn, all my sources simply said connected eyebrows, but like you, I think that’s unibrows. I can’t see what else it could be. It’s interesting to know what ancient people’s idea of beauty was, even if that’s not really what we like these days, isn’t it?

  5. Cathryn,

    I remember learning about this in a costuming class in college. Yes, in ancient Greece it was considered really beautiful for a woman to have a unibrow, and if she couldn’t achieve it naturally she would basically pencil it in with charcoal. The unibrow, in their view, looked both attractive and intelligent. Go figure!

  6. Layne, costuming class must be so fun and interesting. And it’s also interesting to learn what ancient people considered to be beautiful. Some of their trends were a bit, well strange, but I guess future generations will say the same of our ideal of beauty.

  7. It’s very interesting what the ancient people defined as beauty- painting white lead to brighten their complexions?? Crazyy .. ! :-P

    • Carina, I agree that it’s fascinating to know about the beauty secrets of the past and yes, they would do some crazy things to achieve the beauty ideals of the past. I don’t think we changed that much in that respect though. There are people that use cream with snail slime or have sperm facials done these days… so gross but at least’s they’re not deadly like lead. :)

    • Patricia, do you mean the sources I used for this article or about the origins of beauty in general? I don’t remember what sources I used for this post I’m afraid but I can see if I manage to find them again by doing a search online.

  8. Love your blog – I just keep reading more and more!
    Oh, I’ll finish now… just one more tip. Oooh, and history – well, I must read that, too. And… and… and…

    :)

  9. I could not find ANYTHING on the history for Ancient Greek Women and their makeupfor my big project! You are my savior!
    (: thankyou so much!

  10. I’m doing a project on this and this is perfect the only thing i need is the time period for when this was all popular :o ? Like around which time period did people in Greece do this?

    • Jessi, I used some online sources to write this article but unfortunately they didn’t mention the time period. They just said Ancient Greece. I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help and I wish you all the best with your project.

  11. Ancient Greeks would also use pigeon dropping to lighten their hair because the chemicals in the droppings were like a bleaching agent.

  12. This is amazing. I’ve never seen so much info on a more social n beauty related things in history especially ancient Greeks. I love that period in time :D

  13. Pingback: Ancient Egypt | Amy Terry

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