Beauty History: Cosmetics In Ancient Greece

cosmetics in ancient greece

We all want what we can’t have. The Ancient Greeks were no different. They prized long and curly golden locks, and pale, porcelain skin. But so few of them looked like that naturally. So, they tried to fake it. Here’s how:


In Ancient Greece, pale skin was a sign of prestige and beauty. It meant women (and men) didn’t have to work for long hours in the fields to support themselves. They were wealthy enough, and their skin was proof of it.

But not everyone was born with porcelain skin. So, to lighten it, women painted their faces with white lead, a toxic substance that sadly shortened their already short lives. If lead wasn’t available, they’d turn to chalk. It was only a last resort, as chalk wears off very quickly and easily.

This paint needed a smooth foundation. So, women slathered creams made with honey all over their faces to keep it moisturized. If they wanted a shinier, glowier look, they’d add a few drops of olive oil.


Ancient Greek women, just like us, loved their cosmetics. But they were so expensive, only the rich could afford them! And when they put them on, they were hardly visible. The no-makeup makeup look was all the rage. Natural beauty (achieved with unnatural means) was the ideal.

Lips and cheeks were gently brightened with red-coloured pastes. Lipsticks were made with red iron oxide and ochre clays, or olive oil with beeswax. Olive oil was an essential ingredients of eyeshadows as well. It was mixed with ground charcoal.

But, the weirdest trend of all was the unibrow. Yep, that’s right. The Ancient Greeks, both male and female, used a dark powder to connect their brows!


In Ancient Greece, only female slaves wore their hair short. Free women had long hair, but could only wear it loose until they remained single. The moment they tied the knot, they’d tie it up, usually in a bun. If it was straight, they’d curl it. Diadem, jeweled combs, hair pins, scarfs, and other accessories completed the look.

Just like dark skin, dark hair wasn’t appreciated either. And most women had dark hair. So, they would lighten that too. How? By applying vinegar throughout their locks, and then sitting for hours in the sun. To prevent a tan, they’d wear broad-brimmed hats with a hole in the middle.

To keep their hair soft, moisturized, and shiny, they once again turned to olive oil. Applied and left on the hair for hours, it acts like a conditioning treatment. I do this too sometimes, and the result is amazing.

What do you think of the beauty secrets of the Ancient Greeks?

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  1. beautifulwithbrains says

    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. says

    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. beautifulwithbrains says

    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. beautifulwithbrains says

    Dao, it is interesting indeed, isn’t it? I hadn’t thought about that, but you’e right. :)

  5. beautifulwithbrains says

    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?

  6. Layne says


    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!

  7. beautifulwithbrains says

    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.

  8. Carina says

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

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      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. :)

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      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.

  9. Ana says

    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…


  10. Kayla says

    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!

  11. Jessi says

    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 😮 ? Like around which time period did people in Greece do this?

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      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.

  12. Sam says

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

  13. Rayana says

    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 😀

  14. Jessica Gibson says

    Absolutely loved this article. It was exactly what I was looking for. I’m trying to also learn about ancient Rome and Egyptian cosmetics. I want to know the differences and similarities, mainly for useless knowledge to talk about but also so I can feel good about my Halloween costume this year knowing my makeup is accurate..even if my sassy costume won’t be.

  15. Jamie says

    The making of this blog is right on my b-day!!!!!Hhehehehehe….this blog helped me A LOT!!!!!!its awesome!!! Now i can domy research payless and freee!

    • Gio says

      Jamie, it’s great what some would do in the name of beauty, isn’t it?

      I will do more research and let you know what I find out. :)


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