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Ancient Egypt is always a fascinating subject. Most of the time, people focus on the big accomplishments of their civilization, like the Sphinx or the Great Pyramids. Have you ever considered the smaller accomplishments of ancient Egypt? Or how they kept themselves healthy and clean? Their health and hygiene habits were pretty different than today. Let's get started!
Most Egyptians were actually very clean people. And not just the royalty either, but also the workers and peasants. They believed that smelling bad or being dirty actually offended the gods and that they would suffer in the afterlife if they were dirty.
Generally, most ancient Egyptians took at least one bath per day, as well as washing up before meals and bed. Priests bathed even more frequently, for obvious reasons.
Some people had a bath in their houses, but the majority of bathing was done in public bathhouses. There were separate areas for men and women, and these places were a bit different than the later Roman bathhouses.
The Egyptian ones had individual basins instead of one large "swimming pool" type area to bathe in. The larger ones were eventually built, but they didn't happen until much later, in the 1st century CE.
Royalty bathed slightly differently than the common citizen, as you might expect. Cleopatra, one of the most famous queens of Egypt, famously bathed in sour donkey's milk. Why would anyone subject themselves to that?
Milk contains lactic acid, which is good for giving yourself a mild skin peel. So the milk baths helped her keep a mild, clear complexion. Supposedly, she mixed other things into her bath too, but it's likely that the lactic acid was the main component for her.
Perfumes and deodorants were also very common and popular in ancient Egypt. One of the perfumes they used was called kyphi. There were many different kinds of kyphi, including some used for religious services.
People also used it as a breath freshener and to freshen the smell of clothing. It was not only the first perfume but may have been one of the first "fabric refreshers" too. Later on, the word kyphi became synonymous with temple incense, but the first use was as a perfume.
Ancient Egyptians also were the first people that were known to brush their teeth. Toothbrushes have been found as far back as 3500 BCE, and they were made from twigs. Bristles didn't come until later (ancient Chinese civilizations are credited with inventing those.)
The Egyptians cut up the ends of the twigs so that they could get between the teeth though. That helped them get out any leftover food particles. These "teeth sticks" have been found in tombs through Egypt.
What goes along with toothbrushes? Toothpaste. The Egyptians also had a formula for that, and it came before they even invented the tooth sticks. There is evidence that the toothpaste they used goes all the way back to 5000 BCE, although the recipes that have been found come from much, much later.
The earliest toothpaste recipe found from ancient Egypt dates back to the 4th century CE. It contains rock salt, iris, and pepper mixed together. When mixed with saliva, this recipe is effective against tooth loss and gum disease.
Cosmetics were used a lot in ancient Egypt, and one of the more famous ones is called kohl. It was a kind of eyeliner or face paint used around the eyes to give them a larger, more prominent appearance. Kohl was usually only used by the upper classes because it was expensive.
It was also made out of lead sulfate and sometimes mixed with precious gemstones. This would prove poisonous, and so it was later mixed with less toxic substances.
The Egyptians also invented a type of sunscreen. They knew a bit about skin damage, and they also knew that being out in the sun could damage their skin. The sun cream was made from rice, jasmine, and certain other plants similar to aloe.
They also used zinc oxide. Zinc oxide is a powerful sunscreen still used today, and it was an ingredient in some forms of kohl. There is also evidence that the ancient Egyptians used umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun too.
Although a lot of focus was placed on the eyes, other areas of the body had makeup applied too. Lipstick was used by both men and women to accentuate parts of the mouth.
Red ochre was used to make the lipstick, which would sometimes be mixed with gum and other resin so that it would stick better. There were other colors used as well, including blue, black, and orange.
Red ochre was also used to make blush. In this case, the pigment was applied directly to the skin to create nice, rosy looking cheeks. Often, it would be mixed with water to make it more subtle and to make it easier to apply.
The use of red ochre had a beneficial side effect too. Certain forms of ochre acted as sunscreens too. Ochre is still used today. It's been used as a body decoration since at least 10,000 BCE!
Since many ancient Egyptians went barefoot, foot care was a must. This took several forms. First of all, many bathhouses and even homes had foot baths. They would wash their feet as part of their daily cleaning regimen.
There is also evidence that they didn't want their feet to stink either. They applied sweet-smelling oils to the soles of their feet, which had the added benefit of conditioning the skin.
Ancient Egyptians also practiced massage, and foot massage was part of the practice. There are ancient papyrus parchments depicting massage and foot massage is found on many of them.
Later papyruses also explained the methods of massage. One called the Kahun Medical Papyrus, from the Middle Kingdom, detailed some of the techniques. It says, “Examination of a woman aching in her legs and her calves after walking. You should say of it ‘it is discharges of the womb’. You should treat it with a massage of her legs and calves with mud until she is well.”
Since they went around barefoot quite a bit, the ancient Egyptians performed manicures and pedicures too. Manual labor was hard, and they were outside, so corns and calluses were scraped off with bronze razors.
The manicurist for a king was a prestigious position. In the tombs of the manicurist, the name of the job is often very prominent above the tomb.
Wigs were also worn in ancient Egypt for several reasons. First, lice were a big problem, so shaving one's head and wearing a wig was simply easier than trying to keep them out.
Wigs were also fashionable and used to denote class status. A slave and an upper-class person couldn't have the same haircut, right? So the more elaborate the wig, the better.
Deodorants were probably invented by the Egyptians. One papyrus, called the Hearst Papyrus, describes a kind of paste that was used to mask the scent of perspiration. There were a number of different recipes on it.
One of them involved a mixture of lettuce, myrrh, spices, and other plants to prevent body odor. Sometimes other types of ingredients were used too.
This is a good look at the hygiene habits of ancient Egypt. They were very clean people and had fewer health problems because of it. If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your friends. Thanks for reading!