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Black Eyes, White Masks, and Rosy Cheeks

Libi Astaire

Throughout the centuries, women have tried to enhance their beauty. The definition of beauty, though, has gone through dramatic transformations — and the use of makeup has followed suit.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

While it’s thought the earliest makeup may have been tattoos, makeup historians usually begin their story in Ancient Egypt, where beauty was considered a sign of holiness.

Egyptian men and women enhanced their eyes with green eye shadow made from malachite — a copper mineral they mined in the Sinai Desert — and thick eyeliner called kohl. Black kohl, often made from lead sulfide and soot, was used to line the upper eyelid; green kohl made from copper oxide was used to line the lower one. The desired effect was to create exaggerated falcon-shaped eyes, because according to Egyptian mythology, a falcon’s eye was a symbol of life and protection.

In addition to warding off the evil eye, the thick layer of kohl was thought to provide medicinal benefits, such as better eyesight. While that claim has yet to be substantiated, the lead sulfide found in kohl did ward off small insects that could cause eye disease. The heavy eye shadow, which went up to the eyebrow, had a benefit as well, because it helped protect the eyes from the drying effects of the hot Egyptian sun.

With time, kohl-lined eyes became popular in many African, South Asian, and Middle Eastern countries. Blue-black-colored kohl was prevalent inEretzYisrael, and its use is discussed in the Talmud. For instance, applying kohl on Shabbos was forbidden, but it was permitted onCholHamoed.



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