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Why did Egyptians paint their eyes black?

The ancient Egyptians are well known for their distinctive painted eyes, with bold black lines extending outwards from the corners of the eyes. This striking eye makeup was an important part of Egyptian fashion and beauty culture for both men and women. But why did they choose to paint their eyes this way?

There are a few key reasons why ancient Egyptians lined their eyes with black kohl makeup:

Beauty and Fashion

The black eye paint was seen as beautiful and fashionable. Just like modern people use makeup to enhance their eyes, the ancient Egyptians wanted to accentuate their eyes in a way they found appealing. The strong, straight lines created a dramatic, bold effect that was considered elegant and attractive.

Representation of the Gods

The eye paint was also connected to their religious beliefs and rituals. Many Egyptian gods were portrayed with lined eyes, including Ra, Horus, Osiris, Isis and Hathor. Egyptians wanted to emulate the appearance of the gods and goddesses by outlining their own eyes. The eye paint helped them feel a stronger connection to the deities.

Protection from the Evil Eye

There was also a superstitious element to the practice. Egyptians believed that the dramatic eye makeup could protect the wearer from the “evil eye”. The evil eye was a curse thought to be transmitted by envious glare. The bold eye paint served as a shield against any malicious looks.

Repel Flies and Block Sun Glare

In addition to the cultural significance, there were also some practical benefits to the black eye makeup. The dark color underneath the eyes reduced glare from the bright sun. This allowed Egyptians to see more clearly outdoors. The makeup may also have helped prevent flies from landing around their eyes.

History and Origins

The use of black eye paint dates back thousands of years in Egyptian culture. Here is an overview of how the eye painting tradition developed:

Pre-Dynastic Period

– Evidence of simple eye painting appears in the Predynastic Period, over 5,000 years ago

– Basic lining around the eyes used with red ochre pigment

Old Kingdom

– Straight lines extending from the eye corners become more common

– Black kohl and green malachite were the main pigments

– Eyeliner worn by both men and women

New Kingdom

– Eye paint becomes a regular part of daily makeup

– Palettes contain spaces to grind eye paint

– Elite women begin using painted-on cosmetic cones on their heads which drip makeup down onto their skin

Late Period

– Eye paint designs become more elaborate with winged edges and extended lines

– Colorful shadows and brow highlights are added

So the basic form of the black painted eyes emerged very early on in Egyptian history. The style then evolved over the Dynasties, with the makeup becoming more complex and bold.

Making the Kohl Eyeliner

The Egyptians used finely ground powders mixed with oils or animal fats to create their eye makeup. Here is an overview of how the black kohl and green malachite eyeliner was produced:


– **Galena** – The lead ore galena was the most common source of the black color. When ground into a fine powder, it made a dark black eye paint.

– **Malachite** – This green copper ore was also commonly used for eye paint. It had protective qualities according to Egyptian belief.

– **Oils and animal fats** – These were combined with the galena or malachite powder to make a paste. Common oils included sesame, moringa, castor bean, and olive oil. Goose fat was also often used.


– **Pestle and mortar** – The galena or malachite rocks were ground using a stone mortar and pestle to create the powdered pigment.

– **Palettes** – The powder was then mixed with oils on a palette to create the kohl paste. Palettes were often made of slate but also used materials like glass, bone, ivory, or wood.

– **Applicators** – To apply the eye paint, the Egyptians used sticks made of wood, bone, or ivory. These were dipped into the paste and used to paint the eyeliner around the rims of the eyes.


– Intricately decorated pots were used for storing the eye paint. These pots have been found in many ancient tombs and burial sites across Egypt.

Applying the Makeup

The Egyptians applied their eye makeup in a specific style to create the recognizable bold lines. Here is an overview of how both men and women would apply the black kohl:

Outline the Eyes

– The kohl applicator stick was used to first outline the shape of the eye along the top and bottom lids. This created a thick, black line following the rims of the eyes.

Extend the Lines Outwards

– Straight lines were then drawn outwards from the outer corner of each eye, extending horizontally or angling slightly down the cheek.

– These lines culminated in a dot or circular spiral.

Connect the Lines Underneath

– The lines from each eye were then connected with more liner underneath each eye, either in a straight line or a rounded shape.

Fill in the Rest

– The entire area of the lids and around the eyes were filled in with kohl to create a bold, black look surrounding each eye.

Let Dry

– The freshly applied kohl was left to dry before opening the eyes fully. Drying helped prevent smearing.

This technique was done daily, and touch-ups were needed throughout the day. Elite Egyptian women had servants to apply their makeup for them.

Types of Eye Designs

There was some variety in the styles of eye paint used in ancient Egypt. Some examples include:

Natural Style

– Simple line around rims of eyes
– Subtle downward stroke from outer corners

Bold Angled Wings

– Very elongated angled lines from corners following angle of eyes

Straight Bar Style

– Horizontal line drawn connecting the lines underneath eyes

Exaggerated Round Style

– Heavily lined eyes with large circular lines around entire eye area

Colorful Variations

– While black was most common, eyes were sometimes done in dark blue, red, or green

Hieroglyphs and Symbols

– Sacred images like the Eyes of Horus symbol or hieroglyphs were sometimes incorporated into the design

Eye Design Description
Natural Style Simple line around rims of eyes with subtle downward stroke from outer corners
Bold Angled Wings Very elongated angled lines from corners following angle of eyes
Straight Bar Style Horizontal line drawn connecting the lines underneath eyes
Exaggerated Round Style Heavily lined eyes with large circular lines around entire eye area
Colorful Variations Black, dark blue, red or green colored lines
Hieroglyphs and Symbols Sacred images like the Eyes of Horus incorporated into the design

So while the straight black elongated style was the most iconic, there was diversity in the eye designs used.

Men’s Eye Makeup

It’s important to note that it was not just women who wore the bold eye makeup. Egyptian men also painted their eyes daily:

Young Boys

– Makeup was applied to boys and children to protect them from illness and disease.


– The pharaohs of Egypt wore dramatic painted eyes as a symbol of their power and status.

Regular Men

– Daily grooming for men included outlining their eyes in kohl. Written texts refer to male eye paint.

Tombs and Art

– Men are depicted in tomb scenes and in art wearing eye makeup.

So the eye paint was worn by Egyptian men of all social classes, not only females. It was an important ritual for both genders.

Significance and Meaning

Beyond just fashion, the painted eyes held a deep cultural and spiritual significance. Here are some of the important meanings behind this practice:

Reflection of the Soul

– Egyptians viewed the eyes as the window to the soul. Outlining and defining the eyes was like outlining and protecting the soul.

Symbol of Divinity

– As mentioned earlier, lining the eyes mimicked the gods and allowed wearers to evoke divine forces.

Enhancing Vision

– The green malachite powder in particular was believed to improve and enhance eyesight.

Uniting Opposites

– The heavy eye paint united masculine and feminine traits, reflecting the value of balance.

Showing Maturity

– Young Egyptians would begin wearing makeup to indicate their transition into adulthood.

So the eye paint clearly had a deeper cultural purpose beyond just enhancing beauty temporarily.


The ancient Egyptians used black eye makeup for a multitude of reasons – for beauty, status, protection, and cultural identity. Tracing its origins back over 5,000 years, the distinctive painted eyes are one of the most iconic symbols of ancient Egypt still recognized today. While there was variety in styles and techniques, the core look – straight lines extending out from the eyes in black kohl – created a bold, dramatic effect that defined Egyptian fashion and remains memorable centuries later. The makeup was important for both men and women, serving practical functions while also holding deeper spiritual meaning about divinity, maturity, and the human soul. When we see the striking painted eyes from ancient Egypt, we get a glimpse into their society and beliefs behind this enduring practice.