Kohl in Ancient Egypt: The Power and Allure of a Cosmetics Tradition

Kohl, a cosmetic used to darken the eyelids and eyelashes, was an essential part of the beauty regimen in ancient Egypt. But it was more than just a cosmetic accessory. Kohl had religious, medicinal, and symbolic implications, offering a unique lens to explore the civilization’s cultural and societal norms.

Preparing and Applying Kohl

Kohl was traditionally prepared by grinding minerals like galena or malachite into a fine powder. This powder was then mixed with a binder to create a paste. The paste was applied using a small stick or applicator, often made from wood or bronze. The cosmetic was stored in decorative kohl pots, which could be simple for everyday use or ornate for more affluent individuals.

Aesthetic and Symbolic Value

Kohl was applied by both men and women in ancient Egypt, underscoring its significance beyond gender lines. The dark, almond-shaped eyes that kohl helped create were considered a standard of beauty. Moreover, the application of kohl was associated with the protection of the eye, as the dark lines around the eyes reduced sun glare in the desert environment.

Religious Significance

In religious terms, the use of kohl was associated with the gods Horus and Ra. The eye of Horus, often depicted as a stylized, human-like eye, was outlined with kohl, symbolizing protection and healing powers. Kohl was also used by the priests in religious ceremonies, further attesting to its spiritual significance.

Medicinal Uses

The medicinal properties of kohl were highly valued in ancient Egypt. The lead-based compounds in kohl were believed to ward off eye diseases, a common affliction in the Nile Valley due to the dusty environment and intense sun. The darkened eyelids also helped reduce the glare of the sun.


Kohl, in the context of ancient Egypt, is a remarkable example of a cosmetic tradition intertwined with religious, medicinal, and cultural practices. It not only enhanced physical beauty but also served as a protective and healing agent, contributing to an individual’s health and spiritual well-being. Today, the iconic kohl-lined eyes are synonymous with the imagery of ancient Egypt, underlining the enduring allure and significance of this ancient cosmetic tradition.

Wikipedia: Ancient Egypt
History Channel: Ancient Egypt
Live Science: Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt for Kids
British Museum: Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt