Thursday, 26 April 2012

Ancient Greece: The Beauty Regime

Bathing rituals in Ancient Greece
There seems to be an endless pursuit of adhering to the 'ideal of beauty', which can be charted through the various strategies that women have used to achieve it. Before the arrival of ready made cosmetics, women found a multitude of tricks and recipes to acquire the look of the day. The women of Ancient Greece took great pride in their physical appearance and it all started with their beauty regime. 

Women would start their routine with a bath, before applying a variety of oils and perfume to their skin. Honey and olive oil were used heavily, on their body, hair and in cosmetics for their moisturising properties. Ancient Greek women wore their hair long and had a preference for it to be golden. This was achieved by using a vinegar solution that bleached the hair in the sun, or a yellow flower dye. Soap, pomades and wax were also used to give the hair shine. To enhance the texture of the hair, Hellenistic women often curled their hair and held it in place with combs. They used different embellishments and veils also. Gold and semi-precious stones were used as were diadems and flowers. A diadem was an ornamental headband primarily worn by the upper classes and royalty, if adorned with gems and gold. Scents were used in the hair and were made my boiling flowers, herbs and spices and mixed with olive oil. In the classical period, women only cut their hair during periods of mourning. Hair played a role as a social communicator and also emphasised class differentiation, as only slaves wore their hair short. 

Many museum collections hold unguentariums, which are small jars or glasses that contained an unguent preparation or oils. An unguent is a soothing paste used on the skin, for topical injuries such as burns and rashes. They also prepared mixtures of medicinal powders and syrups called electuaries, the ingredients of which sometimes included aloe, cinnamon and honey. Unguents and electuaries were often applied to the skin or taken orally after bathing. 

Beauty routine
Ancient Greek women preferred a natural appearance and rich women used make-up to create their desired look. Pale skin was fashionable at the time, and women used white lead or chalk to lighten their skin. It is astonishing to think that lead was used on the skin, with its very harmful and potentially fatal properties. If women used it frequently, it would have surely caused early deaths. Most of us can attribute this to the adage of 'ignorance is bliss' but it is rather disturbing to think that lightening creams are still prevalent today. Although not as damaging as lead, but still very dangerous. Lipstick was also worn and made up of red iron oxide and clay, a similar red powder was also lightly used on the cheeks. Distinctive eyebrows were held in high regard and dark pigments were used to darken their eyebrows and to create a connected brow (unibrow). Eyeshadows were also made with charcoal and oil.

 Women in Ancient Civilisations clearly took their beauty routines very seriously with some very clever  ideas and preparations. Another aspect of Ancient Greek life that I am fascinated with, is of course the costume and the beautiful drapery of that time. Look out for an upcoming post where I will be commenting on the divine fashions of Ancient Greece and its depiction in Classical and Hellenistic sculpture. 

Photo: Le Costume Historique - Auguste Racinet 


  1. Great and very informative article! It's really interesting t hear about these things!

  2. Thank you this help me loads with my the history of hair and beauty work haha thank you! :*

  3. This is so rad! It's crazy how some of those trends are still very popular today.

  4. Super research. It's great to see people of all educational backgrounds exploring the Ancients and making links to modern society.

  5. Help me alot with my make up artist course ��

  6. Hello, This was very helpful because I am doing a research project on Ancient Greece and for one of my topics I choose Beauty for woman so I was able to use some info from this. Thank you very much

  7. awesome article thanks so much!!!