Keeping It Clean
Along with specified products and traditions for makeup and skincare, the Egyptians took personal hygiene very seriously. They understood the importance of staying clean and enjoyed indulging in products, which helped them maintain their appearance. Popular goods such as deodorants, which fought body odor and oral hygiene products to improve breath were used often. These products spanned the ages, changing very little between the Old and New Kingdoms.
Egyptians took scent extremely seriously. In addition to taking all available steps to prevent bodily stench, such as bathing daily and dousing in perfume, they also invented early models of deodorant. One popular mode of maintaining freshness under the arms was rubbing ground carob to mask the scent of body odor. Another popular mixture applied to the armpit was a concoction made from ostrich shell, tortoiseshell and gallnut. While the Ancient Egyptians could not prevent themselves from sweating in the intense heat, at least they could combat the terrible side effects associated with it!
Bad Breath Begone
To the Egyptians, taking care of themselves was not limited to the outer appearance. They were big fans of any product that masked oder and made them smell good. This applied to making their breath smell fresh as well, and there is evidence the Egyptians washed their mouths out every morning with natron dissolved in water. This practice was called sen she shem, meaning “cleansing of mouth and teeth” (Strouhal, 88). Natron is similar to baking soda, a product used very often in modern oral hygiene products. Both are natural cleansers and help get rid of odor. The Ancient Egyptians developed another early prototype for mouth wash by mixing together aromatic spices with honey. They would swish this combination in their mouths for several minutes to mask bad breath.
If I Was a Rich Girl
Wealthy women had the distinguished pleasure of bathing, and even created a method of cleansing the body that resembled a modern shower. Servants would pour water through a sieve onto their master to clean her. Rich women also used a soap made from water and natron to cleanse themselves. Natron has been proven to get rid of oder, so this seems to have been effective. Cleopatra was even rumored to bathe in donkey’s milk everyday to keep her skin moisturized and soft! Poor women did not have this luxury. They attempted to keep smell at bay, however, by pouring water over themselves.
No one likes to smell. And, as previously mentioned, the Egyptians were no exception. Egyptian women worked tirelessly to create perfumes with the available ingredients and essential oils nearby. These “perfumes” more closely resemble essential oils than modern day perfumes, but they still got the job done. They lasted well on the skin and were strong scents. Popular add-ins to perfume included cinnamon, myrrh, iris roots, balsam, cardamom, honey, wine, terebinth, desert date, flowers, frankincense, fruit and seeds. The Egyptian fragrances were so popular, they were even shipped around the world. Rome was particularly fond of Egyptian perfumes, especially the ones called “The Egyptian” and “Oil of the Lillies.” The Egyptians even devised fancy cones to wear on their heads at parties. These cones were soaked in perfume and then worn out. Body heat would melt the wax of the cone, causing the fragrance to be released. This made the scent very potent and also ensured the scent would last a long time.
No Hair, Don’t Care
Another popular skincare practice was hair removal. The Ancient Egyptians viewed excessive hair as disorderly and neglectful. In fact, the only time a person was allowed to have stubble, (yes stubble, not even hair showing) was during a mourning period. Copper, and later bronze razors, were used to remove a bulk of the hair from the body. Originally, the design was asymmetric but this model was soon replaced by an ever changing symmetric razor which allowed the user more control since it was weightier. Tweezers were introduced even before the beginning of the Old Kingdom and were used to remove hard to get hairs all over. A proper Egyptian was never without her tweezers, which were often carried around everyday in a cosmetic case. Depilatory creams and “shaving creams” were also utilized. Depilatory creams were reserved for facial hair. Shaving creams mostly consisted of oil being rubbed on the body before being shaven.