Unlike what popular misconception suggests, cosmetics do have a significant place in the Middle Eastern culture that goes back centuries in time. The ancient civilizations that populate the Middle East such as Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Iran and Persia have influenced our ideals of beauty a great deal. Medieval Persian and Arab writings by scholars such as Biruni, Ibn Sina and al-Kindi describe cosmetic substances that have been handed down from generation to generation as part of family traditions and by healthcare professionals. Thankfully,
Beauty Practises in Ancient Times
The ideal of beauty, as described in these ancient texts, states that a woman’s skin should be smooth, soft and hairless. To this purpose, ointments, pastes and creams have been suggested. Made from sandal wood, saffron or perfumed crèmes, these applications were used to protect the skin from the harshness of the sun and for hair removal.
The custom of hair removal is said to have first risen from a need to deal with the hot climate of the region. The advantages of hair removal include the absence of skin parasites and body odour. Later this became a part and practice of cleanliness and purification rituals. Incidentally, the method of removing hair with threading and tweezers have Arabic and Egyptian origins.
Another early form of depilatory cream that was invented in Ancient Egypt and spread to neighbouring Arabic countries is sugaring. Sugaring is an earlier form of hair removal by waxing and works in pretty much the same way. A mixture of sugar, lemon juice and water is heated to form a thick syrup. The high sugar levels in the mixture prevented bacteria. This is applied to the skin and then quickly jerked away to remove hair from the root. Definitely an improvement on the beeswax, starch and quicklime based depilatory creams that were also used for hair removal by ancient Egyptians.
The process of sugaring evolved out of a bridal ritual that was practised by Lebanese, Palestinian, Turkish and Egyptian brides before their wedding night. It is also known as ‘halawa’ which literally translates to ‘sweet.’ Thankfully, there are more convenience options available now like Veet Hair Removal Cream.
Colouring of hair is another ancient practice that was applicable to both sexes. Henna was used to colour the hair as well as body paint for hands and feet. A lot of art from this period depicts women with henna patters on their hands and feet. The application of henna has also become part of the ritual ceremonies in marriage in the form of a henna night just before the wedding day. Natural products are still in use in the cosmetic industry, like Veet Naturals with Papaya Extract. The use of kohl as eye shadow or eye liner also dates back centuries.