Ancient Kohl


The traditional black eye cosmetic known as kohl has several millennia of history, stretching back into the ancient kingdoms of the Near East and Egypt. Men

as well as women used many different forms of eye makeup in Mesopotamia. It was a status symbol, indicating wealth and enough leisure time to care for and decorate the face. Makeup of different colors lengthened the eyebrows, accented the eyelashes, and rimmed the upper and lower eyelids to give a striking appearance.

In all times, painting the eyes with protective minerals also had a practical use: It warded off diseases

of the eye that are still common in the dry desert climate of the Near East. Galena, a common ingredi-

ent of kohl, served as a disinfectant; it deterred fl ies and also provided some protection from the sun. Eye makeup also was believed to provide the wearer with psychic protection, warding off bad spirits and imparting good fortune.

Small glass tubes used to hold eye cosmetics are among the fi rst glass objects of any kind. The tubes were made of silica, mined from quartz sand, and sodium carbonate, a substance made from the ashes of plants, which lowers the melting point of quartz. These tubes held galena or green malachite, which could be applied separately on the upper and lower eyelids. Later ingredients were antimony, lead, ocher, ash, malachite, and burnt almonds, mixed in various portions. The Akkadian word for galena, guhl, was the original source of the word kohl.

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