L'Oréal and the French Museums Research Laboratory Reveal the Make-up Secrets of Pharaohs.
Paris, 21 September, 1999 - For almost three years, teams from L'Oréal research and the French Museums Research Laboratory (Laboratoire de recherche des musées de France) have been working together in a unique partnership to extend our knowledge of how the ancient Egyptians used cosmetics, by revealing the components of their eye make-up products. Their combined expertise, blending scientific research, historical knowledge and archeological heritage, has unveiled a real cosmetics "pre-industry" based on extremely sophisticated techniques. The Egyptians were indeed highly skilled "scientists". The study's findings were published in an article in the February 1999 issue of Nature, and a cultural dimension was added in the September 1999 issue of Techné, a publication of the French National Museums' Group (réunion des musées nationaux).
Four thousand years ago, the Egyptians were already using eye make-up, as the treasures still being recovered from Egyptian tombs have shown. For the first time, the contents of some 49 pots in the Louvre's Collection of Egyptian Antiquities have been subjected to a series of complex analyses applying ground-breaking technologies. To carry out this ambitious project, the French Museums Research Laboratory called on the expertise of L'Oréal ; the partners worked together to analyse the minerals and fatty materials used in the cosmetic products.
Not only were the cosmetics extraordinarily well-preserved, but the black, white and grey kohls revealed the presence of lead compounds which do not exist in nature - proof that the Egyptians knew how to synthesise products, which were sought for their therapeutic virtues. Many medical formulae on papyrus were actually recipes used to protect the eyes from the diseases prevalent in the Egyptian climate, especially at the time of the seasonal flooding of the Nile. Experts in wet chemistry, the ancient Egyptians were also masters in the art of manufacturing cosmetics. Natural pigments and synthesised products were mixed with binding agents made of animal fats to obtain different types of make-up presenting a variety of textures and colours.
It is fascinating to note that the ancient Egyptians' art of make-up employed a whole range of accessories that were surprisingly similar to those found in present-day toiletry kits, including eye-shadow pots, mirrors, combs, applicators and hairpins - in fact the ladies of the ancient Egyptian court possessed a dazzling array of extremely refined artifacts.
The research work carried out by the teams from L'Oréal and the French Museums Research Laboratory, in conjunction with the Louvre's Department of Egyptian Antiquities, has cast valuable light on the fundamental role that cosmetics held in ancient Egypt. The mastery of cosmetics technologies revealed by the research findings gives us a better understanding of the many uses of make-up illustrated in early texts, statuary, and painting. Whether for embellishment, divine worship, and even medicine, Egyptian cosmetics are an open history book.
All Egyptians - men, women and children - used make-up, regardless of their social rank. Highlighted in black and green, eye make-up was mainly used to beautify, with the shapes (lines or shadows) and textures (shiny or mat) varying from one period to another. Linked to the worship of their gods, Egyptian cosmetics were included in funerary offerings and were used in rituals aimed at protecting the gods from death and resuscitating the dead. This link to the divine order sheds an interesting light on the therapeutic role of make-up.
And the story doesn't end here. There are still other secrets to uncover, and L'Oréal and the French Museums Research Laboratory will continue their joint research programme. Following their study of eye make-up, the two partners will move on to analyse other types of ancient Egyptian cosmetics that may have been used on the lips, the face or the body. Ultimately, the research should reveal details about more recent civilisations, including the Greeks, the Romans and the Gauls. Were the traditions handed down, or did each culture begin anew? This unique partnership, blending scientific research, history and culture, paves the way for an enhanced knowledge of the past, bringing back to life the lost colours, textures and know-how of the Ages.
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