COSMETICS. Any of the various preparations used for beautifying the hair and skin. Such practices were regarded with disfavor by the writers of Holy Writ. Jezebel, Ahab’s wicked queen, painted her eyes immediately prior to her death (2Kgs.9.30). Ezekiel also refers to the practice of painting the eyes in an uncomplimentary vein in the parable of Oholah and Oholibah (Ezek.23.36, Ezek.23.40). “Why shade your eyes with paint?” demands Jer.4.30. “You adorn yourself in vain.”

COSMETICS. The Bible makes only limited reference to cosmetics—perfume, ointment, and eye paint are the usual kinds named.

Cosmetic utensils.

The item most frequently found in Palestinian excavations, which is unmistakably identified with cosmetics, is the small limestone bowl or palette. These were made from hard stone, about four inches in diameter, with a flat base and a small, somewhat hemispherical, cavity in the top center. The rim was usually decorated with incised carving. They were used to prepare colors for the face, by means of small pestles and spatulas. These palettes were common in the northern part of the country, from the 10th cent. b.c. on, and seem to have been imported from Syria.

Green color was derived from malachite or turquoise, and used to paint the lower eyelids; while black came from manganese (puk) or antimony (kuhl), and was applied to the eyebrows and lashes. Red ocher was used to add lip color. Large numbers of small pottery juglets, usually fired in a reducing atmosphere to produce a lustrous and burnished black finish, also come from the excavations of this period. The most probable usage of these would have been as perfume containers. Some ivory ointment flasks are known, while “perfume boxes” are mentioned in Isaiah 3:20. The alabaster jar, filled with ointment, is mentioned in Luke 7:37 (cf. Matt 26:7; Mark 14:3). During classical times small glass vials were popular containers for perfumes and other cosmetics. A cosmetic kit from the Biblical period might contain a polished metal mirror, palette, ivory and metal spatulas, kohl sticks, unguent spoons, tweezers and a variety of containers.

Eye paint.

In addition to the minerals named above, galena and stibnite also were ground in the palettes. These powders were then mixed with water or gum before application. The powder was likely stored and carried in pouches, though in Job 42:14, a “horn of eye-paint” (Keren-happuch) is mentioned. The Bible frequently associates eye paint with questionable women, who made excessive use of it (cf. 2 Kings 9:30; Jer 4:30; Ezek 23:40). In addition to beautification, the eye paint prob. had some hygienic effect, in discouraging disease-carrying flies.

Perfume and ointment.

Perfumes were very popular in ancient times, and a minimum list of eighteen or twenty kinds can be extracted from the Bible. They were used for adornment Song of Solomon, as lavish gifts (Wisd Sol 2:7), in burial practices, and may also have been used as in medieval times, to counteract the need for bathing. Ointments were compounded from oils, mostly olive, but also other vegetable and animal fats were used. They were applied to the head (Ps 133:2; Matt 6:17), or to the entire body (Ruth 3:3; Esth 2:12). Red color applied to the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and sometimes to the nails and hair, was derived from henna, mixed with oil or fat to form an ointment. This practice is still widespread today among rural Arabs.

Powder and rouge.

Ancient peoples of the Near E used power and rouge, red and yellow colors being obtained from ochers, and white from lead carbonate. Both of these materials are known from excavations, and other sources indicate the use of powder puffs in Egypt. The only Biblical reference to powder, in the cosmetic sense, is in the Song of Solomon 3:6, and prob. refers to ingredients for making paint.


R. Lamon and G. Shipton, Megiddo I (1939), pl. 96, 108-111; C. Singer, et al., A History of Technology I (1954), 285-295; G. Wright, “Israelite Daily Life,” BA Vol. XVIII, No. 3 (Sept. 1955), 50-79; R. Forbes, Studies in Ancient Technology III (1965), 1-50.