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Eye Shadow History

We all wish that we had eyes like Cleopatra! Dark, sensuous and mysterious! However do you know what the secret behind Cleopatra’s eyes was? Eye shadow! Eye shadow has been a part of our civilization from the ancient times. The Old Testament has face painting mentioned in its pages (Ezekiel 23:40). The Egyptians used eye shadow in their burials back in 10,000 BC. The origin of the word “cosmetic” can be traced back to Roman slaves called “cosmatae” who specialized in bathing women and men in perfume. Eye shadow has been used in different ways in different parts of the world in different eras of history. However, the common fact amongst all these cultures is that eye shadow is generally used on females and very rarely on males. The western world considers eye shadow as a female make up. This is because the average distance between eyebrows and eye lashes is more in women than in men. Hence, eye shadow enhances this area and looks good on females.

Here is a brief history of eye shadow across the world:


According to the Egyptians records, scented ointments and oils were used in Egypt around 10, 000 B.C. as deodorants and moisturizers. Egyptians also used dyes and paints to paint their hair, body and skin. The nails were stained with henna and rouge was dabbed on the cheeks and lips. Kohl was primarily used to accentuate the eyes and the eyebrows and served as eye shadow as well. A dark colored powder, kohl was made of burnt almonds, crushed antimony, copper, ash, ochre, malachite and a copper ore known as chrysocolla. A small stick was dipped in this kohl and the eyes were given an almond shape. Apart from enhancing the appearance, kohl was also thought to be beneficial for the prevention of eye infections and enhancing the eye sight. It also helped in decreasing the sun glare. This kohl was generally stored in a small pot with a flat bottom and a lid. Both men and women wore kohl to accentuate their eyes.


Historical data suggests that eye shadow was known as “fucus” in Greece in the 7th and 8th century B.C. Fucus generally comprised of greens and blues which were made from stones like lapis lazuli (an ultramarine)and malachite. This was quite famous in Greece as well as abroad and was one of the important aspects of the Greek economy. The Greeks exported eye shadows around the Mediterranean along with cosmetic powders, paints, skin glosses and hair dyes.


The Egyptians and the Greeks introduced the Romans to cosmetics and eye shadows. As the Roman Empire grew, they came in contact with Iraqi people who painted their faces like the Egyptians with kohl and other cosmetics to ward off the evil eye. Initially Romans were quite callous in their use of cosmetics and used the Egyptians oils which were meant for sacred purposes for sexual purposes. However, with a rise in plagues, they discovered the medicinal applications of eye shadow and other cosmetics and even used them to ward off the evil forces.


Kohl has been used extensively in India to darken the upper and the lower eye lid and even used as an eye shadow since the Bronze Age. It was used to ward off the evil eye in infants and adults and also to protect the eyes from the harsh sun. Kohl was generally made from lead and antimony which helped in warding off bacterial infections and conjunctivitis. Apart from India, kohl has also been used in places like North Africa and Morocco.


According to a physician called Abulcasis who lived in the tenth century in Iberia, eye shadows were used to enhance and beautify a person and prevent diseases like conjunctivitis and other infections.


The Japanese girls used to adorn their eyes with rice flours, bird droppings and crushed flower petals around the 11th century. Wax brushes were used for the application of make up.

Wrap it Up

Eye shadows have been a part of the vanity box from centuries. They not only help in accentuating, enhancing and beautifying the eyes but also help in preventing many infections and diseases and keeping your eyes bright and sparkling!

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