Carrying on Cleopatra’s legacy

Properties of the mascara invented by Cleopatra, continues to inspire the modern cosmetic industry.

Laaleen Khan January 14, 2012


She may not have had the convenience of battery operated mascara (DiorShow 360 Mascara) or have access to lip plumping gloss (DuWop Lip Venom and its descendants that irritate and thereby plump up thin lips) and her skin didn’t get colour matched with a rotating foundation bottle (Revlon’s Custom Creations Foundation lets you mix your own shades from the same bottle). But Pharoah Cleopatra remains one of the beauty industry’s icons. Her secret? Smouldering eyes lined with ancient Egyptian kohl, believed to have been created from lead ore or antimony. Her lips owed their seductive red colouring to ochre or, as legend has it, from a dye consisting of crushed carmine coloured beetles and ants. Her funky green eyeshadow was made of crushed malachite, a vivid green copper ore. Not the safest of choices, but there were no laboratories back in Ancient Egypt. To top it off, her cosmetics owed their creamy consistency to animal fat. The queen’s beauty regimen also included bathing in donkey’s milk and dyeing her nails with henna.

Centuries later, the gargantuan cosmetics industry continues to accentuate similar attributes, such as dramatic eyes, jewel toned lips, vivid eyeshadow and the practice of using minerals for ingredients.

Kajal sticks

Authentic kajal sticks that many Pakistani women can’t do without are currently trending on the international red carpet. Chanel’s recent ‘Paris to Bombay’ themed Metiers d’Art show featured models with thick, kohl rimmed eyes that set off their nose rings, teekas and Karl Lagerfeld’s tweed-meets-churidar couture designs. For Angelina Jolie, Kate Middleton and Kristen Stewart, heavy eyeliner sets off their brunette looks, while Elizabeth Hurley has notably been a big fan of Bollywood style smoky eyes since her Indian nuptials.

According to the NYC Dept of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Lead Prevention Program, popular kajal imports from Pakistan contain dangerous levels of lead. However, there are various manufacturers around the world who claim to use herbal or non-harmful ingredients in their ‘magic wands’.

• Guerlain’s Terracotta Khol Kajal Liner comes in packaging beautiful enough to warrant its hefty price tag.

• Cosmetics retailer Sephora’s Smoky Kohl Eyeliner contains antioxidan rice bran.

• Upcoming British brand Sleek MakeUp’s Kajal Kohl Liner is made with ingredients like beeswax.

• Rani Kajal, a popular Saudi brand, is created using black medical vegetable carbon.

• Shahnaz Husain’s Herbal Kohl Kajal contains almond oil and Ayurvedic triphala.

• Saeed Ghani’s Herbal Kajal Tube has natural ingredients like rose water.

Dramatic colour

• Eye liner: MAC fluidline

What’s to love: This gel-based mixture provides intense colour. Applied to the eyes with a thin brush, it comes in several shades.

• Eye colour: MAC Pigments

What’s to love: These loose powder pigments, available in a multitude of shimmery hues, may be applied generously for super strong colour or lightly for a more subtle effect. Best of all, these pots seem to last forever.

• Lips — Sleek make-up Pot Paint

What’s to love: This is not one of those semi-sheer lippies that look richer in ad campaigns than reality. It comes on as strong as paint!

• Nails — Color Studio Professional Pro Nails

What’s to love: These bold nailpolish colours are free of formaldehyde and other harsh elements typically found in nail shades.

Red lippies

Despite contemporary women’s perennial fondness for nude shades and seasonal trends like fuchsia, coral and burgundy, red lipstick remains a classic staple that never really goes out of style. Virtually every cosmetics brand has its popular reds:

Wallet denters:

• MAC Russian Red, Ruby Woo or New York Apple

• Chanel Rouge Allure in Lover

• YSL Rouge Per Opium Red

• NARS Lipstick in Fire Down Below or Red Lizard

• Guerlain Fabulous Rouge or Kiss Kiss

• Kat Von D Painted Love Lipstick in Hellbent

Economical impulse buys:

• Maybelline Colour Sensation in Pleasure Me Red or Red Revival

• Rimmel Lasting Finish Lipstick in Alarm

• Bourjois Sweet Kisses Lipstick in Rouge Sur Mesure

• L’Oreal Infallible Le Rouge in Ravishing Red or Colour Riche in True Red

• Revlon Matte Lipstick in Really Red

Mineral make-up

With increasing consumer awareness of damaging ingredients found in popular beauty products, cosmetics manufacturers vie to promote ‘natural’ ingredients like minerals that claim to benefit the skin.

• Bare Escentuals has a complete line of natural mineral makeup, from powder foundation to eyeshadow and lipstick.

• Lancome’s Ageless Minerale Skin-Transforming Mineral Powder Foundation aims to do just that.

• The Body Shop’s True Match line of foundation, blusher and concealer contain 95 per cent minerals.

• Luscious Cosmetics’ High Definition Mineral Liquid Foundation incorporates deep sea water and pearl powder in its mineral mixture.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2012.


Parvez | 10 years ago | Reply

In your introduction you list the thingies that contributed to the Cleopatra image and you missed out Elizabeth Tailor's portrayal in the movie. Certainly no small contribution that.

Sara | 10 years ago | Reply

I wish Tribune bloggers would realize that they are, in fact, writing for a Pakistani publication and audience. It would be nice to see more locally available brands mentioned instead of a plethora of American brands like Kat Von D, NARS and YSL which are not available to the average reader.

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