Beauty tips from ancient Egypt

Beauty tips from ancient Egypt

Archaeologists make an exciting discovery

Modern-day humans aren't the only ones who care about their appearance.

Egyptologists at the University of Manchester have discovered a gel-like substance, used to hold hair in elaborate styles, in mummies more than 3,000 years old. Archaeologists analysed hair samples from male and female mummies aged between 4 to 58 years. The bodies were retrieved from a burial site at the Dakhleh Oasis in Egypt.

During the investigations, the archaeologists found that many of the mummies' hairdos were held together with a waxy, gel-like substance. Further analysis of this "gel" revealed that it was composed largely of fats, mainly palmitic and stearic acid. In modern times, you find palmitic acid in coconut oil, butter and animal fat. Stearic acid is a main component of animal fats, and cocoa and shea butter. Palmitic acid and stearic acid are both used in beauty products today, but the ancient Egyptians got there well before we did!

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Palmitic acid and stearic acid were used in ancient Egyptian hair gel and they're still used in beauty products today!

Interestingly, in addition to discovering the hair gel, the scientists also discovered what could be called "curling tongs" next to the bodies. The curling tongs were probably used to hold the hair in place while the gel was applied - as the gel solidified it held the curls in place.

Further work is underway to characterise the hair gel completely - such an analysis will give us valuable clues to the lifestyle of the ancient Egyptians.

Have a look at this video which shows you some examples of ancient hairdos - try one yourself!

You can do your own research on Egyptian hairstyles by visiting the Egyptology section at your local museum - do you think their hair styles were more imaginative than ours?

Nowadays, cosmetic scientists design our hair gels. Do you want to be a cosmetic scientist? Try making your own lip balm!

By Zara Mahmoud

Curriculum information