Fragrant Oils and Ointments

"The Egyptians," write fashion historians Michael and Ariane Batterberry in Fashion: The Mirror of History, "were as clean as any people in history." They bathed regularly, shaved their bodies of any excess hair, including that on the head, and used fragrant oils and ointments to keep their skin smooth and sweet smelling. The first female queen of Egypt, Queen Netocris, who is believed to have ruled around 2170 B.C.E. , recommended regular bathing and scrubbing with a paste of clay and ashes. To return natural oils to the skin, Egyptians applied one of many types of oily preparations to their bodies. These oils were made from animal fat, castor oil, or olive oil, and they were scented with flowers or other plants. Evidence indicates that many Egyptians used such oils, including workmen and soldiers. Egyptians also prepared simple perfumes made from oils and fragrant flowers and seeds.

One of the more interesting ways to apply oils and fragrance to the body came in the form of a wax or grease cone worn on the head. Hieroglyphics, or picture stories often found in Egyptian tombs, show noble women (those born to the upper classes of society) wearing cones of grease or wax on their heads. These cones would slowly melt in the Egyptian heat, bathing the wearer's head, shoulders, and arms in the perfumes held in the cone, and leaving the skin oily and glistening. Luckily, most Egyptians shaved their heads and wore wigs, so they could easily remove their hair for cleaning.


Balkwill, Richard. Clothes and Crafts in Ancient Egypt. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens, 2000.

Batterberry, Michael, and Ariane Batterberry. Fashion: The Mirror of History. New York: Greenwich House, 1977.

Contini, Mila. Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. Edited by James Laver. New York: Odyssey Press, 1965.

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