Museum of Ancient Inventions: Eyeliner

Eyeliner, Egypt, 4000 BCE

For centuries people have used cosmetics to enhance or decorate the human figure for aesthetic or religious purposes. The earliest archaeological evidence of the use of cosmetics can be traced back to the urban civilizations of the ancient world. In southern Iraq and in Egypt, men and women alike painted kohl around their eyes to make them look larger as well as to protect them from the evil eye. This thick black ointment, made of ground lead sulfide or antimony sulfide, is still used today.

Method of Construction

by Kelly Buffington ’01

The kohl I made is from an ancient Indian recipe, which I obtained from a friend’s grandmother. It combines the soot of an oil lamp with castor oil. The materials for this project were few, all that was required was: an oil lamp with wicks, an iron plate and a few drops of castor oil. To make the invention, I held the iron plate above the burning oil lamp, where, after an extremely long amount of time, a black powder (the soot) began to collect at the edges. When a sufficient quantity of soot had been collected, a few drops of castor oil were mixed in until the consistency was that of a solid caked paste. The final product was then placed in a decorative bowl. While making kohl is a relatively simple process, it is nonetheless a very time consuming one. If you plan on doing it, make sure you have someone to keep you company! Strict caution had to be exercised to ensure that no dust or other foreign particles adulterated the soot gathered from the iron plate since the kohl is to be used to line the insides of the eyes.


Sources, Resources and Links

Kelly Buffington, ‘Resources

Ash, Michael and Irene, A Formulary of Cosmetic Preparations, Chemical Publishing Co., New York, 1997.

Hlava, B., Krejcova, Z., Natural Beauty Care With Flowers and Plants, Magna Books, Wigston, 1995.

James, Peter; Thorpe, Nick, Ancient Inventions, Ballantine Books, New York, 1994, pp. 255-257

Science Topics
Chemistry, Inventions & Scientists
Engineering Topics
Social Studies Topics
Ancient History
Music, Art, and Language Arts Topics
K-6, Middle School, High School
Kindergarten, 1st Grade, 2nd Grade, 3rd Grade, 4th Grade, 5th Grade, 6th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade, 9th Grade, 10th Grade, 11th Grade, 12th Grade

What are you looking for?


Smith College

Website URL

Type of Resource


Assigned Categories