In the history of classical antiquity, one woman stands out as the sole ruler of a major empire: Cleopatra VII (69 BCE – 30 BCE). She was the last active pharaoh of Ancient Egypt in the Ptolemaic dynasty of Macedonian Greek origin. Cleopatra is remembered for her famous love affairs with two of Rome’s most powerful leaders: Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. She has been immortalized in Shakespeare’s tragedy Antony and Cleopatra, and more recently she was portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor in the1963 film Cleopatra. Behind her mystique, Cleopatra was an accomplished diplomat, administrator, linguist, and naval commander. She may also have been the author of a dermatology-related treatise called Cosmetics. In truth, it is difficult to prove whether Cleopatra VII wrote Cosmetics or whether it was authored by someone else with the same name. Historians debate this issue. Cosmetics was a professional manual that gave advice on care of the body. It seems to have been organized topically, listing several remedies of varying strengths for each illness. Physicians could choose from among these remedies the most appropriate one for a given disease and its severity. Only 6 fragments from Cosmetics survive, scattered in several ancient sources, such as Galen’s medical works. These fragments deal with topics such as hair disease, including hair loss and dandruff. Other fragments discuss growing hair on the head, curling and dyeing the hair, a recipe for perfumed soap, and a list of weights and measures with pharmacologic relevance. – extracted from Walter H. Burgdorf. Leonard J. Hoening with some modification of Dr. Isidor Apothecary and Academy
There was more than ONE CLEOPATRA! Upon hearing the name “Cleopatra” one’s mind initially imagines a beautiful and powerful queen of Egypt, a fatal woman. In reality though, as far as Cleopatra of Egypt is concerned, her occupation with medical science ranks her in the pioneers of aesthetics and cosmetic medicine as well as in gynecology and pharmacology. The other Cleopatras enlighten the ﬁeld of female diseases, gynecology and maternity. Though the etymology of their shared name means glory for the country, all the Cleopatras, irrelevant of their origin or era, were distinguished in medicine and were forerunners of gynaecological practice. Such a coincidence…
There are several Cleopatras! The queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt (69-30 BC), Cleopatra the student-assistant of Galen (ca. 1-2nd century AD), Cleopatra the Alchemist (2nd century AD), Cleopatra the gynecologists (ca 4th century AD), Cleopatra Metrodora (ca 7th century AD). The issue of the existence of one or more “Cleopatra” remains unresolved. – extracted from Gregory Tsoucalas et al., Athens, Greece. Thus, be specific when you talk about Cleopatra.
According the literature in cosmetic science and dermatology Egyptians were concerned with physical appearance very much. Their two major concerns were losing hair and wrinkle (Feliciano Blanco-Davila, 1999). Even Ebes Papyrus has a special chapter related to these issues. Most of the ingredients for cosmetics were coming from the Nile valley, Sinai Peninsula and Mediterranean – Jordan strip. However, some of them were imported from Arabia and other parts of south Asia. In the ancient Egypt the market for cosmetics and skin care products were Babylon and Athens (Juan Murube, 2013).
Tattooing of skin on forehead, eyelids or hands was very common. They used henna which is a vegetable dye obtained from plant Lawsonia inermis or Lawsonia alba. Today, you can buy that in any better cosmetic and beauty store or online via Amazon.
Generally, the pharmacopeia of Pharaonic Egypt was rich in liquid and pasty ocular applications obtained from botanicals such as henna, myrrh, frankincense, cedar, sycamore sawdust, gum Arabic, burnt almond, olive oil (Juan Murube, 2013). However, there are many other ingredients such as animal fat, honey, animal blood, milk, liver pastes, turtle brain. Also, minerals are utilized a lot such as hematite, galena, cerussite, lapis lazuli, copper and others (Juan Murube, 2013).
Unfortunately, only six fragments from Cleopatra’s Cosmetics survive, scattered in several ancient sources such as Galen’s medical works (Walter H.C. Burgdorf and Leonard J. Hoening, 2015). No doubt, the life of Cleopatra continues to intrigue scholars and historians. Her influence was far reaching and may even extended into medicine and dermatology. Cleopatra’s image seems to grow more compelling with time, a sentiment expressed by William Shakespeare: “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety”. (Antony and Cleopatra; act II, scene II) (Walter H.C. Burgdorf and Leonard J. Hoening, 2015).
Queen Cleopatra Ancient Egyptian Formulas (circa 3000 B.C.) for download.