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What Was Hygiene Like In Ancient Egypt?  

Erin McCann
263.5k views 16 items

Given the elaborately stocked tombs and hieroglyphics depicting people in eye makeup and crisp linen outfits, it appears hygiene was important to ancient Egyptian society. While Egyptians did have an obsession with cleanliness and a desire to appear aesthetically perfect, the methods they used to beautify and cleanse themselves were limited to what they had to work with. Many things modern societies have come to associate with ancient Egyptians, such as dark eye makeup and wigs, were adopted not only for appearances but also as methods of survival in an area scorched by the sun and an era plagued by insects, vermin, and parasites.

Lacking sanitation and other modern conveniences, societies like ancient Egypt had to get creative and resourceful to survive. The Egyptians' use of makeup and methods of cleaning bodies helped inspire many of the soaps, cosmetics, and perfumes popularized in later eras. The biggest quality-of-life variable for ancient Egyptians was social class. Whether they owned a toilet or had to bathe (among other things) in a crocodile-infested river, ancient Egyptians had a great number of hygienic idiosyncrasies that made their society unique.

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Men And Women Shaved Their Heads To Prevent Lice

Parasites like lice tormented ancient Egyptians so badly, they took drastic measures to keep the bugs from living on their bodies. In order to limit the places lice could live, people removed all their hair using knives, razors, and tweezers. They wore wigs made of real human or horse hair over their shaved heads. The wealthy often owned several styles they could wear on different occasions. If lice managed to infest the wig, it could easily be thrown out.

Wigs also served as a way to keep cool in hot weather. However, because those with less money couldn't afford nice wigs, members of the lower classes often wore head coverings instead of wigs or made wig-like creations from papyrus. Despite these efforts, no one could completely escape the problem; researchers have discovered several mummies infested with lice.

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They Used Deodorant To Help Curb Body Odor

Since using Secret wasn't an option, ancient Egyptians turned to plants and other natural substances to keep their body odor in check. They ground herbs, flowers, and roots into a paste, which they combined with oil to make a cream to apply to their armpits. Historians discovered recipes for deodorant substances which called for nuts, crushed tortoiseshell, and ostrich eggs, as well as mixtures of porridge and resins.

Deodorants weren't only applied to the armpits, though; some women added scents to wax which they spread on their head. As the sun and heat melted the wax, the scent released like a primitive aromatherapy diffuser. Although many of these primitive deodorants were unscented, some recipes included cinnamon or frankincense for a pleasant smell.

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Photo: Pxhere/Pxhere/Public Domain
Mints And Chewed Herbs Kept Breath Smelling Fresh 

Since fresh breath was important to the ancient Egyptians, they made sure they always had access to methods of relieving bad breath. They often chewed on herbs like parsley during the day or after meals.

Egyptians also used the equivalent of breath mints, which they either made themselves or purchased pre-made. The mints combined fragrant spices and herbs, such as cinnamon and frankincense, with cashews and pine seeds. Honey bound the ingredients together and was then heated with fire to form candies. Historians believe some of the dishes found in ancient Egyptian homes may have been candy dishes used to store these mints.

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Men Practiced Circumcision For Cleanliness 

Several historical examples of circumcision exist within ancient Egyptian culture, including sculptures and images on the walls of tombs. Although the practice may have continued for other reasons, some historians believe this practice started as a desire for cleanliness. Inscriptions found in temples and tombs led researchers to believe uncircumcised men were not allowed to enter, as they were deemed impure.

Eventually, the practice evolved into rituals involving religious ideas. While circumcision only affected men, women underwent their own rituals for cleanliness and sexual health. Many women developed the practice of removing their pubic hair, either by shaving or experimenting with other natural forms of hair removal. Women believed this practice readied them for intimacy, as well as helping to repel lice and fleas.