Although there’s not a great amount written about cosmetics in the first Persian empire (550 330 BC), the sculpted eyes of the carvings and reliefs of Persepolis emphasize the importance given to eyes and eyebrows, not only aesthetically but also symbolically as a source of spiritual knowledge. In Persia, kohl was the oldest and most important of the seven items of cosmetics (referred to as haft qalam arayish) and was applied for ritualistic and therapeutic purposes, just as in Egypt.
Also known as surma (kuhl or atwad in Arabic), kohl was obtained from a variety of substances, though mainly from powdered iron ore. The Farhang-e Anandraj, an ancient text, describes how surma was obtained by grinding a shiny stone such as antimony until it was reduced to a soot-like powder that could be used on the eyes.7 The trend for this style of makeup persists: Even today, a Middle Eastern bride would be nothing without kohled eyes. Although the mainstay of Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian makeup for thousands of years, the modern day practice of wearing kohl in the West can be traced back to the discovery of Nefertiti’s bust in 1912, which immediately set a trend for dark eye makeup that spread to many countries throughout the world.
Blacking Teeth by Kitagawa Utamaro A Dyeing Tradition Historically, in Japanese culture, black was regarded as beautiful and was highly prized. But while outlining and darkening one’s eyes and brows with black makeup is not very different from what we do today, dyeing one’s teeth black is more than a little aesthetically challenging. However odd it may seem in modern Western culture, where many people pay large sums of money to make their teeth appear whiter, tooth blackening is something that has been popular throughout history in Japan, China, and Southeast Asia. Chinese women blackened their teeth from as early as the Qin and Han dynasties (206 BC AD 220), while in Japan tooth blackening is thought to have been carried out since prehistoric times, with the practice, known as ohaguro, continuing right up until the end of the relatively recent Meiji period (1868 1912). In one story of ancient Heian-era Japan, a horrified maid is said to have compared a woman’s unblackened teeth to peeled caterpillars.
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