I presume that you want to know what the Bible says about cosmetics to see how it applies to your own life. But before I mention the few texts that mention them directly, some background information concerning ancient practices could be useful.
1. Cosmetics in the Ancient World: It has been suggested
that makeup originated in magical beliefs and in the concern
for personal protection. It was probably seen as a way of
hiding one’s identity in order to be protected from evil spirits.
But evidence also points to two main reasons for using
cosmetics: hygienic or medical, and beautification. Hygiene
was probably the primary one. That seems to have been the
case in Egypt, where painting the eyelids offered protection
from eye diseases. The makeup repelled flies that produced
eye inflammation and protected the skin from the heat of the
sun that otherwise would have dried it. Makeup was almost a
Painting the eyelids and cheeks was soon perceived to be
a way of enhancing a person’s appearance. In the case of the
eyes, the eyebrows and the upper eyelids were painted one
color and the lower line of the eye was painted with a different
color. This type of makeup framed the eyes and gave the illusion
that they were larger than they were. The colors were usually
black and green, although other combinations are known.
Egyptians and Babylonians used makeup on their cheeks and
lips. The pastes were commonly made from roots, flowers,
berries, and minerals, and were used by both men and women.
Preparation for a wedding included a beautification process
of cleansing and adornment including making up the
eyes as the last element in the process. Facial treatments were
particularly common in Egypt, Greece, and Rome. We have
recipes from Egypt for ointments that supposedly removed
wrinkles and other signs of aging (anyone interested?). Greek
women put on a beauty mask before going to bed and used
milk to remove it in the morning. The emphasis on makeup
as a means of beautification was sometimes associated with seduction and, when exaggerated, was considered a characteristic
2. Biblical Materials: There is very little evidence related to
the use of cosmetics in Israel. We know that Israelites used
cosmetics, because archeologists have found utensils associated
with the production and application of cosmetics. It is
impossible to say how widespread the practice was, but it is
logical to conclude that it was at least common among Israel’s
upper classes. The three biblical passages in which makeup
is mentioned provide little information. In preparation to meet
Jehu, Jezebel “painted her eyes, arranged her hair and looked
out of a window” (2 Kings 9:30).* Her specific purpose for
this beautification is not clear. Was she trying to seduce him?
Was she using the makeup to protect herself from evil? The
text implies that she dressed and adorned herself as a queen
to confront her enemy. Her beauty did not save her
Makeup is associated with seduction in Jeremiah 4:30,
where Israel is described as a woman to whom the Lord asks:
“Why dress yourself in scarlet and put on jewels of gold?
Why shade your eyes with paint? You adorn yourself in vain.
Your lovers despise you.” Enhanced beauty through makeup
would not deliver her from her enemies. The same ideas are
expressed in Ezekiel 23:40. The tone of both passages is negative.
Those three texts imply that makeup was known and
used by Israelite women, that it contributed to the beautification
of the woman, and that there were limits to its value.
3. Makeup Today: Makeup is very common among women
and is becoming so among men. The fundamental purposes
continue to be hygienic and aesthetic. The Bible does
not give any specific guidelines concerning its use, but biblical
principles should guide us in its use. First, the Bible does
not deny the value of a good appearance and a concern for
health. Second, the Bible places the emphasis on inner beauty
over physical beauty. Finally, modesty should be the norm
when addressing this particular issue. Modesty describes a
demeanor that expresses itself in self-respect, discretion, and
the avoidance of extremes, based on the fact that we are children
of God and representatives of our Lord.
*Texts in this column are quoted from the New International Version.
Ángel Miguel Rodríguez is retired after a career of service as a
pastor, professor, and theologian. He is a former director of the
Biblical Research Institute. This answer is used by permission from
the BRI website.