Ancient Egypt Cosmetic Pot, Ancient Egypt. Mid 1st millennium BC
Cosmetic value
The term 'cosmetic' often refers to actions and behaviours affecting only the appearance of something rather than its substance, largely in relation to preparations applied to the body and face to improve or restore appearance. For something to be of 'cosmetic value' can be equally of high or low value. This deceptively simple cosmetic pot from Ancient Egypt may actually be one of the most ancient cosmetic ophthalmological (the branch of medicine that deals with eyes) preparations known to man. This cosmetic pot would have once contained kohl, an ancient eye cosmetic traditionally made by grinding the blackened mineral stibnite. The practice of applying kohl was a common fashion followed by everyone from peasants to pharaohs. Though it may seem no more than a cosmetic fancy nowadays, kohl was then considered to have potent magical powers and it has since shown to possess unique pharmaceutical and antimicrobial properties. Kohl was originally used as protection against eye ailments, to repel flies and dirt and to provide cooling relief from the heat by protecting oneself from the harsh rays of the sun. Besides these practical benefits, the substance was also used to outline the eyebrows and enhance other facial decoration and tattoos. For all these reasons, what could now be labeled as purely of 'cosmetic value' can be seen to have brought about substantive cultural, social and hygienic value as a social technology still practised to this day.

From this humble Egyptian cosmetic pot has risen the pseudoscience of modern day beauty products, and their promises to rectify the laws of the universe by halting the progress of time (by pausing the visible signs of aging). To look at this cosmetic pot with new eyes might afford us a similar ability to play with time, for through it we can see the legacy of body image modification and cosmetic fashion in one of its very first forms.