My Crush with Eyeliner

I’ve decided that since my Kingdom thought I was good enough to get a Maunche (and I got to write OM after my name on a class handout coming up. WEIRD!) I needed to step up my game and get down and dirty. Since I’m really good at making a mess, I decided to jump into the dangerous, but interesting world of  ROMAN COSMETICS.

Here it is, my disclaimer:
What I do here is at my own risk. Please, for the love of Hades and all that is holy, do not try this at home if you feel that you may react to any of these cosmetics or their contents make you feel unsafe. Although I am working with non-toxic ingredients, some of them can be a bit scary.

The Romans (in this case, we are including the Byzantines, as they SHOULD be included) were fond of personal hygiene and their appearance, so there’s a great deal of information on what they used for makeup, face creams, depilatories, and the like, so it’s something I’ve been kicking around for a bit. After talking a bit with Mistress Aife who has done similar things with Irish cosmetics, I decided, “Oh hell, why not? As long as it’s not lead and mercury I should be fiiiiiiiine.”

So I decided to start with the famous kohl eyeliner that was all the rage in the Levantine civilizations, and the early 1990’s. I’m a pretty heavy eyeliner wearer when I DO wear makeup (see also, 1990’s) so I always have some on when I have court garb on, but if I want to be authentic, I should take the next step.

For the most part, kohl was made (and is still made in some countries) with galena, which is lead sulfide. This is baaaaaad. So, I looked for alternatives. Immediately, I found that both in period and in modern preparations, lamp black is used with some sort of medium to spread it on the eyes. In Roman times, this is a scented oil or water, and in modern times, it’s ghee, a clarified butter. So, here I was getting all excited about this fun new exciting way to make sexy eyeliner when my med school friend Margaret down in Meridies nearly beheaded me on my Facebook page. Come to find out, soot and lamp black have something called  polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and these such things are a carcinogen. Who knew? She did, and then I got a bummer, but I was determined to make some anyway for science and display purposes. I have no intention of putting this stuff on my face, but I needed to find an alternative. So, in some skimming today of a couple of articles, I found that they also used charcoals and ashes, basically anything that could smear black. Saffron was suggested, and I happened to have some I could, well, reasonably part with. So I made 3 batches of kohl, lamp black, willow charcoal, and saffron ash, and a scented oil carrier that’s simply olive oil with a few drops of frankinscense and myrrh.  Here are my observations:

Lamp black: This stuff is great. If it wasn’t for the fact it could give me cancerface (that’s a thing now, I just made it up) I would rock this. Why? It’s smooth and already somewhat creamy from the oil content from my burning lamp. It made a beautifully dark line on my wrist that didn’t wash off easily. I’m really tempted to use it on my eyes, just once, but my better judgement is getting the best of me. As you can see, I used my Roman lamp from Claybaby Pottery, with a wick I braided myself out of fustian and olive oil, and collected the soot in a lead-free pewter mortar.



Willow charcoal: I have lots of charcoal sticks around the house, so I picked one from a natural source and got to smash it up in a mortar and pestle. This was great fun and a great mess. I wish I could grind it a bit better, but it did give me a decent line once I got the balance between kohl and oil down. Easy, readily available ingredients that are affordable, and charcoal eyeliners are already prevalent in the modern market. And one stick of charcoal filled my tin. I’ll have eyeliner forever! I want to try to apply this using  modern eyeliner brush and water.

charcoal willowcharcoal

Saffron ashes: I was hoping this would be better, I really did. I need to figure out a better way to carbonize the saffron, because at first I tried to burn it on an incense burner/oil warmer. That didn’t work well, though my house smelled lovely. So I resorted to just getting impatient and setting it on fire with my lighter in a metal jar lid. This burned it, and I was able to get ash from it, but it does not carry well as a liner at all. It was suggested by both Geoffrey and a friend on the Romans of the SCA page to treat it as if I was making charcloth. So basically, I need to put it in a metal container and bake it until it turns to ashes. Yes, I’m basically cremating saffron…I’m going to need to buy more I’m not afraid to waste for this project to do this. The bit I burned did not yield much.


Here’s a picture of my filthy arm, top to bottom is lamp black, saffron, and charcoal:



I will be re-trying the saffron kohl sometime this week, as well as making my face whitener and blush. Once I conclude this project I’ll provide a list of sources I’ve compiled.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s