Like Western culture today, hair in ancient Egypt was of particular importance, signifying status, wealth, and personal style. Thousands of years ago, the ancient Egyptians addressed the same issues of graying hair, thinning hair, baldness, keeping hair healthy. Although the hairstyles vary over the ages, common themes can be discovered by studying mummies and other ancient Egyptians found in the desert. Generally, it is the women and men of the old kingdoms that had shorter haircuts and chin length bobs, while the men and women of the new kingdoms grew their hair long and lustrous, or wore elaborate wigs. The dry and hot climate of Egypt helped to preserve the soft tissues of mummies and even those who could not afford mummification, thus providing archaeologists and historians with ample hair samples of the ancient Egyptians.
Female children often wore their hair in a single or double braid, while male children tended to have shaved heads. Some boys would wear their hair in a single plait with the rest of the head shaved. Many hieroglyphics and sculptures of Ramses II shows this “sidelock of youth”. As children reached puberty and became adults, the styles became far more extravagant and intricate.
Though Priests are often portrayed with shaved heads, many Egyptian adults wore their hair long or wore wigs. Wigs, made from real human hair, were extremely popular among both men and women. Though it seems human hair wigs were the most luxurious, some wigs used human hair mixed with vegetable fibers. The fibers from the date palm could easily be straightened or curled, and their shape preserved with waxing. Wigs were worn for a multitude of reasons; they were fashionable, religious purposes, or for covering a bald or shaved head. Shaved heads might have been popular for practical reasons, as they prevented head lice, were cooler in the warm weather, and were much easier to keep clean. However, bald heads and graying hair were also a cause for wigs. The ancient Egyptians used henna, a dyeing agent still used today, to help darken the lightening strands in their lustrous hair.
Hair care was also just as booming an industry as it is in modern times. Hair combs can be found in graves dating back pre-dynasty. While it confirmed the Egyptians regularly cleansed their hair, it is not known how frequently they did so. Hieroglyphics often portray women with fragrant cones on their heads; the cones were filled with sweetly scented oil, which would melt and perfume their hair throughout the night. All hair of the Egyptians is portrayed as very shiny and black. It is very likely that a variety of oils were used to achieve the long, polished hair. Fir tree resin and oil was probably used as a scalp massage to encourage hair growth, while henna and almond oil were also most likely used to keep hair strong and gleaming. Beads, braids, and gold ornaments were used to decorate hair of the wealthy, while the poorer citizens used flowers and berries.
Slaves and servants of the ancient Egyptians were not allowed the elaborate hair-dos of the affluent noble-men. The common hair style for slaves was a single loop, tied on the back of the head, or several braids that were draped over one shoulder.
Great Hair Days in Ancient Egypt
This article about hairstyles in the ancient days of Egypt features images of real hieroglyphics, wigs, and other hair tool used.
Hair and Wigs
This site not only explains wigs and hairstyles, but how the ancient Egyptians felt about body hair, facial hair, and magic that could supposedly cure hair problems.
Ancient Egypt Museum Collections
A list and link to all the museums in the United Kingdom with ancient Egypt collections, galleries, or pieces.
Egyptian Beauty Secrets: Haircare and Wigs
For anyone who has ever wondered how to mix up their own concoction of Ancient Egyptian hair treatments or prevent baldness and gray hair in the ancient manner.
Online Egyptian Museum
Features a variety of virtual galleries, including burial practices, pharos, ancient Egyptian mythology, and daily life.
Ancient Egypt Web Resources
From the University of North Texas, this collection of web links and sites has a plethora of different Egyptian topics.