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Coif Like an Egyptian

Ancient Egyptians loved their ‘dos too, and used “gel” to make it happen.

Abdelhak Senna/AFP; Courtesy of Professor Arthur AufderheideMarion Cotillard, left, and a mummy
Marion Cotillard

When we think of hair gel, we think of Elvis, Snooki and King Tut.

Wait. What?

Yup. Believe it or not, a new study suggests that ancient Egyptians styled their hair with a fatty compound that resembles modern-day hair gel. In fact, some of the styles were even strikingly similar to styles seen on the red carpet today. Now that’s trendsetting.

MORE: Find your signature hairstyle

The research team—lead by Dr. Natalie McCreesh at the University of Manchester—studied the hair samples of more than a dozen male and female mummies, both young and old. (If you can call a three thousand-year-old mummy young.) They found that some mummies used this “gel” on their hair both in everyday life and in preparation for death, which gives scientists new insight into two fascinating areas of study.

“We have known that hair was important to the ancient Egyptians, yet never before have we seen the use of ‘product’ to style the natural hair. Most other research has focused on wearing wigs,” McCreesh said, explaining that research suggests more noble Egyptians wore wigs. (Which makes sense of why most peoples' ideas of Egyptian hair conjures up images of Liz Taylor-as-Cleopatra.)

“We have also discovered that special care was taken to preserve the deceased’s hairstyle during the mummification procedure, placing significance on retaining the individual’s appearance in the afterlife.”

The gelled styles discovered—on both male and female mummies—ran the gamut from short and curly, to long and wavy. Some children even wore short styles slicked back and to the side, McCreesh said. Apparently mummies knew how they wanted their ‘do did, just like us!

QUIZ: How healthy is your hair?

So, where can we get our hands on this time-tested (literally), all-natural hair gel? Well, that’s where you might have to be patient. The exact recipe is still a mystery to scientists—it contains palmitic and stearic acid, but from there it gets a little fuzzy. Until then, you’ll just have to stay tuned … it seems the real secrets of the tomb are yet to come!

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