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The Vikings were a fearsome people, known for their love of battle and their intricate tattoos. But what about Viking makeup? Did they wear any? And if so, what did it look like? 

Keep reading as we explore the world of Viking makeup including showing you what makeup you can use for a Viking costume yourself!

woman wearing Nordic Viking makeup for females

Did Vikings Wear Makeup?

It’s believed that both male and female Vikings wore makeup. In particular, historical evidence suggests that they used kohl as eyeliner. There is also evidence that they would paint their faces in certain situations, although this may not necessarily be makeup as we would understand it today.

According to research on what Vikings looked like, there is evidence of Vikings having worn makeup that dates back to the 8th century. Using facial makeup for various reasons was a common occurrence around this era. In some Nordic tribes that were spread throughout present-day Germany, makeup was used to highlight a person’s status, so was likely not just used by Viking women.

The influence of wearing this dark-colored eyeliner can be traced back to Ancient Egypt and the Middle East, as it’s been confirmed that the Vikings interacted with those people (possibly even leading to there being Black Vikings). But, the reasons for Vikings and the Ancient Egyptians having worn makeup may vary due to their geographical location at the time.

What did Viking makeup look like?

The main example of Viking makeup was the fact that their eyes were often lined with kohl, which is a black-colored powder. While kohl could be made with a variety of materials, it’s assumed that it was shaped into sticks that were used to line thick, dark lines around the eyes.

It’s common to come across Vikings that are depicted by their striking facial makeup (or even Viking tattoos) that includes blue hues of face paint and black-colored eyes. Yet, there isn’t much evidence of how Vikings looked with makeup due to a lack of photographs from that period. In any case, it’s presumed that the kohl used was a combination of the following.

  1. Ash and lead
  2. Burnt almonds
  3. Ochre
  4. Oxidized copper
  5. Malachite

This suggests, sorry to say, that the Viking makeup used in modern-day TV should be more attributed to entertainment value than historical accuracy, at least based on the available evidence.

You can also find out all about the famous Viking face paint that they wore here!

Why did Vikings wear makeup?

The reasons for Vikings wearing makeup are inconclusive, although when you look closer at Nordic Viking makeup for females, it seems to have primarily been used to enhance their appearance. However, since they didn’t leave traceable written records, it’s difficult to confirm a deeper purpose for this use.

The main uses for kohl are derived from aesthetic appeal as well as protection from the damaging sun’s rays. Other sources state that it was also an effective way to ward off insects that could irritate the eyes while someone was asleep. What’s not always discussed though is the potential purpose of the Vikings wearing makeup as part of a wartime strategy.

man wearing Viking makeup for males

Recent studies suggest that using kohl eyeliner has the following benefits.

  1. It cleans the eyes.
  2. It keeps the eyes cool and strengthens them.
  3. It’s been used to prevent and treat certain eye diseases such as cataracts.
  4. It can help to improve eye vision.

There’s also an argument to be made that it helps to make someone look more fearsome, which was likely a valid concern for the Vikings given their reputation. This is also why they are assumed to have used face paint in times of combat: to strike fear into the hearts of their enemies (which, based on records from other societies at the time, the Vikings seemed to be particularly good at).

(Actually, the fact they were known for their fierce wartime activities is also why it’s thought Vikings didn’t wear piercings.)

What Makeup Do You Use for Vikings?

There are plenty of examples online of makeup that you can use for Viking costumes for males and females or to simply emulate the Vikings. Most of them have very strong eyes, making use of the historically accurate kohl eyeliner, along with additional face paint to strengthen the overall image.

For most Viking costumes you see these days, including on TV shows, Viking makeup looks super effective while also being remarkably simple.

Want to take your Viking costume to the next level? Find out all about the Viking braids you could add to your look – or even the Viking dreadlocks it’s believed they wore!

Simply buy some eyeliner and create a thick line around the eyes (both men and women). Using the eyeliner, eyeshadow or even some face paint, you can further emphasize this with additional details. The video below is just one example of this, but you can get as creative or as simple as you want here.

There are various ways that I can think of to make Viking makeup look modern with historical flare. Let’s say that you want to look like Lagertha, the famous Swedish Viking from the even more famous Vikings TV show. I would strongly advise using as much eyeliner as possible to get the dramatic dark-colored eyes that she has.

I love that completing this look for any Viking-themed party is so easy to achieve. Plus, if the paint on your face isn’t something that you want to have, you can always leave it out. Besides, not having face paint as part of your Viking makeup seems to be more historically precise from what we know at the moment.