The Real (& Really Weird) Story Behind The Cult-Fave Egyptian Magic Cream

What with the pyramids, the ankhs, and heavy-handed use of words like "mystic," "miraculous," and, most notably, "magic," one unscrews a jar of Egyptian Magic half-expecting a genie to fly out. But what you'll find instead is a simple, scent-free, six-ingredient blend of olive oil, beeswax, honey, bee pollen, royal jelly, and bee propolis — finished off with the formula's signature component of divine love.

Since first appearing on the market in 1991, the all-purpose skin cream has amassed a cult following mostly through word-of-mouth. It is made by hand in its own facilities in Texas and sold mainly online, on the brand's bare-bones website, and at health-food stores and homeopathic pharmacies. It is beloved by actresses, models, and celebrity makeup artists alike: Kate Hudson is one of its biggest celebrity fans, calling it her "all-around go-to"; Lauren Conrad swears it's a "serious miracle worker"; Behati Prinsloo loves it for keeping her legs smooth; Dree Hemingway says she can't live without it; and Ozzy Salvatierra used it to give Rihanna her glossy lids and dewy cheekbones in the video for "Bitch Better Have My Money."

Indeed, its myriad uses call to mind the supposed versatility of Windex in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Free of additives, preservatives, fragrances, chemicals, and parabens, you can put Egyptian Magic on your face, your body, your lips, your hands, your stovetop-mishap burns, bug bites, and surface wounds, your kids, your hair, your scalp, your acne, your eczema, your scars, and, if an anecdote on the website is to be believed, your horses post-surgery. (The company is a PETA partner and has never tested on animals.) But what gives this unassuming salve its magnetic pull? Is it magic — or just the finest of what nature has to offer?

LordPharaoh ImHotepAmonRa, the CEO and founder of Egyptian Magic, is a man of mystery, and not quite a real pharaoh. But he is real — well, sort of. A 2007 profile in the New York Times revealed that Mr. ImHotepAmonRa, now 72, was sitting in a Chicago diner in 1986 when he was approached by an elderly man. "He said, ‘Brother, the spirit has moved me to reveal something to you,'" explained Mr. ImHotepAmonRa, then a water-filter salesman known by his real name, Westley Howard. "It didn’t seem too weird to me. I’m a spiritual person, so these things happen to me all the time."

And so the story goes that, over the next couple of years, that stranger, who called himself Dr. Imas (he never shared his first name... or what kind of doctor he was), paid regular visits to Howard at his home in Washington, where he showed him how to make a special skin cream from olive oil, beeswax, bee pollen, royal jelly, and bee propolis — the very same ingredients used to create Egyptian Magic today. Dr. Imas claimed it was an exact replica of a salve found in ancient Egyptian tombs; Mr. ImHotepAmonRa told the Times of the origins of Dr. Imas's recipe, "He said it was revealed to him the way he was revealing it to me."

The air of secrecy, the idea that you're using some kind of enigmatic formula channeled from one seer to another, is naturally part of what gives Egyptian Magic its celebrity cache, regardless of the legitimacy of a mysterious ancient recipe passed down from the pharaohs. But there's also at least some truth to that lore — in fact, Bernie Hephrun, a Reading, England-based researcher of Egyptian cosmetics, thinks the product is quite impressive. Beeswax, Hephrun told the Times, was a popular ingredient in cosmetics at the time, along with olive oil, which has been used as a cleanser, moisturizer, and antibacterial agent for centuries.

And, for what it's worth, Hephrun also said that while the Ancient Egyptians did not have the wherewithal to separate out pollen, jelly, and propolis from bee product, it has long been believed that Alexander the Great was preserved with honey when he died in Babylon in 323 BC. In 2015, archaeologists excavating ancient tombs in Egypt discovered pots of honey dating back approximately 3,000 years — and still perfectly edible. Researchers at the University of Bristol also found evidence that humans have been using bee products, including honey and wax, for almost 9,000 years.

Mystic or madman, Mr. ImHotepAmonRa — under the guidance of the late visionary Dr. Imas — has created a skin-care success story, a multitasking workhorse in nondescript, even shady-looking packaging that continues to persevere in an age where we want all the answers, and do not consider "a miraculous skin cream secretly used by the great sages, mystics, magicians, and healers" a sufficient explanation of how something works. The popularity of and tale behind the cure-all balm is enough to make one want to believe in its magic or, at the very least, put it on your acne scars and heed the advice given on the back of the jar: "Life takes from the taker & gives to the giver. Above all, let your word be your bond." Sometimes, pharaoh knows best.

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