I found this amusing:
Ancient Egypt’s Toxic Makeup Fought Infection, Researchers Say
The elaborate eye makeup worn by Queen Nefertiti and other ancient Egyptians was believed to have healing powers, conjuring up the protection of the Gods Horus and Ra and warding off illnesses.
Science does not allow for magic, but it does allow for healing cosmetics. The lead-based makeup used by the Egyptians had antibacterial properties that helped prevent infections common at the time, according to a report published Friday in Analytical Chemistry, a semimonthly journal of the American Chemical Society.
“It was puzzling; they were able to build a strong, rich society, so they were not completely crazy,” said Christian Amatore, a chemist at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris and one of the paper’s authors. “But they believed this makeup was healing — they said incantations as they mixed it, things that today we call garbage.”
Dr. Amatore and his fellow researchers used electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction to analyze 52 samples from containers of Egyptian makeup preserved at the Louvre. They found that the makeup was primarily made by mixing four lead-based chemicals: galena, which produced dark tones and gloss, and the white materials cerussite, laurionite and phosgenite. Because the samples had disintegrated over the centuries, the researchers were not able to determine what percentage of the makeup was lead.
Although many written texts, paintings and statues from the period indicate that the makeup was extensively used, Egyptians saw it as magical, not medicine, Dr. Amatore said.
In ancient Egypt, during periods when the Nile flooded, Egyptians had infections caused by particles that entered the eye and caused diseases and inflammations. The scientists argue that the lead-based makeup acted as a toxin, killing bacteria before it spread. But while their research provides a fascinating insight into an ancient culture, the scientists say the makeup is not something that should be used today.
Dr. Amatore said that the toxicity of lead compounds overshadowed the benefits and that there had been many documented cases of poisoning as a result of lead in paints and plumbing in the 20th century. Neal Langerman, a physical chemist and the president of Advanced Chemical Safety, a health safety and environmental protection consulting firm, said, “You probably won’t want to do this at home, especially if you have a small child or a dog that likes to lick you.”
Nonetheless, Dr. Langerman said, it makes sense that the Egyptians were attracted to the compounds.
“Lead and arsenic, among other metals, make beautiful color pigments,” he said. “Because they make an attractive color and because you can create a powder with them, it makes sense to use it as a skin colorant.”
The issue of lead in makeup continues to be debated in the cosmetics industry, particularly with regard to the small amounts of lead found in some lipsticks. While some advocacy groups and doctors argue that, over time, lipstick wearers might absorb levels of lead that could result in behavioral issues, the Food and Drug Administration has said that the trace amounts of lead in makeup are too small to cause harm.
“It’s the dose that makes the poison,” Dr. Langerman said, in paraphrasing the Renaissance physician Paracelsus. “A low dose kills the bacteria. In a high dose, you’re taking in too much.”