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  • Writer's pictureFiona McNeill

The colour of a second white lead makeup

Updated: Jan 10, 2021

I spent the week before Christmas testing the look of a new lead-based makeup. I was unable to resist a quick analysis of the data over the holidays. How could I? I’m one of the first people to see what lead makeup looks like on skin in over a century. It’s exciting!

The new lead makeup formulation looked very yellow to both my eye and the camera in the bottle. It was a very opaque yellow liquid.

When I painted it on pigskin, the look was more subtle than I expected. There was a small shift in the both the measured blue-yellow and red-green colour of the painted skin. This was similar to shifts from lead makeup we’ve talked about previously on the website. The final colour on pigskin was very close to a previous makeup. The chart shows the measured values for both makeups. This time the makeup (#2) shifted the measured pigskin colour to something slightly less yellow and slightly more red. The previous makeup (#1) shifted the measured pigskin colour to something slightly more yellow and slightly more red.

Please note: the chart scale is enhanced and the shifts are small. Colour changes are subtle.

The two recipes were quite similar, so why the difference? I think it is because the makeup colour (on the blue-yellow axis) is between the colour of the two pigskins. The two pieces of pigskin were different colours. The pigskin used with makeup #2 was a little pinker and more yellow than the pigskin used with makeup #2.

Makeup #1 was more yellow than pigskin #1, so the makeup shifted the colour to something more yellow. Makeup #2 was less yellow than pigskin #2, so the makeup shifted the colour to something less yellow. However, it might be that thin films of the two makeups are, in fact, a similar colour on skin.

To know for sure, we’ll have to measure both makeups at the same time on a single piece of pigskin.This will be one of my projects for January.

Again we see that lead white make-up, while pale, is not actually pure white. These early measurements may suggest that this makeup would make sallow skin less yellow. Very pale skin would be slightly more yellow. Many skin types would be a titch more red.

However, I need to add a word of caution. I am only showing the red-green and the blue-yellow measurements here. There is a third measure that affects how we perceive the colour of makeup: ‘lightness’. Both lead make-ups shift the perceived colour of the pigskin to a lighter shade. I’ll talk more about ‘lightness’ and try and explain what this means for the perceived colour on the blog next week.

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