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  • Fiona McNeill

What does white lead make-up look like when applied on skin?

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

I'm posting some cartoons on the blog today so you can have an idea of the appearance of white lead make-up.


First some disclaimers. These colours are from a camera, not our snazzy high-tech spectrometer. The spectrometer data can be confusing because it is a low light measurement. Think of a white piece of paper in bright light. It looks very white. Think of that same white paper in darkness. You can only see black. Midway, everything looks grey. Make-up on pigskin* is a near white colour, and the spectrometer light is not strong. When we print out the spectrometer makeup colours to see comparisons, it is literally fifty shades of grey. Our version would not bring any excitement to our readers.


So I instead extracted colours from photographs of pigskin using Photoshop. I painted those colours on the skin areas in a cartoon**. It is a simple little visual that hopefully allows you to compare the make-up colour on two women.


I am not posting pigskin photos because they may be disturbing to some folks. Pigskin looks a lot like pale human skin. (Which is, of course, why we use it.) I had been going to throw pigskin photos up on our Instagram. Shaelyn pursuaded me that I was risking grossing out our unsuspecting followers.


The cartoon shows the colours of a makeup from Caterina Sforza's Experimenti***. The makeup is a mixture of rosewater, violet oil and ceruse (basic lead carbonate). In the modern version we substitute titanium dioxide for the lead carbonate.



The titanium makeup looks a little Zombie like. Titanium powder is very white. Pigskin is slightly bluer and greener than my winter skin. The combination of the make-up and pigskin looks quite grey. You can see that the lead make-up shifts the observed colour towards the red and yellow compared to the titanium. The lead makeup looks much more natural.


We were quite excited when we first painted this lead makeup on the pigskin. To the eye it is yellower, and an overall softer look than titanium makeup. The two types of makeup, both made from powders that looked brilliantly white, ended up being different colours. It is a little surprising to mix the lead make-up and see the change to the final colour.


This is the colour observed by a camera on pigskin. We are working on a technique that will allow us to show you what the makeup would look like on my skin. My gut feeling is that some lead make-up will look quite lovely!



* We use ethically sourced pigskin that we obtain from a local butcher: Cumbraes in Dundas.

** Used under license (Shutterstock)

** Please see the section 'Wearing Makeup' on the main Toxic Allure Website for details of this and other recipes. You can read more about the colour of makeup in the section 'The look of lead makeup'.

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