Did white lead make-up enhance beauty at a deadly cost?
Lead is a dangerous substance!
Please do not attempt to copy our lead experiments at home. Lead is designated as a dangerous substance in Canada and other countries. High lead exposure can be fatal.
Lead has very toxic health effects. These include:
Children exposed to lead having IQ deficits
Lead exposure being associated with cognitive deficits in adults
Women exposed to lead undergoing early menopause
People exposed to lead chronically having raised blood pressure
Be aware that we are an expert university research group. We have taken safety training and our pigskin project's procedures were thoroughly vetted and approved by an expert Health and Safety Committee.
We make lead white make-up in a fumehood in our laboratory.
We wear latex gloves, lab coats and eye protection and work under a protective airflow.
We only paint lead white make-up on pigskin. It will never be painted on a person.
The lead white make-up does not leave the fumehood in our laboratory until it is sent for safe hazardous waste disposal.
Should you ever handle or come into contact with products containing basic lead carbonate (commonly called white lead) such as some traditional oil paints found in art supply stores, please be very careful when handling. Wear gloves. Never eat or inhale products containing white lead.
For interest, I am posting photographs on this website where I model some modern versions of 18th century make-up, photographed under different coloured lights. The make-up I wear never contains lead white! Titanium dioxide replaces lead white in all modern recipes.
My wearing of modern make-up is entertainment, not the core research of the lab. Some of the make-up I will model was bought from apothecaries and specialty historical stores. I will note where I purchased it when I post photos. I do make some make-up myself. It is only ever worn by me. I wear it for the sole purpose of creating interesting photographs. The ingredients I use are modern substitutes that I buy from aromatherapy, soap making, grocery or cosmetic stores.
I do check ingredients in make-up for safety:
I check the Government of Canada's cosmetic ingredients hot list for prohibited and restricted ingredients.
I read material safety data sheets.
I only buy ingredients from reputable stores.
I make a test patch on my arm before I ever apply a make-up to my face, just in case I am allergic to some ingredients.
So keep safe, be very, very careful around substances that include lead, and enjoy looking at our lead work from a distance,
All the best, Fiona
Professor Fiona E. McNeill