If you think business covering for poisonous substances is something new, think again. This has been going on since the 1800s and even earlier. However, the 1800s is when science begins to actually prove how harmful the Victorian "patent medicines", makeup, and other substances are.
- Lead compounds were used in white face cream. Lead compounds were favored because they made very white tints. But lead was absorbed into the skin and poisoned people.
- In Roman times, Romans used white lead to whiten their faces, and red lead for a bit of red.
- Radium was used to make glowing watch faces until it was discovered the workers, mostly women, who painted the watch faces, came down with serious cancers in the jaw area.
- "Other popular blooms, balms, powders and potions of the 19th and early 20th century such as Berry’s Freckle Ointment, Milk of Roses, Snow White Enamel and Flake White contained mercury, lead, carbolic acid, mercuric chloride and a handful of other “delightful” corrosives."
- In the US there were radium baths, arsenic complexion wafers, cigarettes for asthma.
- In the US there were also water holders with radium to "infuse" the water with energy. Alas, the wrong kind of energy.
- Mascara and other eye products contained mercury.
- Even now we find phthalates in shampoos, face creams, fragrances, aftershaves, deodorants.
- One article advised women to coat their faces with opium at night, with a brisk wash of ammonia in the morning.
- The look of near-death was popular. Women would sometimes put belladonna drops in their eyes, and some went blind from it.
- "Sears & Roebuck sold a popular product called Dr. Rose’s Arsenic Complexion Wafers, which were just that–little white chalk wafers filled with arsenic for delicate nibbling. They were specifically advertised as “perfectly harmless."
- Vermillion, a red mercury compound, was a known poison but also used for lip tint.
- It wasn't until 1977 that a new US law required makeup manufacturers to print all ingredients on the item.
Products in the US were unregulated until the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act which passed in 1906. But it was 25 years in the making as business, like now, lobbied against the law which could cut into profits, and prevent people from dying a horrible death.
For more reading:
- "100,000,000 Guinea Pigs." Arthur Kallet and Frederick Schlink. 1933.
- "American Chamber of Horrors." Ruth DeForest Lamb, chief education officer of FDA. 1936.
- "Banned: A history of pesticides and the Science of Toxicology." Frederick Rowe Davis. 2014. From Google Books.
- "The Great American Fraud." Samuel Hopkins Adams. A book about the evils of patent medicine. Various formats here.
- "Suffering for Beauty has Ancient Roots." NBC, Jan 11, 2008.
- "Hidden Killers" TV series on Youtube.
- "The Poisonous Beauty Advice Columns of Victorian England." Link here.