Women have been adorning themselves with various materials since ancient times, such as minerals like malachite, galena, and kohl, which were used by women in ancient Egypt to decorate their eyes and faces.
Little did they know that these materials contained lead, which can cause damage to the nervous system, bone marrow, and kidneys when absorbed by the body. In the 18th century, people used cerussa, a type of lead-based paint, to cover up blemishes and improve their skin complexion. Prolonged use of lead-based cosmetics can result in chronic poisoning, leading to issues like anemia, kidney failure, and neurological damage.
It wasn’t until 1869 when the American Medical Association published an article on “Three Cases of Lead Palsy from the Use of a Cosmetic Called ‘Laird’s Bloom of Youth’” that people began to take notice of the dangers of lead-based cosmetics. The article described how prolonged use of a cosmetic containing lead acetate and carbonate led to weight loss, fatigue, muscle atrophy, headaches, and nausea.
Another dangerous ingredient is arsenic, which was once promoted as a cure-all and found in various beauty products. One of the most famous arsenic compounds is arsenic trioxide, also known as arsenic white. It was believed to cure various illnesses like malaria, headaches, and high fever, and even applied to the skin to improve pigmentation and reduce dark spots. Arsenic is a toxic element that can cause various symptoms like nausea, vomiting, reduced production of red and white blood cells, irregular heartbeat, blood vessel damage, and nerve damage. Organic arsenic compounds have lower toxicity than inorganic arsenic, which can cause skin cancer, liver cancer, bladder cancer, and lung cancer.
Today, modern beauty products no longer contain lead or arsenic, but other harmful ingredients like steroids and mercury are still sometimes found in cosmetics during inspections. Long-term use of cosmetics with steroids can lead to skin thinning, telangiectasia, and reduced skin resistance, making it easy to develop skin inflammation and permanent damage. Mercury, which can penetrate various tissues and cause chronic poisoning, can also be found in some cosmetics, especially those promoting skin whitening. These dangerous cosmetics are often imported illegally from regions with less strict cosmetic regulations, highlighting the need for consumers to be aware of the ingredients, sources, and reputation of beauty products before using them.