Friday, August 8, 2014

Part 1 of 3 Lets talk Lead: Dispelling The Historical Myth, 18th Century Dr's, & Finding It In Today’s Cosmetics

Part 1 of 3
These few posts will focus on 18th century education and awareness of lead and other chemicals as well as the beginning of beauty books.  I have a lot of information, so I decided to split it up into 3 separate blog posts. Lets start with our modern over the counter lipstick and work out way backwards.

Did you know that today many of the brands of lipsticks you purchase still have lead in them?

       Think again about your lipstick!

In 2013 a study was done where they asked girls to hand over their lipsticks and glosses. They found unhealthy traces of: aluminum, cadmium, chromium, and manganese. Here is the unsettling part: Lead, was detected in 75% of the samples [1]The FDA responded to a number of inquiries into the lead saying, "FDA's studies have found no lead levels that would pose safety concerns when lipstick is used as intended." [2]

The problem with this is that it's intended to only be worn on the lips, not accidentally ingested- which is so often the case. In 18th century Europe Dr's. were already working towards an all natural cosmetic revolution because they knew the dangers of lead and other harmful chemicals in cosmetics.

There were many treaties on health published during the early to mid 16th-17th centuries. Current medical knowledge considered cosmetics as medicines to be used on the skin and face.[3] During this time, a majority of these works overlooked the dangers of chemicals. Therefore, many recipes previous to the 18th century contained poisonous chemicals like lead and mercury. Thanks to these early works, the myth of lead has stayed with us. It is an 18th century myth that all cosmetics were harmful and it needs to be debunked- and here is why!

 By the late 17th and early 18th century, it is documented that medical manuals were already starting to correct mistakes of their earlier writings.  Therefore, the issues with lead and other chemicals were well known by the medical community and they were already working to educate and resolve the mistakes of past centuries. The question soon became: How can we educate the masses?

 (Mrs. Catherine Macaulay) sits at her dressing table dipping a brush into a jar of rouge.
 "Speedy and effectual preparation for the next world"
1777 London.

In the early to mid 18th century, Doctors had begun the ardent task of educating their patients on cleanliness, how to prevent illness, and most importantly the consequences of using chemically laced cosmetics ( pictured above). They started making lists of what ingredients were acceptable and what were not. For example, rouge recipes from plants like sandalwood, saffron, and alkanet were acceptable, but lead oxide, and cinnabar were to be avoided. [4] The push was towards rouges made with vegetable and animal substances. This new scientific data lead to a movement focused on natural beauty and non-harmful ingredients. In order to spread this movement and educate the public, many doctors decided on scare tactics first, and then, secondly they devised to publish beauty books and oversee women at their toilettes to instruct and educate them on proper looks, product use, and application. By writing these recipe books, they were able to dictate to women what was fashionable, what cosmetics one must make and wear or must not wear, and how they should be applied. This idea of Dr's controlling what was beautiful by writing beauty manuals stayed popular until the 20th century. By this time the books were massive volumes with photos dedicated to every aspect of medicinal and beauty care for the whole family.

"1913 Domestic Medical Practice" Vinegar & Elder Leaf
 Bandages For The Eyes and Chin"

1913 Domestic Medical Practice. This
Includes many sections on women's

 Probably the most notable method of fighting against chemically laced cosmetics and working towards the goal of Natural and Safe beauty products was finding a way to prevent Small Pox. Doctors’ believed that if they could prevent small pox, they could change the types of cosmetics that were worn and desired by women. In the next post we will look at specific propaganda used to educate about lead, cosmetics laced with chemicals, and how the inoculation of small pox helped change the ideal beauty standard.

So the next time you hear someone talk about the lead in the 18th century educate them and explain that the lipstick they are wearing, if bought at a store… probably contain lead.

[1] Mercier, Tableau de Paris, ch.342, I:927
[3] See de Renou. Oeuvres pharmaceutiques, 80
[4] Buc’hoz, Toilette de flore 198; Jaubert, Dictionnaire raisonne universel des arts et métiers, 3:362-63

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