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Ancient eyeliner 'fought infection'

26th January 2010

The lead-based make-up used by ancient Egyptians was also worked to ward off infections, according to recent French research.


Known in modern times as Kohl, such eye make-up has been used for thousands of years as a traditional remedy against eye diseases and sun exposure in parts of the Middle East and India.

Researcher Christian Amatore, a chemist at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, said evidence suggested that ancient Egyptians alchemists recited incantations as they mixed the royal preparation, and that they saw the make-up as having magical properties.

After obtaining permission to use 52 samples of the make-up preserved at the Louvre, the scientists attempted to find out the original ingredients of the make-up using electron microscopy and x-ray diffraction.

The main ingredients in the make-up samples were all lead-based chemicals.

Galena made the make-up appear dark and glossy, while cerussite, laurionite, and phosgenite were all coloured white.

Due to disintegration in the millenia-old samples, the researchers were not able to come up with precise percentages for the ingredients.

The scientists believe that the lead present in the make-up killed bacteria that arose primarily during the annual flooding of the Nile, when particles tended to enter the eye, causing disease and inflammation.

They said, however, that people should not think of using the make-up, since lead toxicity was a very dangerous thing.

They said that the formula's toxicity overshadowed any benefit that could be drawn from it today.

Advanced Chemical Safety president Neal Langerman said that he believed the ancient Egyptians were attracted to the compound because highly toxic metals such as lead and arsenic made an attractive colour.

The shininess of lead is part of the reason why the lipstick formulae used today also contain small amounts of lead, which some doctors and scientists believe to be harmful.

The study authors said that the production of eye make-up in ancient Egypt was the first known example of a large-scale chemical process.


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Gail Heather

Tuesday 26th January 2010 @ 19:12

What the ancient Egyptians called "magic" we now call "science".

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Article Information

Title: Ancient eyeliner 'fought infection'
Author: Luisetta Mudie
Article Id: 13890
Date Added: 26th Jan 2010


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