Got bunions from heels? Lead in your lipstick? According to a story on MSNBC, women (and men!) have risked their health to look good for centuries. Ancient Egyptians had famously black-rimmed eyes, which were obtained by using a mixture of metal ores, lead, soot and fat. Pink eye, anyone? Says dermatologist Dr. Joel Schlessinger: "The exposure would eventually lead to irritability, insomnia and mental decrease." Sexy! Ancient Greeks and Romans used white lead face cream to "clear complexions of blemishes and to improve the color and texture of the skin." (As we know now, lead can cause skin ruptures, insanity and infertility.) Some scholars believe that the makeup, hair dye, cooking pots, viaducts and drinking cups — all made with lead— are one of the reasons the Roman Empire fell. Fast-forward to the 15th century, when the "dead white" look came back in full-force. For the next three hundred years or so, men and women of the court painted their faces white with a mixture of lead and vinegar.
"People would put whitening on their skin and over time, it would eat the skin away, causing all sorts of scarring," says Kevin Jones, curator at the FIDM Museum in L.A. "And the way they covered that up was to apply thicker amounts of the makeup, which would then exacerbate the situation. It was a horrible process, once you got started you couldn't stop."
Sure, but we're totally sane and safe now, right? Well, in 1930, Lash Lure, and eyelash dye, caused 16 cases of blindness and one death. The FDA started monitoring these things in 1938, yet a third of lipsticks contain lead, says a study released in October 2007. And in November, US marshals seized 12,000 tubes of Age Intervention Eyelash, a product designed to make lashes long. They suspected the stuff could harm your vision. (The FDA oversees cosmetics, but after the fact; removing items that prove to be unsafe. Unlike drugs, cosmetics are not required to have clinical trials before they hit the market.) So from piercing (ears) to courting skin cancer to altering your posture, how far are we willing to go to look more alluring?