Making make-up in Ancient Egypt


The extensive use of green, white and black make-up has been known since the earliest periods of Egyptian history1,2. We have investigated cosmetic powders dating from between 2000 and 1200 BC that were preserved in their original containers. Quantitative crystallographic and chemical analysis of the organic and mineral components of the powders enabled us to identify two natural lead-based compounds: crushed ore of galena (PbS) and cerussite (PbCO3). We also found two unexpected constituents: laurionite (PbOHCl) and phosgenite (Pb2Cl2CO3). Because they are neither natural extracted ores nor products resulting from subsequent ageing or chemical modification, laurionite and phosgenite appear to be synthetic products manufactured by the Egyptians using ‘wet’ chemistry.

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Figure 1: Analysis of cosmetic powders.


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Walter, P., Martinetto, P., Tsoucaris, G. et al. Making make-up in Ancient Egypt. Nature 397, 483–484 (1999).

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