Top 5 most deadly cosmetics

Discover some of history’s most ill-advised beauty secrets

Lead makeup

During the Roman Empire, and in England until the 19th century, women would whiten their faces with a lead mixture called Ceruse. The resulting poisoning would cause blemishes, hair loss and even death.

Arsenic Complexion Wafers

During the late 19th century arsenic was known to be poisonous, yet some believed that consuming small amounts was a good way of removing freckles, pimples and other facial marks.

Belladonna eyedrops

The poisonous plant deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) was used by women to dilate their pupils and give them big, beautiful eyes, but it could also cause blindness.

Mercury rouge

A bright red and highly toxic mercury sulphide mineral called cinnabar was used as a blusher for thousands of years but proved fatal when it was absorbed into the bloodstream.

Radium skin cream

Following its discovery in 1898, radium was heralded as a revolutionary beauty secret and added to all sorts of cosmetics, until later studies proved it to be deadly.


This article was originally published in How It Works issue 102, written by Jo Stass


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