Can industry learn from ancient Roman cosmetic preparations?

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Despite all the new technology and science, the basic idea behind
cosmetic products has remained the same for thousands of years, as
a recreation of ancient Roman cosmetic has demonstrated in Wales.

Organised through National Museum of Wales, a range of scrubs, foundations, blushers, eyeliners and perfumes was demonstrated last weekend as part of the Roman Military Spectacular in Carleon.

The event was also designed to pique the interest of those fed up with World Cup by emphasising that there are other activities for those not caught by the football bug.

Featuring make-up used by the 'footballer's wives' of the time, the lotions and potions were specially formulated to replicate those products that were worn by women at the time.

However, according to Sally Pointer, Manager of the National Museum of Wales and a specialist in the history of cosmetic and fragrances, there is one ingredient that definitely won't be included in the formulations. Lead.This poisonous ingredient was widely used by the Romans because they thought it had beneficial qualities for the skin.

Pointer told the BBC that she considers lead-based powders to make the most fantastic make-up products, but explained that the toxic build-up of the lead could have proved fatal for many Roman women who used such powders on a regular basis.

However, many of the ingredients that the Romans used are currently being incorporated into a variety of natural- and organic-based products, helping to drive one of the fastest growing industry categories at the moment.

Ingredients found in the formulations of old included olive oil, bees wax, rose water and saffron, which are now all proving highly popular with consumers seeking to return to mother nature and avoid harsh chemicals.

For the spectacular Pointer re-created a face cream that was excavated in a south London building site two years ago.

When scientists from Bristol University studied the formulation it was found to contain approximately 40 per cent starch and animal fat, most likely to have been derived from the carcass of a cow or goat.

Another chemical compound, tin oxide, was also found in the face cream formulation, which is commonly used in cosmetics products as a whitener.

Professor Richard Evershed, who headed up the Bristol University team believed that the formulation was put together with an advanced knowledge of the ingredients and their efficacy.

"They weren't choosing materials by accident. They probably had years of observation and experimentation, mixing materials together to alter their properties."

Related topics: Formulation & Science, Skin Care

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