There’s a wealth of information out there about which cosmetics you should be using to get healthy skin but sometimes it’s useful to know what not to put on your skin, so you avoid actively damaging it through a poor skincare routine. 

Fortunately for you, we’ve compiled a lot of the available information on toxic cosmetics into this article. It features everything from our history of using toxic cosmetics, the infamous toxic twelve to watch out for today, information about the healthier alternatives to the toxic twelve, and the best brands to shop for if you want a guaranteed non-toxic cosmetic supplier without having to read the labels of every product.

Ancient Egypt

When thinking of cosmetics throughout history, probably the most striking and oldest example you’ll remember is the common portrayal of Egyptians in the media. Ancient Egyptians are widely portrayed as wearing fanciful, indulgent makeup over their face, and particularly their eyes, but there’s actually a lot of truth to this. 

Those who could at the time, regardless of gender, would powder their eyes with black and green powders since this protected their eyes from the sun. There is also evidence of some believing that it staved away eye illnesses, though the efficacy of powdering your eyes to protect them is untested.

At any rate, it was very unhealthy. Why? Because that powder was made from either lead or antimony, or a mix of the two. You know lead, everybody knows lead, so we’ll leave it to you to guess why peppering your face with lead on the daily will cause adverse health effects. As for antimony, all you need to know about it right now is that it’s as poisonous as lead when you’re dabbing it on your face.

They didn’t do this in spite of poor health, however, since ancient Egypt was full of other problems and the average Egyptian lifespan was approximately thirty years if you were a woman and thirty-four years if you were a man. This means that it’s likely that very few lived long enough to see the adverse effects of lead poisoning and, for the few that did, it was likely blamed on a whole host of possible causes that came with living in Egypt.

Lead poisoning for the sake of cosmetic beauty would turn out to be a consistent problem afflicting mankind through many historical eras, as you’ll see below.


Our old friend lead was used in England during the Roman Empire occupation, too, usually only on women and in finer forms to just whiten their faces instead of painting any marks on themselves like the Egyptians did. This situation is similar to the Egyptians where, with the lifespan of the average person being just twenty-five, it was rare for lead poisoning symptoms to develop before something else got them.

What’s more interesting, however, is that in the 16th Century English nobles started doing the same thing again, usually to hide plague scars. There was also likely a desire by those in power to emulate the old makeup standards of the ancient world, but they no longer had the excuse of dying too young. The average 16th Century person only had a lifespan of 39 years but, considering that nobles were the ones wearing the bad makeup, it wasn’t uncommon for nobles to live longer than others, despite obviously not trying to.

All over the world people recognize the image of Elizabeth I and, if you don’t recognize the name, search her up now. She was known for her white skin and puffed-up, regal hair but, if you learned about her in any classroom, you’d likely know that the lead and vinegar face treatments she got permanently discolored her skin, rotted her teeth out of her skull, and led to the loss of all her hair, causing her to pick up that flea-infested hairpiece.

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