- Venetian ceruse
- Not Applicable ()
The most toxic makeup product to ever see regular use was Venetian ceruse (also called "spirits of Saturn"), a mixture of powdered white lead (lead carbonate) and vinegar. The paste was rubbed into the skin as a skin whitener and foundation, and was popular in Europe from the 16th to 18th centuries. Lead is not acutely toxic in the quantities used in these products (the median lethal dose is around 5 grams per kilogram of bodyweight, which means a deadly dose of lead is 350 grams for a typical adult) but it does cause chronic poisoning and long-term health problems. Heavy users of Venetian ceruse reportedly experienced the loss of hair and teeth, pitting and scarring of the skin and early cognitive decline.
Although it fell out of use as a cosmetic in the 18th century, white lead was used as a pigment in paints well into the 20th century. Contrary to what modern depictions would suggest, the whitening effect of Venetian ceruse was actually fairly subtle, more akin to a modern concealer than the heavy whiteface makeup often seen in portrayals of women such as Elizabeth I. There is no evidence, incidentally, that Elizabeth I ever used Venetian ceruse – it is never mentioned in the royal account books from the period.