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Cosmetic Health – The History of Makeup: From Tin Oxide to Pan Cake

Cosmetic Health – The History of Makeup: From Tin Oxide to Pan Cake


The earliest recorded use of cosmetics dates back to the time of the Ancient Egyptians who used foundations to enhance their skin tone.

In 200 BC it is also noted that the peoples of ancient Greece applied white lead powder and chalk to lighten their skin

The formulation was made of animal fat, starch and tin oxide.

The Middle Ages:

Upper class Greco-Roman women wore water soluble lead paint or powder to lighten their skin.

A product called Aqua Tofana was a popular powder during this time. Aqua Tofana was made of arsenic; which is a poison. As a result, many died using this poisonous powder.

The Renaissance

Water soluble lead paint was used to enhance the appearance of the skin.

The Elizabethan Era

Louis XV, the King of France, made it fashionable to wear lead makeup.

However, many men and women died at the cost of wearing this lethal mixture of vinegar and white lead.

The Victorian Era – late 18th and early 19th Century

With the exception of actors and actresses, whom she deemed acceptable to wear makeup, Queen Victoria dissmissed anyone who wore makeup as a prostitute.

Though Victorian women wore very little makeup, in the late 19th century, it was popular to wear a whitening mixture of zinc oxide (zinc oxide is an ingredient still used today in mineral makeup), lead nitrate, silver and acids.

Some even ate chalk and drank iodine to achieve a lighter skin tone.

Then, in 1914, makeup artist Max Factor invented Flexible Greasepaint. This formulation was the starting point for the makeup of today:

Pan-Cake was Max Factor’s 1st foundation that was sold for personal use. Originally designed for theatrical use – the revolutionary talc based formulation was created as a foundation and powder in one.

In 1937 – in spite of the economic hardships of this era, Pan-Cake was a success…

And so it all began, soon new companies evolved and adjusted the formulation:

Oil and emollient – This is Max factor’s original Grease Paint formulation – the oldest type of makeup, still used today by professionals

The formula is sold under various brand names such as Pan-Stik (Max Factor’s follow-up to his Pan-Cake makeup), Elizabeth Arden Sponge-On Cream, Mehron, Dermablend.

It is made with oil – usually mineral oil or an emollient such as petrolatum, beeswax, or lanolin.

It has a thick course texture similar to lip balm or lipstick

It stays moist and will not cake and is moderately,water proof, with opaque coverage.

However, there is a tendency for this formula to smudge, fade and change color

Powder Based Formulations –

This is Max Factor’s Talc based Pan Cake formulation – powder and foundation in one.

It is similar to pressed powder, but provides more pigment, as it is flexible to build from sheer to full coverage.

Also, powder foundation sticks to the skin more than does pressed powder providing a longer lasting finish.

However, powder foundations can look floury on dry skin types.

Mineral Makeup –

At one time Mineral Makeup was only found in spas, salons, or specialty stores. Today it is widely sold through retail drug stores available to everyone.

Mineral makeup is advertised as a talc free powder.

However, despite its claims to be talc free, lower -end drug store brands contain a small percentage of talc.

Talc is a mineral that is rumored to clog pores and cause cancer.

Although there have been studies that link the use of talc to Ovarian cancer, what is of concern is that talc may become harmful, if it is mined in the same site as a mineral called asbestos, which is a known carcinogen (a carcinogen is any substance that tends to produce cancer).

Cosmetic companies have a legal responsibility for the safety and labeling for their products and ingredients.

The FDA monitors testing of talc suppliers before they are distributed to be used in cosmetics.

Mineral makeup does not include the additives and preservatives that are usually found in liquid makeup

Though liquid mineral makeup does exist and is sold on the market, doctors would argue that it is impossible to create a liquid mineral foundation since Microbes thrive in water. As a result, it would be required to add preservatives to any type of liquid makeup because with out preservatives, harmful microbes would form in the liquid and cause skin infections.

The preservatives required to be addead to a liquid mineral makeup would lessen the soothing effect intended.

To get the true benefits of mineral makeup, it is recommended to purchase the powder formulations that do not require additives.

The main ingredients found in mineral makeup are zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, mica, and bismuth oxychloride:

Zinc oxide is responsible for the anti inflammatory, soothing properties of the mineral makeup formulation and also provides protection from sun exposure.

Titanium dioxide provides sun protection

Mica adds a pearly or glittery finish

Bismuth Oxychloride is an inexpensive filler with binding properties that gives makeup the ability to cling to the skin.

It has a heavy, silky feel when rubbed between the fingers.

Bismuth Oxychloride is also highly refractive. Refraction is important for camouflaging fine lines and discolorations. It also contributes to a silky, shimmery finish.

The newest trend borrowed from East and Southeast Asia, is the BB cream.

BB stands for blemish balm or blemish base; in Western markets it is referred to as beauty balm.

BB Cream is an all in one product used as a serum, moisturizer, primer, foundation, and sunblock, all in one; with claims of the ability to treat blemishes, fight wrinkles, correct age spots, soothe skin blotches, and even skin tone.

Water Based Makeup –A creamy liquid that provides medium coverage and a more natural feel than oil, powder, or emollient bases.

Cover Girl Clean Makeup is an example.

Various adaptions to the formulation exist to meet different needs of different skin types.

Overall, it seems, the makeup market has come a long way since its poisonous formulations. It is scary to think that at one time applying rouge to the apple of the cheeks could be a deathly engagement.

However, today there is still on going investigation that many of the ingredients used in cosmetics are linked to fatal conditions such as cancer.

Thankfully, most formulations and ingredients used in cosmetics are responsible to follow guidelines approved by the FDA (the Food and Drug Administration).