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Discussions with Deb: That Unhealthy Glow

August 11, 2021

August 11, 2021

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Thinking back to high school, one of the things that fascinated me about the fall of the Roman Empire was that the Romans poisoned themselves with lead in cosmetics.  We like to think we have learned since then but somedays I’m not so sure.  A few weeks ago we talked about radioactive drinks were used for “health” benefits.  But did you also know that for years radioactivity was in cosmetics?  Puts the words “radiant beauty” into context, doesn’t it?

When radium was discovered in the late 1800s people were amazed by its properties and quickly began looking into ways to use it commercially.  One of the first uses was in cosmetics.  If you ever find yourself with time to kill in Paris the Curie Museum there has a fine exhibit of these cosmetics.

In 1933 a line of French beauty products was introduced under the name Tho-Radia (Yes-for thorium and radium)  These included cleansing lotion, soap, lipstick, skin cream, powder, rouge, sunburn liquid, and toothpaste.  The line was fairly expensive and hopefully this restricted its use.  This line was sold in France from the 1930s through the early 1960s.  A description of the cream says, “Stimulates cellular vitality, activates circulation, firms skin, eliminates fats, stops enlarged pores forming, stops and cures boils, pimples, redness, pigmentation, protects from the elements, stops ageing and gets rid of wrinkles, conserves the freshness and brightness of the complexion.”

Tho-Radia was advertised as a scientific method of beauty.  Tho-Radia cream, stated it “activates circulation, tones, firms tissues, removes fat, removes wrinkles, all for a mere 10 francs per tube.” It was recommended for just about every skin problem imaginable, from scrapes and bruises to frostbite and impetigo. The company also claimed their face powder prevented herpes.  The deception didn’t end there.  The company advertised that Dr. Alfred Curie developed the formulas used in the product.  It does seem that an Alfred Curie existed but he was not related to Marie or Pierre Curie discoverers of Radium and Polonium.  Deceptive advertising is nothing new.

Apparently Tho-Radia also sold a spray that was advertised as a cure for sunburn.  I have no idea why THAT was supposed to work.  Spraying something that can cause burns on a sunburn doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.

In Britain in the 1930s a new rejuvenating cream was produced for  the British market.  This contained radium gas (radon) rather than radium salts as in the French product.  It was advertised that it ”assists blood circulation and generally tones up the skin”  At least radon was eliminated from the skin in 6 hours.  The Brits also had a radioactive treatment for skin in the 1950s.

The US wasn’t immune to the wonders of radioactivity in skin care.  In the 1950s Dorothy Gray cosmetics ran a TV ad that used radioactive dirt to prove how well their skin cleansers removed dirt.

It makes you wonder if we have learned anything since the Roman Empire fell, doesn’t it?