, Volume 83, Issue 4, pp 551-556
Date: 17 Mar 2006

Investigation of white pigments used as make-up during the Greco-Roman period

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Different white pigments were used during antiquity to prepare white make-up for women faces. Combining observations and elemental analysis with structural information, we were able to determine the mineralogical composition of cosmetics, the trace element content and the microstructure of the crystals. SEM/EDX analyses enabled us to describe the choice of materials and their preparation by grinding or chemical synthesis to obtain white pigments.

For the Hellenistic period, we have mainly found lead white, which required an elaborated synthesis process. Quantitative X-ray diffraction allowed us to establish different ratios of hydrocerussite 2PbCO3·Pb(OH)2 and cerussite PbCO3. These data can be linked to the chemical conditions of preparation described by ancient authors. On the other hand, analyses of Roman cosmetics from Pompeii, Gaul and Germany show the use of materials commonly found in nature like gypsum or calcite. We will discuss the material properties in relation with the make-up uses.


61.10.Nz; 61.43.Gt