Another Fun, Quirky Feature of the Past: Poisonous Makeup

Every day is a good day to thank God and the ghost of Upton Sinclair for modern consumer protection regulations, so that you can test out new types of makeup with a fair bit of confidence it won’t blind you.

Smithsonian notes that this week is the anniversary of the 1938 passage of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the first federal regulation of the cosmetics business. In honor of that milestone, the magazine rounds up some of the horrors that were lurking out in the market beforehand. For instance, Lash Lure:

Lash Lure contained a chemical known as p-phenylenediamine. According to the authors of Science, Medicine, and Animals, it “caused horrific blisters, abscesses and ulcers on the face, eyelids and eyes of Lash Lure users, and it led to blindness for some. In one case, the ulcers were so severe that a woman developed a bacterial infection and died.” This 1933 incident has been directly linked to the passage of the 1938 Act: Before and after images of one of the women blinded by Lash Lure were included in an FDA display called the “Chamber of Horrors” that was part of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, demonstrating the need for further regulation.

“Lash Lure was the first product forcibly removed from store shelves after the act’s passage,” writes author Mark Bartholomew.


For more horrors, visit Smithsonian; for more of the FDA’s greatest hits, stop by their unexpectedly delightful Flickr account. And commemorate this anniversary by stopping off at Sephora and browsing with confidence that you won’t end up with “bluish black gums and loose teeth,” unlike some unlucky buyers of Gouraud’s Oriental Cream, which contained a mercury compound.

Via the FDA’s Flickr. Cartoon addresses the 1960 Color Additives Amendment, banning carcinogenic colors in foods, drugs, and cosmetics.

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