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Vol. 111. Issue 10.
Pages 863-865 (December 2020)
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Vol. 111. Issue 10.
Pages 863-865 (December 2020)
History and Humanities in Dermatology
DOI: 10.1016/j.adengl.2020.09.014
Open Access
Radioactive Cosmetics and Radiant Beauty
Cosméticos radioactivos. La belleza «radiante»
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R.M. Díaz Díaz
Corresponding author
rmaria.diaz@salud.madrid.org

Corresponding author.
, C. Garrido Gutiérrez, P. Maldonado Cid
Sección de Dermatología, Hospital Universitario Infanta Sofía, San Sebastián de los Reyes, Madrid, Spain
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Introduction

The first evidence of radioactivity was detected by Henri Becquerel. After Marie and Pierre Curie later discovered the first radioactive element, radium, all 3 received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903.1

Although radioactivity has led to great advances in medicine — in our own specialty alone, for example, it has enabled the treatment of certain skin cancers — adequate protection against rays must be provided if adverse effects are to be avoided.2

Modern societies seem to fully grasp the need for protection against the harmful effects of radiation, but that was not the case in the years immediately following the discoveries of Becquerel and the Curies.

Objective

This article aims to illustrate the lack of understanding of radioactivity’s dangers in the early years. To that end, we recount two stories that reveal the consequences of societal ignorance of health threats coupled with an unscrupulous rush to profit from the use of radioactive elements in products sold in the first third of the 20th century.

Comment

The first story unfolded at the beginning of the century, when several companies began to manufacture watches with luminous dials that were highly useful for combatants in World War I. Luminescence was achieved by applying radium paint, but since workers would first lick the bristles of their brushes to point them, they absorbed small amounts of radium each time. After about 5 years on average, some of the workers began to suffer nontraumatic bone fractures and highly aggressive sarcomas on various parts of their bodies. That these adverse events were caused by the radioactive material in radium paint was finally demonstrated only after considerable study.3

The second story involves the use of radium in many products, but mainly cosmetics used during the 1930s. This application was based on the supposed curative properties of radioactive elements and their purported ability to lend a luminescent quality to skin.4,5

Some of the cosmetics companies that used radioactive materials promised their formulations would afford a nearly miraculous “radiant” beauty, a claim supported with falsified data.

Companies such as Tho-Radia, Radior, Artes, and Ramey were created around these products:

  • 1

    THO-RADIA, the best known manufacturer of the group, was founded in 1932 by Alexis Moussalli, a pharmacist, and Alfred Curie — a doctor who bore no relation to the discoverers of radium in spite of his name.6,7 Their laboratory formulated a range of cosmetics that included lipsticks, creams, powders, toothpastes, and brillantine. Their packaging stated that the products contained radium and thorium (Fig. 1). Even so, the company managed to stay in business until 1962.

    Figure 1.

    Container for a cosmetic powder from the Tho-Radia laboratory. The label emphasizes that the product has excellent cosmetic properties. The word healthy (saine) is used in the description. https://www.picclickimg.com/d/l400/pict/222857405424_/THO-RADIA-POUDRE-exceptionally-rare-French-compact-powder-Ocre.jpg.

    (0.1MB).
  • 2

    RADIOR was a London enterprise whose advertisements emphasized that users would need no surgical treatments to bring out their beauty (Fig. 2).

    Figure 2.

    Advertisement for Radior’s full range of beauty products for women. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/70/Radior_cosmetics_containing_radium_1918.jpg/356pxRadior_cosmetics_containing_radium_1918.jpg.

    (0.18MB).
  • 3

    ARTES was another English laboratory that claimed their hydrating cream ensured radiant youth and beauty.

  • 4

    RAMEY was the French manufacturer of a cream that promised an antiaging effect and regeneration of the epidermis (Fig. 3).

    Figure 3.

    Advertisement for Ramey’s Crème Radiacée, which not only made skin feel velvety and removed wrinkles but also regenerated the epidermis. http://media.topito.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/500x603xramey-e1295787652834.jpeg.pagespeed.ic_.G-sZwoBPZR.jpg.

    (0.18MB).

We have found no evidence that similar products were manufactured or sold in Spain, but we cannot rule out that some were imported from manufacturers abroad.

Whether the advertised cosmetics truly contained the radioactive ingredients they claimed to have is unknown. Some authors have even questioned the legality of the certificates the manufacturers provided.7

It is also difficult to imagine how the cosmetics industry might have handled radioactive products in an era before today’s safety regulations were in place.8,9

Conclusions

The story of these products can encourage us to reflect on the lengths our society has gone to in the name of ideal beauty. They also show the importance of laws regulating the manufacture of cosmetics. Regulations have made current manufacturing processes considerably safer than those used in the past.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

References
[1]
C.R. Corrao, C. Sercangeli.
The history of radioactivity and its applications in hygiene and therapy.
Med Secoli., 23 (2011), pp. 991-1013
[2]
J.B. Cazalaà.
Radium an thorium applications for the general public: unexpected consequences of the discovery from Pierre and Marie Curie.
Anesthesiology., 117 (2012), pp. 1202
[3]
D.E. Cohen, R.H. Kim.
The legacy of the radium girls.
JAMA Dermatol., 153 (2017), pp. 801
[4]
R.M. Macklis.
Radithor and the era of mild radium therapy.
JAMA., 264 (1990), pp. 614-618
[5]
A. Helmstädter.
Mild radium therapy: radiation medicine-, life-, body- and personal hygiene remedies in the first half of the 20th century.
Medizinhist J., 40 (2005), pp. 347-368
[6]
T. Lefebvre, C. Raynal.
The Tho-Radia cream mystery.
Rev Prat., 57 (2007), pp. 922-925
[7]
T. Lefebvre, C. Raynal.
From Institut Pasteur to Radio Luxemburg. The surprising history of Tho-Radia.
Rev Hist Pharm (Paris)., 50 (2002), pp. 461-480
[8]
D. Ghosh, A. Deb, S. Maiti, S. Haldar, S. Bera, R. Sengupta, R. Bhaitacharyya.
Assessment of alpha radioactivity in lipstick, nailpolish, toothpaste and vermilion using CR-39 detector.
J Environ Sci Eng., 52 (2010), pp. 117-120
[9]
J.P. Tsatalis, A.S. Aldaham, V.M. Hsu, A.E. Tsatalis, T.K. Brah, K. Nouri.
Narcissus’ reflection: toxic ingredients in cosmetics through the ages.
Int J Dermatol., 56 (2017), pp. 239-241

Please cite this article as: Díaz Díaz RM, Garrido Gutiérrez C, Maldonado Cid P. Cosméticos radioactivos. La belleza «radiante». Actas Dermosifiliogr. 2020;111:863–865.

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