At the end of the 19th century, scientists Marie and Pierre Curie discovered the element ‘radium’ (Ra). At that time, the couple had no knowledge of the extremely harmful effects of the radioactive substance. On the contrary, the world fell under the spell of radium and its so called positive health effects.
Soon after radium was discovered, doctors came up with the idea that the radiation released from radium could be useful in fighting tumors. To find out, tubes with radium were attached on the faces of patients or patients were injected with radium. Beside medical purposes, many charlatans and quacks financially benefited from the “mysterious forces” of the substance, that would have the power to rejuvenate the skin and polish teeth whiter than white than any other product. Companies invented numerous radium containing products: creams, toothpaste, lipsticks and even radium water appeared on the market. “For a healthy glow, drink radiation” became a common slogan.
Radium was also used in factories to create luminous paint. For example, in the factory of U.S. Radium, New Jersey, hundred women used the paint for the dials of watches and clocks. As a consequence, they came into direct contact with large amounts of the harmful radioactive material. A few years after its opening in 1917, more and more women of U.S. Radium suffered from strange symptoms such as joint pain and crumbling teeth. As a reaction, five women (renamed as the “Radium Girls”) dragged U.S. Radium to court. Despite growing scientific evidence, the company continued to deny the harmful effects of radium. After a long struggle, an agreement was settled in 1928. U.S. Radium reimbursed the medical expenses of the Radium Girls and were willing to pay $10.000 directly, and $600 annually for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, three of them died within four years after the settlement. The last Radium Girl died after a life of suffering in 1946.
Although the harmful effects of radium became well known in the 30s, it took decades before all radium containing products disappeared from the market. And still, it seems that toxic ingredients in beauty products don’t belong to the past. A recent study by the Environmental Defence Canada revealed that toxic heavy metals have been found in 49 popular cosmetic products tested. On average, the products contained four of the eight metals of concern: mercury, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, nickel, lead, selenium, and thallium. None of these heavy metals were listed on the label.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics warns that using cosmetics laden with heavy metals on a daily basis could be risk full: “Individual exposures to these metals in small amounts are unlikely to cause harm, but heavy metals can build up in the body over time and may increase risk for a variety of health problems.”
Interested in healthy alternatives after reading this article? Good news. It seems that “nutricosmetics” are on the rise in the beauty industry. Beauty firms are including various natural ingredients with beautifying benefits to edible products, so you can eat and drink your way to beauty, while combating everything from aging to acne. Sounds like a very welcome alternative.
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