"The Romans wrote essays on its toxic nature, and the Elizabethans also used it extensively while similarly being aware that its use withered the skin, caused sores and damaged internal organs," said Pointer. "Even today, lead is not uncommon in cosmetics, particularly in the Middle East."
There were other less toxic options for making the face pale. Pointer says some women patted dried crocodile dung on their faces. Others used chalk and the ground root of the orris, a type of iris, which can be poisonous.
A pale face, says Pointer, suggested an upper-class life of leisure spent away from the sun's harsh rays.
"While every historic period has had its own peculiar fashions or trends, some aspects of cosmetic use have remained relatively constant," she said. "It is extremely common to find white skin, red lips and black eyebrows being held up as an expression of perfect beauty even in parts of the world where the native genetic skin tone does not lend itself to this coloring."
Tweezers and Ear Scoops
For the ancient Romans, looking good didn't stop at applying makeup. Archaeologists have found tools such as tweezers for trimming the brows and small scoops for cleaning out the ears. The devices were likely used by both men and women, says Rosenberg.
And while there are few references to ancient Roman men turning to makeup to brush up their appearance, Rosenberg points out there were gym-like centers with medicine balls, running tracks and javelins where men could go to work on their physiques.
"They also used the baths a lot," said Rosenberg. "Appearances were important to men as well."
As the ancient Roman writer, Plotinus, declared in A.D. 250, "This is the spirit that Beauty must ever induce: a wonderment and a delicious trouble, longing and love and a trembling that is all delight."
For that kind of attention, who wouldn't pat crocodile dung on her face?