January 8, 2010

Ancient Egyptian Eye Make-Up Protected From Eye Disease

A new study, published Thursday in Analytical Chemistry, states that the eye make-up worn by Cleopatra and other ancient Egyptians apparently had a dual purpose, shielding the wearer from the "evil eye" and protecting them from eye disease.

According to French scientists, some 4,000 years ago ancient Egyptians used the make-up - made from lead and lead salts - to darken the eyes. The mixture sometimes took up to a month to create, Philippe Walter told AFP.

Walter co-headed the research team from the Louvre museum and the CNRS national research institute.

"We knew ancient Greeks and Romans too had noted the make-up had medicinal properties, but wanted to determine exactly how," he told AFP.

It is widely believed that lead is harmful. However, the team used analytical chemistry to determine that at low doses, it produces nitric oxide molecules. This in turn activates the immune defense allowing it to work against the bacteria which causes eye infections.

Researchers used a tiny electrode, 1/10th the size of a human hair, to carry out their research. They looked at what effect the Egyptian's synthesized lead chloride - laurionite - would have on a single cell.