ancient cosmetic cream
Article by: Perry Romanowski

I remember reading about this years ago and then stumbled on it while doing research for the next Cosmetic Science in 300 Seconds video. It was interesting enough that I thought I would share.

Archeologists have discovered a container of color foundation makeup that is over 2000 years old. It was found in a dig in Southwark which is just outside of the southern part of London.

The cream was made from animal fat, starch and tin oxide. When researchers made a modern version of the formula they said it left a smooth powdery texture when rubbed into skin. Of course, I’m not sure how different the starting raw materials were. The biggest differences would be in the purity of the compounds used.

Anyway, the article doesn’t say whether the formula separated but if it didn’t, that would be an incredible feat of formulating. Imagine a 2000 year long stability test. I’ve had some formulas that have lasted 4 or 5 years, but 2000? Wow.

Although the ancient formula may not have passed all the stability testing. According to the researchers when they opened the jar there was a strong pungent rotten eggs smell. Not quite the kind of thing you want to put on your skin.

But it leaves me wondering, how would you modify a formula to be stable for 2000 years?


About the Author

Perry Romanowski

Perry has been formulating cosmetic products and inventing solutions to solve consumer problems since the early 1990’s. Additionally, he has written and edited numerous articles and books, taught continuing education classes for industry scientists, and developed successful websites. His latest book is Beginning Cosmetic Chemistry 3rd Edition published by Allured.

One comment

  1. Avatar
    Mark Fuller

    It would probably be possible;
    -Rather than using sanitary materials and surfaces like we do one would have to use sterile ingredients. All materials and surfaces would have to be autoclaved or alternatively sterilized using a vapor based chemical agent.
    -Then the product would need to be packaged in a sterile nonreactive container. All moisture would need to be eliminated and the oxygen would need to be replaced with an inert gas. Nitrogen maybe?

    At this point the cost would be prohibitive. Theoretically though if the product is stable at day 1 and there are no chemical interactions that would be amplified over time, I believe the product would be stable as long as the packaging maintained it’s hermetic integrity.

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