Radium in Cosmetics and Skincare: A History

The discovery of radium, in 1898, by researchers Marie Skłodowska Curie and Pierre Curie rapidly captured public creativeness on a massive scale basis. Newspapers in both equally Western Europe and the United States noted commonly on this mysterious new factor and its weird properties. It appeared that radium could do anything, that it could remedy all of the difficulties dealing with humanity at the time. It showed likely as a super medicine, a contemporary-working day panacea, a hope that could heal the most feared disorders of all—cancer and tuberculosis—and uncovered popular usage in professional medical remedies.

This community fascination, alongside the eventual reducing of fees and the increasing availability of radium, presented companies with a retail possibility that was taken up with enthusiasm in the 1920s and 1930s. The general community was supplied a probability to order a tiny element of this wondrous substance in solutions that claimed to harness the healing and energizing powers of radium. The claims of the suppliers of these items, which ranged from patent medications to novelty items these kinds of as “radium spectacles,” exploited the murkiness of expertise and understanding of the ingredient, but all shared the very similar assure of miraculous final results.

Radium was also hailed as the savior to a particular established of challenges struggling with females, like wrinkles, lousy pores and skin, surplus hair, and crows-toes. A recently rising mass-market market in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the splendor marketplace was a major organization that advocated a range of innovative new approaches. For other corporations wishing to make a situation for their modernity and links with science, radium was an apparent choice for study and improvement functions. Right after all, it was a merchandise of fashionable science designed in a Nobel Prize-profitable laboratory.


In the 1920s and 30s the streets of Mayfair were being crowded with attractiveness salons, most of which seem to be to have available some kind of radium remedy. Some, like individuals of Helen Cavendish, experienced produced from smaller non-public rooms to greater salon premises because of to the reputation of their products and solutions. Other names, like Phyllis Earle and Feminix have been new ventures: opened to cater to the wants of the contemporary, attractiveness hungry, girl. The style of the hairdressing and natural beauty salon had at the time been modeled on the non-public cubicles of department stores. On the other hand, by the interwar time period, they became practically universally (if area permitted) a house divided into two. The to start with of these was a reception place, which resembled an higher middle-class parlor, and the next, the workspace the place the remedies have been carried out. The hairdressing and beauty salon had made as a new city pleasure—a room wherever gals could be public but personal. Even “parlor” and “salon” are terms explicitly invoking the feminine spaces within just a private residence, implying a good sense of respectability.

Advert from Vogue, 1919
Graphic: Public Domain

The design and style of the salon spaces was critical—they stressed a perception of luxury and heat in contrast to the drab everyday living of the greater part. But they also intended their premises to attractiveness to the values of modernism, stressing cleanliness, streamlining and cleanliness. These spaces have been the peak of what it intended to be a present day girl in the interwar a long time.

An up-to-date salon (and each salon would have strived to be up to date!) would have been a warm and lavish area. A fantastic salon would have all the mod disadvantages together with electrical lighting, marble-topped sinks, plenty of warm and cold working h2o and reclining chairs. The attractiveness technologies on offer you incorporated electrical curling irons, banks of gasoline or electrical hairdryers, vibrator devices and electric powered hairbrushes.

The two Phyllis Earle salons (both of those of which have been in London: one particular at 15 North Audley Street and the other at 32 Dover Road) had been the height of sophistication and ended up intended with the comfort and ease of their clientele in mind. “It will have to be pointed out that in every single salon there is a phone this is sure to attraction to the chaotic lady,” pointed out one editorial.

There was also the Phyllis Earle Institut de Beauté, an onsite training college, which unleashed its properly trained associates into the provinces. There they proved extremely well-liked, demonstrating products and solutions and giving free consultations to a public eager to test this exclusive salon line.

Phyllis Earle herself has remaining little trace in the historic record—indeed, she may not have been a genuine person at all. The salons were being, in truth, owned by a organization: Rapidol, which was owned by Philip Walley Ducker and Noel Blake Ducker.

In popular with other superior-stop salons, the Phyllis Earle institutions delighted in the advancement of attractiveness machines and made available the newest treatment plans to their discerning and rich clientele. One of their most common ranges was a Motor Product, a protective pores and skin cream which was advertised as acceptable for application just before motoring. Motoring was an ever more common action for girls in the initially a long time of the 20th century. And amid the electrical facial area massages, electrolysis and scalp massage with synthetic sunlight was a further therapy: KemOlite, introduced to eager purchasers in 1922. This was a radioactive beauty plasma, explained to make the skin lighter, a lot more refined and to remove wrinkles and pimples.

Picture: Pegasus Publications

In a letter to a shopper, the Glasgow hairdresser and perfumer R. Sheldon Bamber showed how enthusiastic his institution was to element this range: “We set up a Phyllis Earle Professional and equipped a Therapeutic massage Parlour, in the most modern fashion possible, some months in the past, and the department has proved rather a boon to a wonderful selection of Glasgow Girls.”

At the Phyllis Earle Mayfair tackle, or as a result of the community of salons (which included Madame Pfob’s beauty salon in Norwich wherever my grandmother’s cousin labored at the time and my grandmother visited usually) and retailers that stocked the products, a consumer could encounter the hottest in present day radium solutions. And KemOLite value twelve shillings and sixpence for what was described as a common remedy, or fifteen shillings for the procedure and a therapeutic massage. (Close to £30–£40 in today’s dollars.)

In contrast to the numerous technological advancements obtainable at Phyllis Earle, KemOLite was a astonishingly low-tech procedure, but it proved to be pretty well known.

KemOLite adverts reveal how it was to be well prepared at house and, presumably, in the salons. It came as a dried powdered mud which was to be blended with boiling h2o to type a thick paste, which was distribute onto the deal with (or palms, arms, neck and shoulders). It was then allowed to dry. Once dry, it was eliminated and set back again into the pot, as it could be reused again and again without getting rid of its radioactive qualities. It was mentioned that the finest effects could be had by continuing the treatment method each individual number of days for a month. This form of rinse-and-repeat instruction meant ladies would sense compelled to leave the salon with a pot for household use, to keep up the very good do the job.

KemOlite appears to have worked alternatively like any other facial area mask of the time, or without a doubt of currently. It stimulated the pores and skin, bringing the blood to the surface area and developing a nutritious glow. Having said that, the adverts are relatively a lot less forthright in explaining accurately what the reward of the addition of radium was. They just said that it was created from a “mysterious mineral deposit from the thermal springs in the lesser Carpathians.” This mineral deposit was also referred to as “Nature’s Personal Radio-Lively Magnificence Plasma.”

KemOLite was not the only radioactive mud marketed by elegance professionals. Viabella Society de Beauté, situated at 102 Baker Avenue, London, ended up yet another company featuring an seemingly very similar remedy “carried out by totally experienced masseuses less than the most hygienic situations in the hottest scientific method.” Caria Radium Medical Mud Preparations, developed by Caria Radium Ltd of 131 Regent Street, London, also presented a selection of toiletries loaded in radioactivity. They involved cleaning soap and a pores and skin balm which was a must have to victims from pores and skin blemishes, acne breakouts, eczema, blotches and pimples. Their mud purportedly arrived from a radium spa in Portugal and experienced been specifically investigated and proposed by an qualified pupil of Professor Curie (who this pupil was or which Professor Curie they were being referring to was—perhaps deliberately—left unclear).

What produced KemOLite really stand out from its competition was the progressive and thrilling advertising and marketing tactics the firm adopted. In addition to print advertisements in newspapers and magazines that ranged from the national publications like the Everyday Specific, or Tatler and Vogue the enterprise also ran considerable strategies in local and regional periodicals aimed at capturing a rewarding regional market place.

1 pretty thriving innovation was performing with the newsreel corporation British Pathé to make a film that includes KemOLite in use at the most important Phyllis Earle salon. This silent black-and-white film, which was issued in July 1922, exhibits a white-coated, medical-seeking salon assistant mixing up the KemOLite and making use of it to the confront of her female consumer with a brush, just before carefully peeling it off with her fingers. The conclude caption reads: “and Madame has stolen a couple of extra cherished yrs from Previous Person Time.” Without a doubt, “Madame” is proven at the end admiring her complexion in a mirror.

While the British Pathé movie would have arrived at a wide viewers of people today, lesser demonstrations of solution use had been a well-known tool used by radium splendor firms who would have been eager to answer some of the issues that could have arisen all-around the use of the controversial solutions. The clients of Watt & Grant’s Suppliers of Union Avenue, Aberdeen and D.M. Brown of Dundee were being addressed to demonstrations of “Radium-Vita Radio-Energetic Natural beauty Preparations” by Mrs. Fletcher and Miss Williams: the own associates of Radium Vita Ltd. These demonstrators available consultations and no cost facial remedies of these types of solutions as Radium Vita Day and Night Cream, Radium Vita Particular Clinical Cream, Radium Vita Rouge (“in a shade which tones with each and every pores and skin, and it can also be used for lipstick”) and Radium Vita Encounter Powder (“in 1 shade only … a powder that improvements to the exact colour of your skin when applied”).

A 1918 ad from Vogue journal
Graphic: Public Area

One more radium-focused business, Radior, experienced expanded from their main organization of rheumatism cures into the even much more lucrative industry of rest room preparations. They marketed vanishing cream for working day use, a night time cream, rouge, talcum powder, skin cleaning soap, hair tonic and shampoo powder. To round out their item record, they also presented 6 tints of facial area powder—available in each pressed and free forms.

Whilst the cosmetic current market had developed appreciably in the 1920s and 1930s Radior differentiated itself from other companies with the declare that its goods ended up not only of exceptional excellent but were the only kinds that worked ‘for true Betterment’ of the skin. “You would pick out ‘Radior’ Preparations for their daintiness, delicacy and exquisite excellent taste—for the silky smoothness of the cream—for the impalpable fineness of the powders and the charming, tantalizing, haunting fragrance discovered in all—an unique perfume of our possess, not marketed in any current market. With Radium extra the closing term is claimed for elegance.”

Radior had also expanded its range of pads to encompass Forehead and Underneath Chin Pads. These ended up created from silk, arrived in various distinct “pretty” colors and also in a variety of radioactive strengths.

The Below Chin Pad “adjusts easily to the chin by the help of ribbons.” The organization claimed that Radior Beauty Pads labored to remove and eradicate double chins and wrinkles by firming up and strengthening the facial muscles. At the very same time, they also (seemingly) did double duty stopping problems and neuralgia.

Radior’s Natural beauty Pads had been primarily based on the theory that strapping or taping up the face would enable to carry sagging neck muscle tissues and minimize double chins. Experience pads and straps have a long historical past and were widespread natural beauty objects all through the 1920s and 1930s (even though most brand names did not use radioactive materials). They had been uncovered in lots of ranges of products by perfectly-recognised suppliers. These involved Eleanor Adair, who equipped “Mrs. Adair’s Ganesh Bathroom Preparations and the Ganesh Chin Strap,” and Elizabeth Arden Muscle mass Strapping treatment options.

Radior differentiated on their own from products these types of as Caradium and KemOLite by emphasizing that their items had been manufactured with “ACTUAL RADIUM not ‘Radio-Energetic H2o,’” which they highlighted meant their solutions “remain permanently Radio-Active.”

Even though acknowledging the healing powers of radioactive waters at spas, the business referenced the drawback of radon’s fifty percent-lifetime on merchandise built making use of it, arguing:

No preparation, except if it have[s] real Radium, will keep its ability. If it incorporate[s] precise Radium, it will keep its electricity practi- cally for good, but radio-lively water, loses its radioactivity in rigorous geometrical development at the price of 50 for every cent every 3rd day, so that right after a couple of times from manufacture, radio-active h2o has no extra remedial value than normal tap water. It is the use of such worthless posts which tends to foster disbelief in a proved solution these as real Radium.

The electricity of the radium in Radior merchandise was emphasised in all their promoting copy: “As extended as there is a trace of the powder on your cheeks, it is radio-active and is your assist to beauty” or “‘Radior Pads’ stay radio-energetic forever. No renewals necessary. Their initial value is their only cost.’”

Radium Vita Ltd, makers of the Radium Vita products pointed out earlier, as well as the “Radium Vita Mud Pack,” differentiated them selves from other providers with the assert that they reinforced the pure radioactivity of their muds. This strengthening was attained by incorporating a single microcurie of radium salts and maximized the volume of radioactivity imparted. Radium Vita also cautioned versus the use of other mud packs, arguing that these ended up (largely) “artificially made and frequently include chemicals which regularly verify dangerous just after ongoing apps.”

The adhering to is excerpted and adapted from Fifty percent Lives: An Not likely Background of Radium by Lucy Jane Santos, publishing in July with Pegasus Publications.

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