New Again: The Face Cream of Ancient Roman Women

Face cream used by Roman women has found been and reproduced. It's not likely the research will trigger any new retro trend, however.

In a not-so-fashionable London dig, archeologists unearthed a metal container of cream with the lid still on. The whitish cosmetic cream of ancient times was found to be composed of refined animal fat, starch and tin, scientists in the UK report in the Nov. 4 issue of the journal Nature.

Learning the recipe, the researchers made some more in their lab and rubbed it on. It produced a white layer with a smooth, powdery texture -- thanks to the starch, which is still used modern cosmetics.

"White face paint was fashionable in Roman times and normally derived its color from a lead compound," said Richard Evershed from Bristol University. "A tin compound would have been an acceptable substitute and in good supply from Cornwall."

The tin's function must have been as a pigment, the scientists conclude. The non-toxic properties of tin would have been a plus, because the health risks of lead were becoming recognized by the second century AD.