A metal that some people have never heard of, bismuth is more common in our everyday lives than people realize.

Ancient Egyptian Cosmetic Makeup Box
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A ancient Egyptian Cosmetic box ca.1805 B.C. Bismuth was used in the process of making makeup since ancient Egypt.

One of the most common uses of bismuth is as a pigment in cosmetics. Though bismuth is considered a heavy metal, it is incredibly non-toxic, and is even used in some medicines such as Pepto-Bismol. Bismuth has been used in makeup since ancient Egypt, but today it is most commonly used in a compound called bismuth oxychloride. Bismuth oxychloride forms a white, pearlescent pigment and is used to add an iridescent glimmer to mineral makeups. Bismuth oxychloride also adheres very well to the skin and gives skin a soft, silky feel.

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Eye of Horus

The Eye of Horus a symbol in ancient Egyptian religion that represents well-being, healing, and protection.

Ancient Egyptian Cosmetic Makeup Box
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Bismuth's beautiufl reflective qualities make it a useful ingredient in eyeshadows.

Known as “synthetic pearl”, another feature of bismuth oxychloride is that it is refractive. Due to its large, plate-like molecular structure, bismuth oxychloride causes light wave interference. This means the waves of light that hit it interact with each other and shine back even more brightly. These light bending optical properties are what give bismuth oxychloride its pearly sheen and why it is so good at hiding wrinkles, age spots, and other imperfections in the skin.

Ancient Egyptian Cosmetic Makeup Box
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Bismuth's beautiufl reflective qualities make it a useful ingredient in eyeshadows.

These qualities of bismuth oxychloride make it ideal for use in many types of makeup. Bismuth in this form is used in lipstick, eyeshadow, blush, foundation, nail polish, and many other cosmetics that have a visible sheen to them. This use of bismuth just goes to show that bismuth is commonly present in our lives, even if we don’t see it.

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