Ancient Egypt's stunning eye make-up not only shielded wearers from the dark deeds of the evil eye but also protected them against eye disease, French scientists said Thursday.
Ancient Egyptians some 4,000 years ago produced the make-up used to darken and adorn eyes with lead and lead salts in mixtures that sometimes took a month to concoct, said Philippe Walter, who co-headed a team of scientists 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.
Contrary to widely held belief that lead is harmful, the team, using analytical chemistry, determined that "in very low doses lead does not kill cells."
Instead, it produces a molecule -- nitric oxide -- that activates the immune defence system which beats back bacteria in case of eye infection.
The research was carried out using a tiny electrode, the 10th of the size of a hair, to look at the effect of a lead chloride synthesised by the Egyptians -- laurionite -- on a single cell.
The study was released Thursday online by the journal Analytical Chemistry.