In this episode of My Nuclear Life, host Shelly Lesher is joined by Lucy Santos, author of Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium. Lucy is an expert in the science behind the history of cosmetics, specifically the role radium played in these products. She has spent years studying and researching this topic and shares in this episode about the history of radium laced beauty products along with the effects we now see today.
Lucy begins the episode by talking about the discovery of radium and how it sparked an interest in people to use it in their products. Many people experimented with radium because of its ability to emit heat, light, and energy. After some time, it began to become commercialized and used by companies in their products. One of the first products it was used in was makeup. Lucy goes on to talk about a man named Frank Reginald who was assigned the trademark of radium and became very successful off of a hair product that highly advertised radium. Another popular use for radium was water treatments, which began when Marie Curie discovered radium. After a while, the use of radium became a normal thing and lost some of its original excitement.
The conversation moves on the Shelly and Lucy talking about some of the craziest products that contained radium, ranging from chocolate to tonics. However, this was especially true in the beauty industry. As makeup and beauty became more popular, beauty salons began to grow and focus on embracing science and technology in their products. This is where radium made its entrance. After the war, beauty salons began to buy left over x-rays and use it for hair removal treatments. However, many years later, long term affects began to appear from this beauty treatment, causing the treatments to wean. Some other factors that made radium less popular included radium side effects found in the radium girls, along with the very public death of Eben Byers who died from consuming too much radium water.
The episode ends with Shelly and Lucy speaking on the topic of how people would advertise radium in their products, specifically one product that advertised heavily using the name Curie and radium. Shelly asks Lucy to share how all this history of radium affects us today. We are constantly learning new things and making new discoveries when it comes to science. Overtime, people began to realize the negative impact of radium and it began to turn from something of excitement to something people feared. There is more caution and concern today in the use of radium because of the effects we have seen from the history of the use of radium.
Lucy Jane Santos has an interest in the intersection of science and consumerism and runs a website The Museum of Radium where you can find many interesting radium artifacts. Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium is her first book. Follow her on Twitter @lucyjanesantos_
Alfred Curie's name on a container of Thor-Radia (copyright Lucy Jane Santos/Museum of Radium)
- To learn more about other radium laced products, visit Radioactive Quack Cures.
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- Learn about Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs, AR
- Epperson, C.E. and Rhodes, N.R. (1990), “Characterization of Radioactivity in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas,” Journal of the Arkansas Academy of Science: Vol. 44, Article 34. https://scholarworks.uark.edu/jaas/vol44/iss1/34/
Special thanks: Lexie Weghorn
Production costs for this episode provided through National Science Foundation Grant PHY-1713816.