Archaeology Magazine

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Roman Beauty Tools May Have Been Used to Treat Eye Disease

Thursday, April 18, 2013

(Otis Historical Archives Nat’l Museum of Health & Medicine)OXFORD, ENGLAND—Tools in ancient Roman beauty kits may have been used to treat the symptoms of trachoma, a leading cause of blindness even today. The bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis roughens the inner surface of the eyelid and causes the eyelashes to turn inward, scraping and damaging the cornea. “We have ethnographic examples from modern Africa and historical examples from ancient India that show utensils, such as tweezers and rasps, were used to pluck in-turned eyelashes and to scour away the afflicted eyelids,” said Wendy Morrison of the University of Oxford. She thinks that the Romans may have also used tweezers to pluck irritating eyelashes, what had been thought of as nail cleaners to scrape growths off eyelids, “cosmetic grinders” to make eye salves, and “earwax scoops” to apply medicine to eyes.