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White

White is the colour of winter, eventually it has emerged this year, too. Snow white is a poetic expression for pure white.

In the 18th century, white was the ideal colour when it came to beauty. Large wigs were powdered white, and the skin was preferred to be snow white. The most common skin paint was lead white. It was mixed into egg white and vinegar to produce paste and stroked onto the face. When extensively used, the toxic substances accumulated on the face and the skin began to decay. Other make-up substances could contain poisons as well: some women are known to have died from make-up in the 18th century. The dangers of the substances were known, but the frightening examples could not restrain the nobility from bleaching their skin.

Up to the 19th century, lead white was the only pigment widely used. It could be found in artists' colour palettes and in household paints. Lead is not the most poisonous of substances as such, but in the production process, dangerous sulphur-containing vapour was released. Workers who were daily exposed to these poisons, suffered from severe abdominal pain, eye pain and dizziness.

As the health risks of the lead white had been acknowledged, the search for a non-toxic white pigment began. In 1782, the French Guyton de Morveau presented an alternative colour substance, zinc oxide, called zinc white. It was noticed that the non-toxic zinc white did not turn dark like lead white. Zinc white had many assets and in the 19th century; it was a commercially significant product, among others as construction paint. To artists, zinc white had some decisive disadvantages. It was four times more expensive than lead white. Probably the artists of the 19th century were prepared to pay more for better material, but zinc white was not a very opaque colour, and being an oil colour pigment, it took some time to dry. The white shade of zinc was cool and to some people, dull. Thus, lead white remained the principal white pigment of the artists during the entire 19th century.

Nowadays, the pre-eminently most produced pigment is titanium white. The skill to produce this lead-based pigment was acquired in the beginning of the 20th century and it became common rapidly.

Titanium white is a trade name for titanium oxide (TiO2) and the mixture of titanium oxide, microdolomite and zinc white (ZnO). Titanium oxide is not influenced by heat and it has good colour permanence and weather resistance. Mixed into oil, it dries rapidly and creates a fairly opaque surface.

Titanium white is the most commonly used pigment. From titanium white, several types of colours are made, for instance, oil, alkyd, acryl, gouache, tempera, pastel and watercolours. It is used in cosmetic industry and paper bleaching. Titanium white food colour can be found in medicaments, cheeses, different sauces and sweets.