The story of pink calamine lotion

I’m forever poring over (read ‘virtually licking’) paint cards in search of the perfect shade of _______ (enter whatever colour you like: I’m certain to have hunted for it).

I’ve been fixated on pink for a while so was interested to read @mad_about_the_house ‘s musings on pink in its palest iteration and how successfully it’s been used in the interiors of @kasie_barton@ _lisa_dawson_ @sarahakwisombe @thehousethatblackbuilt @maxmademedoit (and, of course, Kate herself).

This pink has also got me thinking about the colours of childhood, chiefly of convalescence: the cloying pink and yellow of liquid antibiotics doled out for endless bouts of tonsillitis, the deep purple of gentian violet for grazed knees, and this, the pale, barely there pink of calamine lotion.

Calamine lotion is a 1970s memory for me but this pale pink salve was used as far back as 1500BC.

Although the value of the UK over-the-counter market is £2.6b per year, with new ones coming out all the time, this cheap, colourful remedy is still on the World Health Organisation’s List of Essential Medicines (in the developing world it costs as little as 25 US cents per bottle).

The pale pink colour comes from the fact that it is a mixture of zinc oxide, which is white, and ferric oxide, which is red.

I only have to look at a picture of calamine lotion and close my eyes to smell the medicinal aroma of the bottled salve that soothed many a measles rash and sunburnt neck. Incidentally, looking at a picture of Farrow & Ball’s Calamine paint also does the trick. What are the colours of YOUR childhood medicine chest?

Martha, The Colour File x

📷 by me (snapped in Wales last summer) and @mad_about_the_house

Published 2 April 2019


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