The Crazy World of Historical Beauty Tips

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Disclaimer: These tips are historical for a reason and aren’t meant to be applied at home. Most of the time it calls for treatments containing chemicals that have been deemed poisonous and/or dangerous as well as lead to unfortunate side effects. As a result, even if such treatments give you the desired beauty results, you shouldn’t try them at home for to do so is as stupid as shit. Seriously, it was seriously stupid, if not downright insane for our ancestors to try such treatments then.

Cosmetology isn’t a strong subject of mine. In fact, I normally don’t wear makeup at all since I think it’s a massive waste of money and a massive waste of time to put it on. Besides, when I was in high school, I tried to come up with a morning routine pertaining to getting ready as quickly as possible. Because in order to catch the bus at a quarter till 7, I had to get up before 6 in the morning. Putting on makeup was just too much for me so I only wore when I had to which was when I had to go on Hometown HiQ in my junior and senior years. But since I tend to have lovely face to begin with, attracting guys isn’t much of a problem for me. Nevertheless, while beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it doesn’t stopped people for being obsessed with it, especially women. And for centuries, people would go to great lengths to look desirable whether it is to attract a spouse, show wealth and power, and appear to please guests. Yes, I know people tend to be shallow in the pursuit of beauty. Yet, sometimes this would mean resorting to treatments that seem insane, disgusting, and even dangerous. Here I list the all the crazy ways people have tried to achieve the perfect look.

Skin

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To have skin like a gorgeous 18th century beauty, always apply a generous amount of powder of white lead as. Consuming arsenic also helps, too. Of course, they’ll eventually kill you through slow poisoning. But that’s the price you pay for keeping up appearances.

“Moles may be removed by moistening a stick of nitrate of silver, and touching them: they turn black, become sore, dry up, and fall off. If they do not go by first application, repeat. They are generally a great disfigurement to the face and should be removed, but it is better and safer to consult a surgeon before taking any steps to remove them.” (This is from the 1800s. Still, I think the notion of consulting a doctor before taking any steps to remove moles should’ve been the first thing discussed here. Also, while silver nitrate in low concentrations and brief exposure can control nosebleeds and prevent gonorrhea, it’s still very toxic and corrosive. Side effects can consist of burns and eye damage.)

In Ancient Greece, a mix of olive oil and white lead will whiten the skin. (While it did lighten the skin, women who used such beauty treatments were also subjected to death by slow lead poisoning which was absorbed in the skin. This is why lead based makeup is so dangerous.)

For that aristocratic European paleness, it’s always recommended to go with lead makeup and consuming arsenic for a white glow on the skin. You can even bleed yourself for a more natural pale look with leeches. (Okay, so women in Europe from the Elizabethan Era to the 19th century would try to achieve a pale complexion through either poisoning themselves which would shorten their lifespan or bleeding themselves with leeches. Arsenic is linked to a number of cancers including bladder, lung, skin, nasal passages, and more as well as hair loss and goiters. They also tried mercury which is also poisonous. That’s disturbing.)

For great skin complexion like a geisha or a kabuki performer, nothing works like nightingale poop. (Since nightingale poop contains guanine, it’s said to actually work and you can have such treatment at $180. Still, this is pretty disgusting.)

Want to get rid of those unsightly freckles? Use some lavender freckle lotion. (Warning: contains hydrochloric acid, which might make your face melt off like in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I think I’ll keep my freckles, thank you very much.)

To remove freckles, mix lemon juice, sugar, and borax before rubbing it onto your skin. (Who knew that an 1891 freckle removing solution contained similar ingredients to floor cleaner?)

Want to get rid of those unsightly scars? A treatment involving blades running through your chemically hardened skin is recommended. (This treatment was an idea by some sadistic dermatologist in the early 1900s. Side effects include intense pain as well as potentially more scarring and infection. Yes, it does seem like something you’d see from the Stephen King School of Dermatology.)

For extreme medieval pallor, controlled bleeding is just the ticket. (Aristocratic women did this in the 6th century. Let’s just say it didn’t do wonders for their life expectancy.)

A Parisian beauty always had facials of raw beef or veal on your face. (Okay, that’s disgusting, unsanitary, and sure to attract vermin and pets.)

Banish unsightly freckles with covering your face with bull or hare blood. (This is from 14th century England. Probably something not guaranteed to work and is incredibly disgusting.)

For a Medieval bath, get yourself clean with some soap that’s available in tallow, ash, and beef or mutton fats. (Guess bathing in the Middle Ages isn’t very pleasant. Besides, wouldn’t you have to have a bath after your bath to get all the ash and animal fat off? I mean they might’ve worked okay but wouldn’t make you smell nice. Maybe that’s why people at that time wore a lot of perfume.)

For a glowing complexion in Ancient Rome, a concoction of gladiator sweat and fat from the animals they slew is best recommended. (That’s nasty. Very nasty.)

For lovely complexion, it’s best to wear a toilet mask overnight. (This is from the Victorian Era. Also doubles as a Halloween costume.)

Hair

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f you’re a woman of Ancient Athens who seeks to have the highly coveted locks of the mighty Aphrodite, drench your hair in vinegar and bleach. Sure it might lead to hair falling out but you can always wear a wig.

“One-half ounce sugar of lead, one half ounce lac sulphur, one ounce glycerine, one quart rain water. Saturate the hair and scalp with this two or three times per week and you will soon have a head free from gray hairs and dandruff, while the hair will be soft and glossy.” (Too bad people from the 1800s didn’t have Head and Shoulders {which gets rid of dandruff but not gray hair}. But a gray hair treatment containing lead is not a good idea.)

To achieve the highly coveted blond hair like Aphrodite, drench your hair in vinegar and bleach. (Ancient Greek women who tried to achieve blond hair this way would later have their hair fall out. This would lead to the popularity of wigs. You have to wonder why they just go with their natural hair color in the first place.)

An ideal hair length for a Japanese woman is 2 feet below the waist. (I’m sure hair care for a Japanese woman didn’t come cheap. And I bet her long hair had plenty of split ends.)

Want red hair like Queen Bess? Try a concoction of lead, quicklime, sulfur, and water. (A lot of women tried to do such thing back in the Elizabethan Era. Side effects are headaches, nausea, and regular nosebleeds. On second thought maybe trying to get Queen Elizabeth I’s ginger locks is totally not worth it.)

For the most ornate and sculpted powdered wig at the royal court, lard helps hold the locks in place. (Wigs were very popular during the 18th century that many of these could be quite huge. However, lard tended to attract lice and other vermin that sometimes a cage was even set over the woman’s head at night to keep the rats at bay. You heard me, some of those women slept in these ridiculous vermin attracting wigs. Also, the wigs might be powdered with lead, a poison we’re all familiar with. Or flour which also attracts vermin.)

For soft, sexy, and luscious hair, Lola Montez recommends a mixture of salts of tartar, lemon juice, camphor, and tincture of cantharides. (Cantharides are also known as Spanish Fly which is a powerful blister causing irritant.)

According to Thomas S. Sozinsky, a mixture of cantharides and ammonia make a great scalp invigorator. (No, it causes blisters on the scalp and makes them more painful.)

Parents should cut their children’s hair because it makes it turn coarse and wiry. (So say the Victorians. However, most parents cut their kids’ hair when they’re a little more than a year old.)

Since hair is living tissue that draws on resources from the body, parents shouldn’t allow their kids’ hair grow beyond 6 inches until they turn 14, lest overtax their systems and cause them to perish. (This is another Victorian beauty tip. However, hair is dead tissue and it won’t overtax kids systems.)

A girl should never have scissors touch her hair after the age of 5 or it’ll be scraggly and limp when she gets older. (Actually when your kid turns 5, you should start taking them to a professional for their haircut already. This goes for boys and girls. And no, cutting doesn’t make hair scraggly and limp. Seems like the Victorians have no idea about hair at all.)

According to Annie Jenness Miller, a gentle electrical current is excellent for the scalp. (I’m not so sure about that. I mean don’t the send electrical current to the scalp for convicts in the electric chair?)

In ancient Arabia, it’s best said that dipping your hair in camel urine achieves a great shine. (Maybe, but it won’t make your hair smell good either.)

For blond hair in Renaissance Venice, rub lion urine into your hair before giving it a healthy dose of sunshine so it can bleach. (Okay, I don’t think this was effective. Also sounds gross. Not to mention, where the hell would they get a lion in Renaissance Venice?)

Washing is bad for your hair. So in order to keep it clean, spend 30 minutes brushing it. (This is from the 19th century. Of course, brushing it for 30 minutes won’t keep it as clean as a 10 minute shower.)

For blond hair in the Middle Ages, mix honey and white wine together, apply it to your hair, and then leave it overnight. Then, add a mixture of calendine roots, olive-madder, oil of cumin seed, box shavings, and saffron. Wash off after 24 hours. (I have no idea why anyone thinks such concoction would work. But it’s certainly crazy and disgusting.)

Weight Loss and Figure Control

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In the Victorian Age, no lady would ever be caught dead without wearing a corset to give her as dainty a a waist as possible. Sure it might crush your internal organs and cause difficulty in breathing, but you’ll look amazing.

Swallowing tapeworms is a great way to keep yourself slim and trim. (Again, women from the Elizabethan Era to the early 20th century for losing weight. Nevertheless, please don’t do this.)

Pouring ammonia into your bath and taking it orally is a great way to lose weight. (Or so the Victorians thought. But yeah, you will lose weight if you drank ammonia because you’d die. However, it’s not. Seriously, don’t do this for the love of God.)

Achieve support and a slim waist with lacing yourself in a corset. (This was widely used between the late Middle Ages to the early 1900s. The 19th century corsets were made from whalebone and were especially popular. Sure not all women tightened their corsets to the point of injury. But I’m sure they weren’t good for a woman’s internal organs.)

For a tinier waist, it always helped to get your lower ribs removed. (Women in the Victorian era did this and so do some women today. However, I would never recommend this.)

Feet

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From the T’ang Dynasty to the early 20th century, well off Chinese mothers would bound their daughters’ feet from a young age to achieve “golden lotus” feet which permanently crippled on. Also, after these women got married, they usually had to make love with their husbands with their shoes on. And yes, those feet look incredibly gruesome.

For calloused feet, get a pedicure by sitting in a pool of flesh eating doctor fish. (This is a method that’s popular in Japan and in parts of Asia. Yet, these fish usually eat the dead skin and leave the meaty stuff behind. It’s actually still around at high end spas for rich people. However, putting your feet in a pool of flesh eating fish sounds like the stuff of nightmares. Also, this treatment is banned in the US for being unsanitary.)

If you want your girls to improve their marriage chances in old time China, make sure you bind her feet when she’s between 4-7 so they won’t grow to normal size. (This was a horrifying and painful beauty practice that crippled many women since it was first practiced among court dancers during the T’ang Dynasty. Also, these lotus feet had folds so deep that they couldn’t be cleaned that women had to keep their feet covered at all times even in the sight of their husbands. Side effects include septicemia {which is a potentially life threatening bacteria in the blood}, poor circulation, and gangrene.)

Annie Jenness Miller says that generous applications of cannabis is great for corns on your feet. (Cannabis, eh? Wonder what else you’d use it for?)

Acne Management

Got acne? Try the Pokitonoff acne treatment by mixing Vaseline with Ergotine. (This was from the turn of the 19th century. Also, if your teenager experiences hallucinations after using it, remember that Ergotine is basically LSD which does absorb through the skin. So I guess a side effect to fighting pimples was tripping balls. It’s as if this idea came from a dermatology center run by Dr. Timothy Leary.)

According to Thomas S. Sozinsky, the best way of getting rid of acne is to take pills containing compound extracts of colocynth, sulphate of iron, and nux vomica. (As I said before, nux vomica is strychnine which is a deadly poison. However, it didn’t stop other beauty manuals from rubbing it on your head as a hair tonic and putting it in skin cream. Neither of which is a good idea.)

How to get rid of acne by Ovid: “Make haste and bake pale lupins and windy beans. Of these take six pounds each and grind the whole in the mill. Add thereto white lead and the scum of ruddy nitre and Illyrian iris, which must be kneaded by young and sturdy arms. And when they are duly bruised, an ounce should be the proper weight. If you add the glutinous matter wherewith the Halcyon cements its nest, you will have a certain cure for spots and pimples.” (Sure Ovid may be best for his poems and prose in Ancient Rome. But he’s terrible with beauty advice, especially since his recipe contains white lead, cave wall scum, and bird spit. One is a known poison, the other two, you have to do something stupid to get.)

To get rid of blemishes, it helps to use mercury. (Mercury can be easily absorbed through the skin and cause birth defects, kidney and liver problems, fatigue irritability, tremors, depression, a metallic taste in the mouth, and death. So you’re probably better off with a face full of pimples.)

Body Hair Removal

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Want to get rid of pesky body hair? Try x-ray removal which removes body hair through heavy exposure. However, heavy exposure can cause cancer and kill you.

For enhanced beauty in Japan, a geisha should remove her eyebrows with tweezers and paint a pair a thick, false eyebrows. (I really don’t see the point of this. Couldn’t they just go with their real eyebrows? But at least they didn’t put dead mice for eyebrows like 18th century aristocrats.)

Having trouble getting rid of unsightly body hair? A homemade depilatory cream containing abrasives like quicklime and arsenic is recommended. (Sorry, but smooth skin isn’t worth getting poisoned to death over. Besides, quicklime is used in construction.)

To remove body hair at a time with no razors in sight, buff up with sandpaper. (Women in the 1940s did this during WWII. However, let’s just say it’s less effective than waxing but just as painful. Ouch.)

Tired of shaving? Well, remove your hair with an X-Ray treatment. (Yes, heavy exposure to X-rays might remove body hair, which is why a lot of rich people did it back in the day. However, there’s a reason why people who do and get X-rays today have to wear protective gear, because they cause cancer.)

Remove unwanted body hair by rubbing a mixture of red orpiment, gum of ivy, ants’ eggs, and vinegar. (This is from the Middle Ages. And yes, it’s gross.)

Hair Restoration

Got baldness? Well, rub in a mix of various household ingredients along with nux vomica and cantharides. (These two ingredients are known as strychnine and Spanish Fly. Both are poisonous and deadly. May not help men with baldness but side effects include horrible spasms and paralysis, possibly with an erection. Yes, this so-called treatment for baldness is as stupid as shit.)

If you live at a time before Rogaine, you might want to cure your baldness, rub in some paraffin wax into your roots. (This was a treatment for baldness in the early 1900s when open flames were used a bit more liberally than they are today. So until a guy’s hair grew in, keeping his highly flammable head away from everything was in his best interests.)

A mixture of Hound’s Tongue and hog’s lard can deter hair loss. (To be fair Hound’s Tongue is a plant in which you bruise the leaves and make a juice out of it. With that you boil it in hog’s lard.)

Anti-Aging

To slow down aging skin in the ancient world, a facial mask or a mud bath with crocodile dung is recommended. (The Greeks and Romans did this. Sure it’s disgusting. But at least no one was dying from it. That we know of.)

Eyes

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For eye makeup in Ancient Egypt, line your eyes with black lead based kohl. Yes, lead is poisonous which can kill you but it does enhance the Egyptian look, doesn’t it?

Achieve the look of an Ancient Egyptian with lead based kohl eyeliner. (Lead based makeup has been used for centuries. However, keep in mind that lead based makeup is dangerous which can lead to lead poisoning which can cause seizures, coma, reproductive problems, skin inflammation, muscle and joint pain, high blood pressure, and death. Also, both men and women used eyeliner in Ancient Egypt.)

For big pupils, use eye drops of Belladonna. (Women in the 19th century did this since big pupils were apparently sexy back then. But it’s also so toxic that it’s also known as Deadly Nightshade. Side effects include visual distortion, light sensitivity, heart palpitations, blindness, and death. Your eyes were created for sight, not for beauty.)

According to Lola Montez, the best way to achieve glistening, brilliant, beautiful eyes is to squeeze orange juice directly into them. Sure it will hurt but the results are worth it. (Sorry, but they’re not since orange juice in your eyes might temporarily blind you. Let’s just say if you want glistening, brilliant, beautiful eyes, just do either nothing or what’s recommended by your eye doctor. Because you need to see from them.)

A wash for irritated eyes should consist of rosewater, opium, and ammonia. (Yeah, nothing like ammonia and opium for a soothing eye bath. Please don’t do this.)

For enhanced lashes, get eyelash extensions. (Women were doing this around the turn of the century. A newspaper article from 1899 describes it as this: “An ordinary fine needle is threaded with a long hair, generally taken from the head of the person to be operated upon. The lower border of the eyelid is then thoroughly cleaned, and in order that the process may be as painless as possible rubbed with a solution of cocaine. The operator then by a few skilful touches runs his needle through the extreme edges of the eyelid between the epidermis and the lower border of the cartilage of the tragus. The needle passes in and out along the edge of the lid leaving its hair thread in loops of carefully graduated length.” Sounds horrifying, does it?)

For eyebrow tint, mascara, and eyeliner, best use resin, frankincense, and tar. (Victorian women did this. Still, tar for eyebrow enhancement.)

Breath and Body Odor

Have bad breath? Chew a lump of charcoal. (Women used to do this in the 1800s, which left them minty fresh and black toothed. Thank God for toothpaste.)

For fresh breath in ancient Rome, gargle with some mouthwash of Portuguese urine. (I’m sure the Romans had a different idea of minty freshness. Still, that’s utterly disgusting.)

Teeth

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For a long time in Japanese history geishas and married women applied the painful, time consuming, and arduous task of ohaguro which translates to “black teeth.” This was applied every 3 days or so

For blackened teeth, a Heian geisha should use a mixture of oxidized iron fillings steeped in an acidic solution. (Sure a Heian geisha might be seen as a great beauty but I’m sure painful reactions from the dangerous chemicals were common. Married women also blackened their teeth with lacquer which was a foul and time consuming process that was repeated every 3 days or so. However, it did protect against tooth decay, but I’m not sure if that’s a good way to do it. Luckily the Japanese government banned this practice in 1870.)

In Ancient Rome, urine is great for teeth whitening. (But would I want to use it? No way in hell.)

Breasts

According to Byzantine obstetrician Metrodona, you can tone up your rack with a mix of red wine and white lead. (Let’s just say firm and supple boobs aren’t worth stinking like a wino and getting lead poison over.)

Small boobs keeping you single? Well, get some breast implants. Available in ivory, glass balls, or ground rubber. (Yes, you could get a boob job in the 19th century. However, considering the implant materials you probably wouldn’t want to.)

Lips

To achieve a red stain on your lips in Mughal India, make chewing betel leaves an essential part of your beauty routine. (Chewing betel leaves also lead to women’s teeth decayed. Sorry, but it’s totally not worth it.)

Want red lips like an Ancient Egyptian princess? Use some lipstick that includes some bromine mannite. (Bromine is a highly toxic that it was used as a chemical warfare agent during World War I. And these it’s shipped in lead lined steel drums. Side effects include skin burning as well as kidney failure and brain damage over time. It’s incredibly obvious why they no longer have bromine lipstick.)

Other

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To aid makeup artists for styling movie stars, Max Factor came up with a beauty calibrator in 1934. It’s said to give great measurements and detect flaws. Seems more like something that came out of the Edgar Allan Poe School of Cosmetology to me, but that’s just my opinion.

In ancient India, using cow urine is a great for losing weight, acne-fighting, healing cracked heels, and cleansing your system. (Not sure if this works and I really don’t want to know.)

Don’t have dimples? Then try Isabelle Gilbert’s dimple machine. (This was used in 1936 but it was only a fad. Because this contraption was very uncomfortable. Really, do you really want your cheeks pierced?)

With thorium chloride and radium bromide, radioactive cosmetics “Stimulates cellular vitality, activates circulation, firms skin, eliminates fats, stops enlarged pores forming, stops and cures boils, pimples, redness, pigmentation, protects from the elements, stops ageing and gets rid of wrinkles, conserves the freshness and brightness of the complexion.” (This is from a Thor-radia ad from the 1930s. Still, you don’t want radioactive makeup since radiation is known to cause cancer.)

For makeup artists, help actors achieve a movie star look with the beauty calibrator. (This is from the 1930s to help measure a subject’s face to see where improvements can be made. But to me, it resembles an iron maiden for the head that’s straight from the Edgar Allan Poe School of Cosmetology.)

A beauty vacuum helmet surrounds you with low atmospheric pressure that will make you look amazing. (A 1940s invention that seems like you’d find in a beauty salon that’s subject to a Stephen King novel.)

Ladies, for unsightly odors for where the sun don’t shine, a diluted solution of Lysol is the ticket. (Vaginal douching with Lysol was common for women back in the day for hygiene as well as birth control {which isn’t very effective}. Your grandmother might’ve done this for either purpose. Sure it might prevent infections, make your vagina squeaky clean, and lead to marital bliss. But it also happened to cause inflammation, burning, and death. Let’s just say I’d rather leave my stinky ladyparts alone, thank you very much.)

For those who have a sagging chin, the double chin reducer. (This is an old beauty contraption which looks very painful to wear. Maybe youthful beauty isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.)

For a perfect nose, try the nose helmet. (Another old beauty contraption that seemed to deliver nothing but a perfect headache since it would have to be strapped on tightly for painful nose reshaping. Maybe if you’re wishing to have a perfect nose, perhaps take a tip from Adrien Brody and just accepting your imperfect schnozz for the way it is. After all, he hasn’t fared too badly and he’s a freaking movie star.)

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One response to “The Crazy World of Historical Beauty Tips

  1. This stuff is crazy! The sad thing is- we are still doing unhealthy things to ourselves for the sake of beauty! Reading this also reminds us of how arbitrary beauty standards are- black teeth,pale skin, deformed feet, huge white wigs, big pupils- all considered sexy in past days! Some day they will be shaking their heads at our beauty practices.

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