What women will do for beauty. It seems we are always talking about how unattainable our society’s beauty standards are but the most bizarre treatments and fixes continue to pop up and even trend! I suppose you can’t blame us ladies for trying when we see women like Gisele Bundchen and Miranda Kerr being airbrushed and photoshopped for magazine covers. Seriously, there is no reason to edit anything on those ladies ever. EVER. We know our standards are sky high but it doesn’t look like we will be coming back down to more realistic views of beauty anytime soon. After all, as the old saying goes“Pain is beauty.” And it’s apparently been a philosophy women have been abiding by for centuries. Think some of today’s beauty measures are extreme? Check out this list of bizarre, painful, and dangerous beauty treatments that have been practiced throughout history.
Your mouthwash may burn or leave a tingle, but I bet you’ll still prefer it over this next option. Why? Because the option I’m referring to is urine. Oh, we are just getting started. This is actually one of the tamer ancient beauty hacks on the list. So who was swishing around pee as a form of dental hygiene? The ancient Romans. And even though it’s absolutely disgusting, they weren’t far off. Urine contains ammonia, which has the ability to whiten teeth, prevent cavities, and disinfect. In fact, ammonia was used in mouthwash until the early 1700s. Even if this was effective, I’m still very thankful someone figured out another way to get our pearly whites clean.
Diets have been around forever. It seems weight has always been an obsession in the beauty industry. And while there are some crazy diet plans out there today, the people of the early 18th century practiced one of the most extreme measures to get to their ideal weight without changing their routine. Ready for this one? They would swallow tapeworms in order to lose weight. Yep. Here’s the diet plan; Swallow the tapeworm, then once the weight loss goal is reached, take an anti parasitic pill to kill and uh… eliminate the tapeworm from the body. Was this treatment effective in losing weight? Yes. But it was also effective in increasing chances of dementia, abdominal complications, and meningitis. Whoops.
I’m assuming people eventually caught on that swallowing tapeworm had ill health effects. And thus, came up with another way to lose weight. Eat better and exercise? No! Are you crazy? Diet pills, of course. In the early 1800s the wonderful invention of the diet pill was hitting the market. The problem? They contained arsenic. I’m not really sure as to how arsenic is effective in weight loss. Other than, well you know, you’re slowly killing yourself. Some of the most serious side effects of these diet short cuts include cancer, diabetes, and… oh yeah, death. And you thought the side effects of today’s products were bad.
If you’ve ever seen the 16th century paintings of English royals and nobles you’ve noticed their unusually pale complexion. Yes, while we bake ourselves in the sun, pay to use tanning beds, and struggle to find the perfect, most natural looking sunless tanner ( by the way, please tell me if a streak-free, orange-free, non-splotchy option exists,) these ladies were probably going through extreme measures to avoid the sun’s rays. Healthy, right? Safer beauty practices than we have today? Not really. It seems the look in vogue was ghostly white. Like a mime. So these ladies applied white face paint to achieve yet another unattainable look. White face pain; made with vinegar and…lead. As you can probably guess, these ladies didn’t have the longest life span.
I guess arsenic was just too good to give up. Once thought of as a wonder product, arsenic made its way back into the beauty world. But this time to achieve the most “beautiful” complexion. It seems one side effect of taking arsenic is a particular “glow.” By this time, people had also caught on to the fact that lead was not the best base for a skin care product. So, naturally, they replaced it with arsenic; which also has a whitening effect. I mean, I guess I can understand how poisoning yourself can achieve a paler look. One of the most shocking parts about these uses of this former “wonder product?” Its appearance in the beauty industry is really not that ancient. These “beauty treatments” continued into the 1920’s.
Pale skin was in fashion way before the use of lead and arsenic. Back in the 6th century women had a much more natural way of attaining a porcelain look. “Controlled bleeding” was commonly practiced in order to literally drain the color from the skin. And, yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. They would cut themselves and allow the cuts to bleed; Systematically, of course. I’m sure at this time, the women who were considered to have the most beautiful skin were probably also the least amount of fun; since they were most likely dizzy, tired, and possibly fainting all of the time.
Think the smokey eye is a new trend? Not even close. Achieving the seductive look may still be a little difficult, but it’s nowhere near as dangerous. Given the time period of their civilization, the Ancient Egyptians were one of the most advanced societies. They believed their eye khols not only protected their eyes from the sun, but also prevented eye infections. But even those with the most advanced technologies of their time make mistakes. These khols, which were applied heavily around the eyes, were lead based. What is up with everyone putting lead on their faces?!
Ever have so much make up on that it seems it will never come off? No matter how many wipes, soaked cotton balls, or scrubs you use, there is still more to be removed. As you can imagine, the Japanese Geishas had the same problem. Their thick makeup took hours to apply, and possibly just as long to remove. So, they found their own natural makeup remover. But I don’t recommend using it. That’s because it was nightingale droppings. Yep. Bird poop.
Plastic surgery and hair transplants may be pretty common beauty practices today. But what about eyelash transplants? Sound painful? Well according to an 1899 publication, it was. Did that stop determined ladies from requesting the procedure? Hell no! Thick, curly lashes were worth the cringe worthy method. I’ll save you the gruesome details, but pretty much how it worked was the doctor would take hair from the patient’s head and, with an ordinary thin threaded sewing needle, sew the hair onto the patient’s lash line. What? Why?! I’ll take an order of those $60 fiber lashes now.
Apparently acne has been torturing people since the beginning of time. I always wondered if people long ago suffered from the same various forms of acne as we do today. You never see it illustrated in old paintings or even in the earliest photos. And this may be why. People were working on the acne cures back then as well. One of the most popular acne solutions? Mercury. Yep. Get rid of those zits and instead experience liver and kidney issues, tremors, depression… and possibly death. But at least your skin is clear!
Belladonna was the must have beauty product for Italian women in past centuries. These eye drops were used to dilate the pupils. Yes, kind of like when you go to get an eye exam. But there is one pretty big difference in the drops your doctor uses and Belladonna: Belladonna’s main ingredient is nightshade. Apparently looking as doe eyed as a Disney princess was worth the light sensitivity, poor vision, and risk of POSIONING YOURSELF. (See a theme with these beauty hacks yet?)
Waxing, shaving, laser removal, creams… the list goes on for your hair removal options today. But if you lived during the early 20th century you would have had one more option to choose from. Shortly after the X-Ray was invented, its ability to remove hair was realized. Unfortunately its ability to cause cancer and ulcerations took a little longer to discover. A little stubble on your legs doesn’t bother you as much now, does it?
Ok, so maybe you’re not into the cancer causing hair removal solution listed above. What about hair removal through a chemical solution? We still use chemical creams today so this one could be ok, right? Nope. This 16th century mixture was one that was super effective in removing hair, as well as the skin with it. Arsenic and quicklime were the active ingredients in the remover and women were instructed to “wash quickly” once the skin started to feel hot; meaning once the skin was burning. As if we didn’t feel bad enough for renaissance women already.
What is so wrong about a little wrinkle or two? “Everything!” the beauty world will tell you. And apparently it’s been telling women that since at least the beginning of last century. We now use gold, diamonds, even animal excrements to get a youthful, airbrushed look “naturally.” But what did people use in the early twentieth century? Straight radiation, baby! That’s right. Just spread some radium filled cream on your face and watch those wrinkles, and life as you know it, disappear.
Actually, not sexy at all. Unlike the Cullens, these little guys lack major sex appeal. The Egyptians, again, were the trend setters in this case. How do you get beautiful skin and cure disease at the same time? Let these slimy, creepy, large leeches feed off of you, duh! Who wouldn’t want to do that?! If the sight of several large bugs latched on to your body doesn’t make your skin crawl, maybe the blood dripping from your wounds once they are removed will. The Egyptians used leeches to cure everything. Fevers, gastrointestinal problems; everything. Leeches do promote blood flow, and thus, have a lovely effect on one’s complexion. But this practice hasn’t died yet. Though there was a point where doctors started to steer clear of “Leech Therapy,” they are now pretty commonly used with reconstructive surgery procedures.