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Beauty is pain.
1. Ambergris (aka sperm whale intestinal goo): to stabilize perfumes and pharmaceuticals.
2. X-Rays: to treat “superfluous hair.”
While it may have gotten rid of unwanted hair, X-Ray hair-removal also led to dermatitis and other harmful side effects like cancerous growths. Nope.
3. Lead: for smoother and paler skin.
Side effects include grey hair, dry skin, abdominal pain, and constipation.
4. Kohl (aka more lead): as eyeliner
Galena (the lead in kohl) was easily absorbed through thin ocular skin. Side effects of prolonged use would include: “irritability, insomnia and mental decrease.” Sorry, Nefertiti.
But don’t worry about any eyeliners you have lying around. According to Allure, kohl as a mineral isn’t FDA-approved because of the lead content, so when you see “kohl” on a beauty product, it just refers to the color.
5. Arsenic: to clear complexion and increase paleness.
That transparent glow of death. Oh, sorry, I meant youth. Glow of youth.
6. Camel pee: to get shiny hair.
Move over, Garnier! Ancient Arabian women dipped their hair in camel urine for extra shiny locks.
7. Mercury: to cure blemishes.
Easily absorbed through the skin, mercury can cause “birth defects, kidney and liver problems, fatigue” and, of course, death.
8. Deadly Nightshade (aka belladonna): to dilate pupils and brighten eyes.
The name “belladonna,” which means “beautiful lady” comes from this dangerous beauty regimen. You may get Disney Princess Eyes, but you will also get visual impairment, sensitivity to light, and eventually death.
9. Radium: to cure wrinkles.
Well, you won’t get wrinkles after you die young from radium poisoning. Some young women, called “Radium Girls,” who worked with glow-in-the-dark radium, even painted it on their teeth and finger nails.
10. Lard: to hold elaborate 18th century updos in place. For weeks.
“My head is too itchy. Fetch my scratching stick!”
The lard used to keep enormous hairdos in place also lead to lice infestations (hence the scratching sticks). Some women even slept with cages around their heads to keep mice from nesting in it.
11. Crocodile poop: to keep looking fresh.
Ancient Greeks and Romans used croc poop to whiten complexions and prevent wrinkles. Because mud baths don’t seem gross enough.
12. Cyanide: to dye hair black.
“Use a mixture of celeste water… with a solution of yellow cyanide. (Take great care in using this preparation; the cyanide is a terrible poison.”
Thanks for the warning, guys.
13. Cocaine: to ease the pain of beauty procedures.
Before eyelash glue, lash and brow extensions were attached by needle and thread. Hence, the cocaine.
14. Mouse skin: as fake eyebrows.
With lead makeup causing facial hair loss, women resorted to attaching false eyebrows made of mouse fur to their faces. As a satirical poet wrote in 1718:
“On little things, as sages write,
Depends our human joy or sorrow;
If we don’t catch a mouse to-night,
Alas! no eyebrows for to-morrow.”
15. Paraffin: to make hair grow.
But: “you must be very careful afterwards not to go near a fire or light of any kind.” Clearly.
16. Rat poison: to remove unwanted hair
Koremlu, a 1930s depilatory cream, contained thallium, the toxic element in rat poison.
17. Urine: to freshen breath and whiten teeth.
The Romans gargled with urine mouthwash. But not just any urine: they imported pee from Portugal because they thought it was stronger.
Even the wife of Emperor Lucius Verus (pictured above) looks pretty grossed out.
18. Dimple machine: to do exactly what it says.
One of many face-shaping machines. She does not look happy.
19. Orange juice: to brighten and clear eyes.
According to 1858’s The Arts of Beauty, squeezing orange juice into the eyes makes them more brilliant. Yes, “the operation is a little painful for a moment, but there is no doubt that it does cleanse the eye.” When you feel the burn, you know it’s working.
20. Charcoal: to freshen breath.
Gross. And if you have extra bad breath, the Polite Manual for Young Ladies (1847) even suggests you swallow it occasionally.
21. Sandpaper: to remove hair.
In the wartime scarcity of the 1940s, women buffed away unwanted hair with sandpaper. Certainly makes you look twice at the pin-up girls of WWII.