Historical Beauty Practices That Will Horrify You – Part I

It’s pretty astonishing – if not terrifying – what some people used to do in the pursuit of beauty and/or perceived affluence. Throughout history, men and women both have done some pretty ridiculous things to change their appearance.

We know now that many of these things are quite unhealthy, and quite a few are even downright dangerous. Still, some folks really thought these truly appalling historical beauty habits and hygienic practices would actually make them more attractive.

Get ready to totally cringe at the thought of these shocking trends.

Makeup Containing Lead

Horrifying Historical Beauty Practices


Royal Museums Greenwich

Throughout much of history, being pale was seen a sign of affluence and beauty. As such, white lead makeup stayed in vogue for centuries. Ancient Egyptians and Romans used it, and during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, it was especially popular in Europe.

Even in the 18th century, the incidence of lead-poisoning was high. That’s because the most fashionable makeup trends still used red and white lead makeup. While the era may have been considered the Age of Enlightenment, the use of these cosmetics wasn’t very bright.

Not only would it cause inflammation, swelling, and all sorts of other side effects, it literally poisoned people. Since it also caused severe skin damage, it became a necessity to cover the damages with more makeup. Therefore, this created a seriously vicious cycle.

Mouse-Hide Eyebrows

Horrifying Historical Beauty Practices

In addition to poisoning themselves with lead makeup, there were some other ghastly 18th century trends as well.

Some women would pluck or shave their eyebrows off and replace them with false ones made from mouse hide. We think we’ll stick to today’s modern brow kits, thank you very much.

Intentional Gum Disease

Horrifying Historical Beauty Practices

Bad teeth? Why, you must be incredibly affluent! At least, this seemed to be the thinking in the Elizabethan era. Since only wealthy people were able to afford sugar, rotting teeth became all the rage with aristocrats.

Yes, tooth decay was actually a trend – that is, until people realized the downsides like toothaches.

Poison to Dilate Pupils

Horrifying Historical Beauty Practices

In the 16th and 17th century, some women would use the poisonous Belladonna plant to give themselves dilated pupils. Also known as deadly nightshade, this herbaceous plant is highly toxic and has unpredictable and often hallucinogenic side effects.

However, dilated pupils were considered attractive and seductive, hence why women used these deadly nightshade eyedrops regardless of the risks. The name “bella donna” is actually Italian for “beautiful woman,” a name the plant received thanks to this very use.

The plant has significant cultural and historical relevance as it’s been used for nefarious means as well. It is a poison after all.

Chicken Poop to Cure Baldness

Horrifying Historical Beauty Practices

Once upon a time, some men actually thought rubbing chicken droppings on their bald heads would make hair grow back. Guess what? It didn’t.

Crocodile Dung as Birth Control

Horrifying Historical Beauty Practices

In ancient Egypt, women would sometimes use crocodile feces as a form of birth control. No, it wasn’t used to disgust their partners into abstinence. They would form it into a pessary.

In other words, they’d make a little tablet and insert it into their you-know-what. Ew. That just seems like a nasty infection waiting to happen.

Urine Mouthwash

Horrifying Historical Beauty Practices

Ancient Romans apparently believed that using urine as a mouthwash would whiten teeth and prevent diseases. And while, yes, the ammonia found in urine does work as a whitening agent, all we can say is ew.

What’s crazy is that urine from Portugal was actually in high demand, and even highly taxed, because of this. (They certainly didn’t use their own, duh.)

Moss for Menstruation

Horrifying Historical Beauty Practices

Pads, tampons, diva cups, Thinx – these are all modern-day luxuries. Prior to these inventions, women found all sorts of weird ways to deal with their periods.

That includes using moss. Somehow that just doesn’t seem incredibly hygienic.

Arsenic for Improved Complexion

Horrifying Historical Beauty Practices


As for arsenic “improving” one’s complexion, we’d say that’s certainly debatable. Regardless, in the late 19th century, this was actually a thing. Newspapers in the U.S. advertised “Arsenic Complexion Wafers.”

These small doses of poison promised to clear one’s complexion of pimples, freckles, and other marks.

While folks were well aware of the fact that arsenic is poisonous, it seems some thought small doses wouldn’t hurt. Of course, taking these wafers posed significant health risks.

If you’d like to see even more horrifyingly historical beauty trends, click here to check out part II!



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