Historical Beauty Practices That Will Horrify You – Part II

If the horrifyingly historical beauty practices in part 1 of this set of articles didn’t shock you enough, you’re in for a treat!  We’ve saved the very best for last.

In case you missed our first article, the beauty practices below were considered quite the fashion back in ye olde day.  And you thought today’s trends were bad…

Flammable Hairstyles

Horrifying Historical Beauty Practices

We can think of few worse smells than that of burning hair. This didn’t stop women in the 17th century from wearing elaborate, mile-high hairstyles. Of course, back then, most places to which they’d wear these styles were lit by candle chandeliers.


This clearly heightened the risk of one’s hair catching ablaze, and that doesn’t sound attractive at all.

Literal Rats’ Nests

Horrifying Historical Beauty Practices

In the 18th century, some of those tall hairstyles were built up with products such as lard. Yes, women would use animal fat on the creation of their incredible coifs.

They might also not wash their hair for weeks at a time, which could occasionally lead to pest infestations.

Laundering with Lye and Urine

Horrifying Historical Beauty Practices

The Athenaeum

Laundry was once washed with a combination of lye and urine. Of course, urine is sterile, and it does also contain ammonia, but we’re having a hard time imagining the smell.

It may remove stains, but it seems it’d likely be quite a pungent agent for doing so.

Super Shiny – and Toxic – Shoe Polish

Horrifying Historical Beauty Practices

In the early 20th century, many popular shoe polishes contained an ingredient called nitrobenzene. While it certainly made shoes shiny, it also had a ghastly side effect – it was extremely toxic.

Not only could exposure to the fumes cause fainting, but accidental ingestion or absorption could also even result in death. Maybe having super-shiny shoes isn’t quite worth it.

Mercury for Cold Sores

Horrifying Historical Beauty Practices

As you likely know, mercury is highly toxic. Still, in the past, people would use it to cure cold sore outbreaks.

One over-the-counter treatment containing a small amount of mercury was even still readily available in the U.S. up until 1998.

Lysol for Feminine Hygiene

Horrifying Historical Beauty Practices


Yes, you read that correctly. Back in the late 1920s, Lysol was actually marketed as a feminine hygiene product. Ads produced by the company suggested creating a diluted solution and douching with it to prevent odor and infections. (As one might guess, these were also quite sexist ads.)

Some women also used Lysol as a form of birth control – yes, really. Post-coital douching was a popularly used method to prevent unwanted pregnancy, however ineffective as it was. (Newsflash: it’s not at all an effective contraceptive.)

Of course, using Lysol to freshen up your lady parts isn’t such a good idea. Luckily, the medical community later began discouraging such uses of the product.

X-Ray Hair Removal

Horrifying Historical Beauty Practices

Forget waxing, sugaring, or shaving, in the early 20th century, some women would opt for x-rays. And yes, it’s as harmful as it sounds. Some patients would be exposed to the harmful rays for as much as twenty hours.

Sure, this made their hair fall out, but with one not so insignificant caveat – it gave them cancer.

Sulfur Facials

Horrifying Historical Beauty Practices

Freckles, as trendy as they may be now, used to be considered an unsightly flaw. In order to rid oneself of them, some people would rub sulfur into their skin.

In fact, you may still see home remedies for the removal of freckles that suggest using onion to do so. This is, of course, because of the naturally occurring sulfur content found in them.

Someone Else’s Teeth

Horrifying Historical Beauty Practices


The teeth of deceased soldiers used to be repurposed to make dentures for the living. Pretty gross, huh? With tooth decay being quite rampant in the 19th century, the demand for false teeth was rather high. What better way to keep up with the demand than to simply use dead people’s teeth, right?

Following the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, there were quite a lot of casualties. Therefore, scavengers and surviving soldiers would simply yank teeth from the dead and sell them to dentists.

The dentists would then fashion these real human teeth into dentures. These are now often referred to as “Waterloo Teeth.”

Combustible Hair Combs

Horrifying Historical Beauty Practices


If you think cheap knockoffs are a problem today, you should see some of the ones from the 1800s. Some tortoiseshell combs back then weren’t actually made from tortoiseshell at all.

Instead, they were created using an extremely volatile celluloid compound. This highly combustible, unstable material could go easily go up in flames if exposed to heat.

Radium Haircare Products

Horrifying Historical Beauty Practices


What better way to “restore” your hair than to treat it with a radioactive substance, right? Yes, at one point in time there were people who believed products with radium would rid them of gray hairs.

Haircare products weren’t the only things laced with the incredibly hazardous substance either. Radium firms claimed that small amounts of the radioactive element could be beneficial – even beautifying.

Thus, an entire industry was born. Face creams, cosmetics, soaps, and even some grocery products were infused with the substance. Even radium-laced lingerie was once a thing and was said to improve the wearer’s sex life. Yikes.



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