Insane Beauty Trends Through The Ages

retro pin up woman getting pampered  in beauty salon

The next time you’re sitting in the salon chair for an elaborate or time-consuming beauty procedure, wondering to yourself “will this ever end?” … Keep in mind that today’s beauty practices are actually a piece of cake, comfort- and health-wise, compared to some of the extreme measures women (and some men) went through in the past.

If a bikini wax or a bit of bubbling bleach on your scalp sounds painful—consider rubbing outright poison onto your skin or deliberately using a product called “deadly nightshade” to deliberately dilate your pupils. Ouch? Yes. These trends actually happened in the past.

You’ll never give that drop of formaldehyde in your Brazilian blowout another thought again after reading seven of the most, truly-est, nuttiest, crazy beauty practices throughout history!

7. Yes, the pupil story is real.
Deadly nightshade, also known as belladonna, was used in eye drops to purposefully dilate women’s pupils—a look which we may find odd today, but was considered comely at the time. Anyone who’s had his or her pupils dilated at the optometrist knows this can impair your vision (imagine doing it daily!), and nightshade itself can be fatal if ingested.

6.So is the poison on the skin.
In the 18th century, lead was a common cosmetic ingredient, used by women to create coveted pale and smooth-appearing complexions (in the East, geishas used this as well to whiten their faces). Needless to say, putting lead on your skin repeatedly results in a slow, systemic poisoning. Botox doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?

5. Lead not strong enough?
How ‘bout arsenic? Just the word “arsenic” is enough to make most of us cringe. However, it was sold as a complexion improver (arsenic destroys red blood cells, creating that pale look that, again, was so desired at the time) and plenty of women ingested it, as well as used soaps and potions containing the stuff.

4. Arsenic not strong enough?
How ‘bout mercury, then? Many of us may recall, as children, Mom or Dad accidentally dropping the family thermometer and breaking it. “Don’t touch the mercury!” they would scream, as we stared in fascination at the silver substance that bubbled out. Good reason for the panic: Mercury can cause all sorts of internal issues, and it can even kill you. But back in the old days, they used it to cure blemishes – and occasionally venereal diseases.

3. About that bikini wax…
Beautiful women's legs on the beach

Yes, getting a sugar wax, or whatever method you choose, is pretty painful. However, next time you’re going hairless, consider this: In the early 20th century, X-rays were used to remove excess hair. The only problem being, sometimes it took 20 hours of exposure to remove that hair (and by that time, the hair on one’s head probably fell out). If sitting in front of an X-ray for a day doesn’t sound like a good idea, you’re right–it really isn’t. There’s a reason they make you wear those lead aprons at the dentist. So buck up and take that waxing with a smile.

2. Get your mascara wand and kiss it.
Closeup of a female eye with long false eyelashes

Because back in, oh, around 1899, if you wanted longer eyelashes, you couldn’t just go buy a tube of Lancome and call yourself $35 poorer. You could, however, get a rudimentary eyelash extension procedure. How’d they do it? By taking a hair off your head, threading a needle, rubbing cocaine on your inner eyelid…and, yup, sewing that puppy right on. Just like a button on a coat! Are you hugging your mascara right now? Or are you crying? We won’t judge either reaction.

1. You’ll want to shampoo immediately after this one.
Wavy Brunette With Yellow Jacket Looks In To The Lens
In the 1700s, hairstyles were all about height and volume. However, they didn’t have styling gel and hairspray like we all cheerfully used in the heavy metal 1980s. They used lard, instead. Yep, lard. To make things even more fun, the substance attracted lice, vermin, and other creepy crawlies. Because once you’d taken all the time to lard up your hair, you obviously aren’t going to wash it, right? Yep. (Now, we are sure you are running screaming toward the shower.)

About the Author

Jeff Chiarelli
Jeff Chiarelli is the Head of Marketing for Ogle School. His responsibilities include leading Ogle School's marketing and branding strategy to amplify Ogle School's passion for helping create future beauty professionals in the communities Ogle School serves.