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10 Disgusting historical beauty practices

You may think that you go through a lot in the name of beauty – crippling your feet in high heels, waxing sensitive areas, wearing tummy-tightening underwear – but it’s nothing compared to some of the things that women had to do in the past. Take a look at our list of disgusting historical beauty practices and be grateful that you live in the 21st Century!

Lead Make Up
A lot of these practices were not only disgusting, they were also dangerous. Take the 18th Century craze for lead-based make up that was responsible for the deaths of many society beauties, including Maria Gunning, Countess of Coventry who was a celebrity of her time but died aged just 27. The make-up gave you a lovely pale sheen but sadly also gave you lead poisoning.

Crocodile Poop Baths
Not quite so dangerous but pretty disgusting – the ancient Roman and Greek tradition of bathing in crocodile feces was said to halt the ageing process, so these pioneers of civilization slathered themselves in the stuff and made face masks from it. It might make you look young but also make you smell like a crocodile’s behind!

Sandpaper Hair Removal
Times were hard during the Second World War. Women in Britain couldn’t get hold of stockings, so had to just draw a stocking line up the back of their legs. But how to get their legs stocking-smooth in the first place? By removing their leg hair with sandpaper. Ouch!

Animal Fat Baldness Remedies
As part of the quest for eternal youth, a cure for baldness has been long sought after. Again, the ancient Greeks thought they had it sorted, smearing animal fat on their heads to promote hair growth. It may not have worked, but it probably protected their bald spots from the sun a bit!

Foot Binding
This is a horrific practice that was imposed on women in China. Small feet were considered a sign of beauty and so young girls had their feet bound tightly to stop them from growing. The feet would become deformed and were never allowed to breathe,  but it was expected until well into the 20th Century.

Filthy Wigs
Healthy Looking at pictures of Marie Antoinette and her court, they seem like the epitome of glamor. But how did those huge wigs stay up? It’s that old beauty stand-by lard again! But the problem was it attracted all kinds of vermin, so if you looked closely at their heads, you’d be disgusted by what you could see. But from a distance they looked lovely!

Eating Tapeworms
Along with the solution to aging and baldness, a guaranteed slimming pill is one of the ultimate beauty goals. Which is why women have sometimes turned to eating tapeworm eggs in order to stay skinny – effectively, it’s letting a parasite eat you from the inside out, with all the risks that entails. But it will also help you slim. Guaranteed!

Arsenic Pills
Another risky pill to swallow is one made out of arsenic. Like the ones taken by 19th Century women to enhance their complexions. You had to start with just a little and build up your tolerance, so as not to poison yourself. But you’d be amazed by how often people managed to poison themselves anyway.

Tho-Radio Face Cream
There are more interesting ingredients in Tho-Radio face cream – namely the radioactive elements thorium and radium. Launched in France in the 1930s, it promised a radiant complexion to anyone who used it. And that was probably true – you would quite literally glow. But not in a healthy way.

Eating Clay
Compared to some of the things on this list, eating clay seems fairly mild. But it still caused anemia and chlorosis among the young women of 17th Century Spain who ate it in the hope of maintaining a pale complexion. It’s probably not worth trying!


Until next time,

Peace, love and vitamin C!


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