Fatal attraction: The most terrifying beauty practices ever!

Normally, I love vintage beauty tips. After all, anything that’s stood the test of time for hundreds of years has to be pretty effective. And I like how most of them are all about natural and wholesome ingredients, most of which can be found right within my kitchen. However, sometimes, the really old beauty stuff can be quite… out there. I wouldn’t recommend trying any of these out (no, seriously. DO. NOT. TRY. THESE. OUT.) but they do make for a pretty interesting read.

Eat some… arsenic

In the 19th century, arsenic was a staple beauty food to “produce a blooming complexion, a brilliant eye, and an appearance of embonpoint (sexy stoutness)”. But wait, there was a downside: It also caused goiters. And death. Too high a price to pay for that blooming complexion?

arsenic skincareNever, ever wash your face

According to the 19th century Encyclopaedia of Astounding Facts and Useful Information a “beautiful lady” is one who had “not washed her face for three years, yet it is always clean, rosy, sweet and kissable”. Simply rub the skin with “an ointment of glycerine” and “dry with a chamois or cotton flannel”. Kissable? Yuck.

Bathe in ammonia

Talking about the yuck factor, if you were particularly finicky about cleanliness, ammonia was the answer. All you had to do was pour a hefty amount into your bath and soak for an hour. Perfect, apparently, for cleansing the pores “as well as a bleach will do”. According to popular beauty tomes of the time, “Any lady who has once learned its value will never be without it.”

Hang out naked by the window

Or there’s always the vapour soak. Which can get pretty interesting, especially if you have exhibitionist tendencies. To do this, “the lady denudes herself, takes a seat near the window, and takes in the warm rays of the sun.” If you’re feeling particularly active, you can dance instead of just sitting still. Because if you’re going to give the neighbours a show, why not make it the best you can?

Radioactive cosmetics

In the 1930s, the French cosmetic line Flo-radia was the hottest thing in beauty circles. Laced with thorium chloride and radium bromide elements it would, “stimulate cellular vitality, activate circulation, firm skin, eliminate fats, stop enlarged pores forming, stop and cure boils, pimples, redness, pigmentation, protect from the elements, stop ageing and get rid of wrinkles, conserve the freshness and brightness of the complexion”. As a major selling point, it was created by Dr. Curie – not Marie or Pierre, who pioneered and then died from radioactive research – but Dr. Alfred Curie. No relationship. Let’s just call it the birth of modern (mis)advertising.

Wash your eyes… with whisky

While you are having that once-in-three-year bath, it also makes sense to give your eyes a seeing-to. How? By “dashing soapsuds into them”. Another alternative: perfume dropped into the eyes. Still not convinced? “Half a dozen drops of whisky and the same quantity of Eau de Cologne, eaten on a lump of sugar, is quite as effective.”

Lead face powder

The 1700s were rough on your complexion, what with all the filth and pox diseases (and not washing the face!) that beset even the richest of people. All these left spots and scars, which were best covered with lead face powder. And why not? Lead powder is inexpensive and easy to make, coats well, and has a silky finish. The fact that it also makes your brain swell, brought on paralysis and shut down pretty much every organ in the body is just an irksome side effect.

terrifying-beauty-practisesTrim those lashes

“Unruly” lashes? They were best “slightly trimmed every other day” with sharp, tiny scissors. Not dangerous at all, right? And we think society imposes strict beauty standards in the 21st century!

Heavy-metal eyes

To rock a cool cat’s eye, all that our great grandmas had to do was line their lids with “two drachms of nitric oxid of mercury mixed with one of leaf lard”. Too complicated? Try “a hairpin steeped in lampblack”.


Vintage Kylie Jenners would plump up their lips with some heavy duty suction, which “draws the blood to the surfaces” and over time provides a “permanent inflation.” Going in the opposite direction? Thick lips “may be reduced by compression.” Yup.

Tempted by any of these vintage beauty secrets? What’s the most scary or dangerous beauty advice you have ever received?


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