- Arsenic Face Creams - In the 1860's it was a beauty ideal to have a completely spotless face, no Marilyn Monroe beauty marks here! As such, Victorian women attacked their faces with all kinds of lotions, potions, creams and powders to achieve a spotless pallor. One ingredient that was popular in these facial creams was white arsenic, a heavy metal that has some unfortunate side effects. Prolonged exposure to arsenic can cause "headaches, confusion, severe diarrhea, and drowsiness" according to Wikipedia, but symptoms will soon escalate to include "diarrhea, vomiting, blood in the urine, cramping muscles, hair loss, stomach pain, and more convulsions." If you are exposed to it long enough, and in high enough quantities, death may eventually occur.
- Cocaine Tooth Paste - White, pearly teeth were more an ideal than an actuality in early nineteenth century Europe. However, in the Victorian era the explosion of science and medicine started touting the importance of taking care of your teeth, and the discovery that if you kept your teeth clean they would stay in longer was a huge drive to make them an important facet of Victorian beauty ideals. Unfortunately, early tooth pastes weren't exactly great for your health. Homemade toothpaste recipes often called for a drop or two of cocaine to be mixed in. According to WebMD cocaine uses' mental side effects include anxiety, irritability, and paranoia while physically it has detrimental side-effects on one's Heart, Brain, Lungs, Gastrointestinal tract, and kidneys.
- Deadly Nightshade Eye Drops - Belladonna, or deadly night shade, is a plant that truly lives up to it's name. An interestingly named website, Belladonna Killz, lists the side effects as "headache, dizziness, anxiety, sensitivity to light, lightheadedness, fatigue, blurred vision, nausea and reduced sweating" and ingestion can be lethal to people and animals. Unfortunately, another side effect is that if you mix it with the right solution of other chemicals, it'll make your eyes dilate. Victorian women loved the idea of having wide, doe-like pupils, and so rushed to their chemists' to buy these Belladonna Eye drops. This did not end well.
- Starvation - The rise of the eating disorder is not an entirely new phenomenon. In addition to tight-lacing corsetry, Victorian women engaged in unhealthy eating habits to keep their waist size down. After all, it's not like many people in Victorian England could access the health foods of today to keep trim, and doing jumping jacks in a corset doesn't sound like a plan for all the ages. Fasting and eating small portions caused many women to lose weight during the era, but the unfortunate side effects included fatigue, dizziness, seizure, thinning hair, amenorrhea, dry skin, constipation, heart palpatations, dehydration, low blood pressure, and osteoporosis, according to Timberline Knolls treatment center. If this persisted for long enough, illness and death were soon to follow.
- Iron Curling Tongs - In the Victorian era carefully sculpted curls became one of the most popular hair styles, especially when piled up on one's head with a cute hat. However, the lack of wide-spread electricity meant that modern electric curling irons weren't in use. Instead, iron ones which were heated in the fire and then held with a cloth to prevent burns were used. Unfortunately, these were slightly unwieldy and burns could occur anyway, especially to the scalp, the back of the neck, and the hands (or, more likely, your servant's hands.) If that weren't enough, if your servant was careless enough to place the still-hot iron on a flammable surface, fire isn't that far out of the realm of possibility, especially when houses and furniture were made mostly out of wood. I don't even want to imagine escaping from a burning building while keeping your skirts out of the way.
So, there you have it! Five Victorian beauty tips that will have you coffin-bound. What are the most outlandish historical beauty tips you've come across?