Wednesday, May 29, 2013

5 Victorian Beauty Tips Guaranteed to Kill You

There are some Victorian beauty tips that have passed the test of time, but it's not secret that some of them are a little worse for you than others. For my post today I've outlined five Victorian beauty tips that were really used back in the day that were more likely to get you the kiss of death than a kiss from your beloved.


Disclaimer: this post mentions and discusses eating disorders on item number four. Please avoid reading this section if that would trigger you. Stay safe, guys.

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. 
  5. 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?

20 comments:

  1. I remember during an English class, we went over some of the things that Victorian women would do, including how some of the makeup would include lots of lead (I believe?). There was also the idea, at some point, to do really extravagant hairstyles, and to keep them that way . . . which would result in nits and sometimes other critters in the hair. No thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lead was very popular, yes, which is very unfortunate, but I can't imagine walking around with a permanent infestation on your head. No, thank you!

      Delete
  2. This is great; it's so interesting what people used to use for beauty purposes! :p I know women used to fly away because of harsh winds against their hoop skirts/pannier(The gigantic skirt and structure of the metal to hold it up caught the wind)!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do you have a source for that? That's pretty awful, I hope no one got too swept away!

      Delete
  3. When my dog had an ulcer on her eye, the veterinarian gave me some eye drops. I was surprised to see "atropine" (from atropa belladonna) on the label. The purpose was indeed to dilate her eye; not for beauty, of course, but to reduce the discomfort.

    I have read that Victorian women's crepe mourning veils sometimes caused respiratory and eye problems from prolonged exposure to the black dye.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's interesting that it's still an ingredient, perhaps it's not as bad if not used long term?

      I'd also heard about the black dyes, but I think by the end of the century they had started phasing those out in terms of others, thankfully. (Else where would we Goths be? :) )

      Delete
    2. Yes, I suspect it was long-term use of belladonna that caused eye problems. Or perhaps the dose was too strong. Today's drops are only a 1% solution.

      Delete
  4. It's creeping towards twentieth-century, but I heard some horror stories about early mascara in the late 1800s. One mascara contained fabric dye. Not just any fabric dye, a dye that was totally banned during the 20th century because it is so toxic.

    There are all kinds of anecdotes of women becoming blind, suffering horrible disfigurements, and having their eyeballs slowly corrode away over time (seriously) because of this stuff.


    It's not quite so deadly, but I was also slightly shocked/tickled to read a book by a Victorian lady doctor who advocated sleep deprivation as a means to lose weight. Modern medicine could tell her that that's not quite the way, but then again, I expect that in a hundred years or two people will look back at our medicine and think it crude and uninformed, so fair's fair. (Interestingly, she also detailed a plan for women who wished to gain more of an embonpoint-- sleeping in, lounging around in bed nibbling sweetmeats, and eating lots of roast. I could totally do that. XD)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not even a fan of wearing modern mascaras. Ick! I'm glad e got rid of those as soon as we did.

      I'm going to go ahead and pick the second option, as far as diets go! Sleeping and nibbling sweets is much more my style.

      Delete
  5. Not Victorian, but the Chinese used to break girls feet and reform them so their feet were small and dainty. Poor girls couldn't even walk.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. the practice was called foot-binding.

      Delete
    2. before communism in China, the ideal woman should look weak and petite. they tied a rock under each feet with gauze, and eventually it would break. they kept their legs tied thoughout their life, even while sleeping! also, they tied their shoulders if they were broad and the breast, occasionally. horrible!

      Delete
  6. after all those years there are still toxic ingredients in cosmetics.how many of us know what we really put on our faces? in this site you can researsh your cosmetics or their ingredients. they are rated according to their toxicity and there are descriptions to each one. many of the ones i use, have a 4-5 toxicity.
    http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/

    ReplyDelete
  7. I find it quite a scary thought that people actually did those things to themselves, just to live up to some beauty standard.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Cocaine is still used in dental and nasal/mouth surgery applications as a topical analgesic. All of the other "-caines" are actually cocaine derivatives (novocaine, lidocaine, xylocaine, etc) Perhaps the cocaine toothpaste relieved some of their tooth pain? :-)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Arsenic creams induce Basal cell carcinoma that s rodent ulcer it ll erosive ur skin on face so dont use arsenic beauty cream....

    ReplyDelete
  10. Arsenic creams induce Basal cell carcinoma that s rodent ulcer it ll erosive ur skin on face so dont use arsenic beauty cream....

    ReplyDelete
  11. Bride glow up with wedding makeup and i prefer H&M, They made my day, very good knowledge and experience they have, I will surely recommend others. Best Hair Salon Mississauga

    ReplyDelete
  12. you should listen to the rave artist, composer Belladonnakillz. he is now in the afterlife, but his music lives strong. and in the victorian era, the green wallpaper also had arsenic in it.

    ReplyDelete
  13. There are smooth surfaces of cosmetics by all brands. Like Japanese ladies, I utilize moderate originator shades and powders. 英国瘦脸针

    ReplyDelete