Five Scandalous Historical Beauty Treatments You Didn’t Know

Posted by in Body

The subject of beauty has always been a controversial one. In many ancient cultures, a woman’s beauty was often interchangeable with the annunciation of her femininity: many idolised a woman for her beauty, as it was believed that an appearance so ethereal could only be inherent. It is therefore quite ironic that the measures many women took to achieve aesthetic perfection were, in short, remarkable.

Bizarre beauty treatments still exist in the 21st century (from vampire facials to Iranian snake massages), but none of which remotely level up to some of the unsettling treatments performed by historic beauty mavens.


 Lard wigs

Ever seen portraits of 18th century aristocracy, and wonder how their hair was so voluminous? Women in the 1700s sported ornate wigs, whose base was constructed out of large wooden frames and then draped with hair. Sounds quite ingenious. Only, this hair was glued onto the wooden structures with pastes of beef lard and bear grease. Attracted by the smell of the lard, vermin would nest inside these wigs whilst noblewomen took them off to sleep. The problem was so inevitable, that many resorted to placing their wigs in cages.

Volumising hairspray and a quick tease seem so tame now…



We wish we were making this up. During the renaissance, women used to get rid of their body hair by literally dowsing themselves in arsenic. The chemical would quickly burn away surface hairs, often leaving behind irritable rashes. Additionally, 1940s wartime scarcity left many women improvising their beauty methods, which included using sandpaper to buff away any unwanted hair! Ouch.

Beauty really was pain.


 Teeth Blackener

You heard that right— not whitener, blackener! In the Meiji era in Japan (late 19th century till the early 20th century), women blackened their teeth as a consummation of their marriage. Using the rind of a pomegranate to prime their enamel, they then applied excretion from the Japanese Sumac tree, mixed together with iron fillings, to each tooth. This dye stained their teeth a startling black, and women would reapply the dye every couple of days.

Single women and their white teeth, on the other hand, were treated with contempt.


 Roman Women

Roman women believed that large pupils were alluring. So much so, that they often did not mind the reckless and life threatening process in achieving them. They prepared a diluted concoction by extracting liquid from the foliage of a plant (known as both Atropa belladonna and Deadly Nightshade), whose liquid held toxic properties that caused extreme delirium.

When squeezed into the eye, the liquid caused the pupil to dilate creating a doe-eyed look that many women thought to be indisputably attractive.

The liquid was so toxic that it often rendered these women blind— unbelievable, we know.

South Korea has now popularised the marginally safer ‘circle lens’, helping many women achieve the large-eyed look without any detrimental hazards.


 Bird-poop facial

They say being defecated on by a bird is good luck. The Geisha’s throughout Japanese history seemed to have taken this literally.

A beauty ritual of high regard, the Geisha’s sought after bird feces from nightingales for its prevalent levels of the chemical ‘guanine’. They believed that guanine helped to brighten facial complexions, creating the illusion of a more porcelain skin tone.

Would you ever be brave enough to try these antiquated beauty methods?