Black smiles signified beauty

Credit: Calvin Smith via Flickr

Blackening your teeth was once seen as a symbol of beauty and wealth in Japan. Using a mix of iron filings mixed with vinegar and vegetables, a dark smile was sought after for its connotations of beauty. It was first used to celebrate teenagers transitioning into adulthood, but soon became daily practice amongst nobility.

The brighter the veins, the better


In pre-revolutionary France, accentuated veins were the go-to look. This trend had thousands of women color their veins with a blue pencil to make them stand out. Some women would even go as far as using leeches to get them as bright as possible, while keeping their skin a ghostly white.

Urine as… mouthwash?

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Some beauty trends are better off being left in the past… like rinsing your mouth with urine, for example. Ancient Roman women would brush their teeth and rinse their mouths with urine because of its high ammonia levels. The product proved so popular that Emperor Nero had to place a tax on it.

Women would quite literally bleed for beauty


Queen Elizabeth I was the pinnacle of beauty in the Tudor period. So much so, that women across the country would do anything to look like her. They would even undergo bloodletting in order to look as pale as the Virgin Queen. This process often involved having the blood sucked out of them by leeches. Gross!

Tapeworms were used to lose weight

Credit: Jim Griffin via Wikimedia Commons

Bizarre weight loss trends can be traced throughout history. Perhaps the strangest is Victorian women consuming pills containing tapeworm eggs. The eggs would then hatch inside of their host, before partially eating whatever its host consumed. It’s debated amongst historians as to whether these pills were simply a placebo, but it’s still disturbing that people were willing to try such a tactic.

Wigs were a literal rat’s nest


Forget hairspray – lard was the go-to tool to ensure hair stayed in place in the Georgian era. Slatherings of animal grease attracted all different kinds of vermin to ladies’ wigs, becoming infested with mice and fleas. In extreme cases, rats would crawl into the women’s beds, nibbling their hair as they slept. Thank goodness for hairspray.

Tuberculosis was equated with beauty


Tiny waists, bright red lips, and pale skin was the sought-after aesthetic in the Victorian era. Despite tuberculosis being responsible for 25% of annual deaths in Europe, many women would purposely seek out the ‘TB look’. They made themselves look ill, frail and delicate to fit the sickly standard at the time.

Arsenic was used for clear skin

Credit: Wellcome Collection via Lookandlearn

Believe it or not, 19th century women would use toxic arsenic beauty products to achieve a fair complexion – and it worked! Arsenic kills red blood cells, leading to whiter skin. The use of arsenic came with its own obvious risks. Users experienced internal bleeding, hair loss, vomiting, blindness, and, in many cases, death.

Eyelashes were considered ugly

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In a trend that entirely opposes today’s beauty standards, women during the Renaissance period would completely remove their eyelashes – sometimes their eyebrows, too. Any hair on a woman was deemed unattractive, leading to an extreme removal of body hair. Goodbye long, luscious lashes!

Gladiator sweat was used as a face cream

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Women in ancient Rome would purchase sweat from famous gladiators to use as a face cream. The ladies of the time believed that it would improve their complexion and smoothen their skin. Vials of the liquid were sold outside of the arenas like merchandise!