Men and women have been beautifying themselves since prehistoric times. While many beauty trends throughout history were clever and creative, others have been downright dangerous.
As described in “A Fashionable History of Makeup & Body Decoration,” by Helen Reynolds, Egyptians used kohl, made from black galena, a lead ore, as eyeliner. Used to whiten skin and clear blemishes, the ancient Greeks and Romans applied powdered white lead all over their faces. Mild lead poisoning caused headaches and vomiting, while more severe cases ended in insanity, paralysis or death.
16th-century Skin Care
Pale skin was a sign of status in 15th- and 16th-century Europe. According to Helen Reynolds, Queen Elizabeth I, as did many noblewomen, whitened her skin with a heavy layer of toxic lead paint, leading to disfigurement.
Always the fashion setter, Queen Elizabeth I also started the trend of using drops of the poisonous deadly nightshade plant to enlarge her pupils and make her eyes look brighter.
As explained in the book, “Innovating Beauty,” by Teresa Riordan, during the Victorian age, women impeded their lung capacity with tight, heavily boned corsets. Smelling salts became popular during this era, because stressful situations often caused women to faint when their reduced lungs restricted breathing.
According to the 1936 book, “American Chamber of Horrors: The Truth About Food and Drugs,” by Ruth DeForest Lamb, Lash Lure, a 1930s mascara made with synthetic aniline dye, wasn’t on the market long before it was seized for causing blindness and one death.
References and ResourcesA Fashionable History of Makeup & Body Decoration; Helen Reynolds; 2003
Innovating Beauty; Teresa Riordan; 2004
American Chamber of Horrors: The Truth About Food and Drugs; Ruth DeForest Lamb; 1936