Pretty Poisonous

You won’t believe these strange beauty products were ever used!

In 1920, World War 1 has just ended and everything was changing. Along with all of these changes was a new era in which women began focusing on the international culture of beauty. Self-care brands encouraged women to wear makeup as part of their daily routine. Publications like Beauty Industry gave women the idea to look their best while competing with men for employment in the post-war economy. There was little regulation in what went into products in the bustling new market; as a result, the radioactive chemical element radium became a big ingredient in many products, from toothpaste to ceramic water crocks. Women who worked with the element in factories, often called “Radium Girls,” were known to use the cancer-causing chemical to brighten their faces, nails, and teeth. You can’t really blame them when they were led to believe that it was “completely harmless!”

Then women were encouraged to use face masks made from meat—there was no better way to take care of your skin! Suggested in the 1930s by makeup entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein in The Art of Feminine Beauty, meat masks were claimed to be the new technique to achieve flawlessness. Women were instructed to draw patterns in the shape of their forehead, chin, and cheeks. They were then told to give the patterns to their local butcher to be cut into customized masks. The meat was then placed over the skin and secured with a strip of muslin. These masks were intended to be left on the face for hours, sometimes even overnight!

The Ancient Egyptians have been known for their innovative and often deadly beauty products. One in particular was bromine lip makeup. Women would redden their lips with a dangerous formula that contained the russet-colored chemical. Prolonged use of bromine can cause hallucinations, irritability, weakness, kidney failure, brain damage, and even comas.

Women of the Middle Ages had limited options for beauty products, but that did not stop them from attempting to change their appearance. Many Venetian woman found ways to alter their look using nightshade. The leaves and berries of the plant were mixed to make a skin care treatment that would redden the pigment of their skin. A tonic was also created to dilate the pupils of any woman looking for a wide-eyed, seductive look. The downside to the usage of this plant was the fact that nightshade, also known as belladonna, can be extremely deadly. Side effects of its use were vertigo, headaches, and blindness. This was all before it was discovered that nightshade is one of the most toxic plants in the Eastern Hemisphere, and that ingesting the sweet tasting berries was the perfect way to voluntarily poison yourself.

A much more recent trend was the use of Preparation H by many famous models in the 1970s. This hemorrhoid cream, which was put under the eyes to reduce puffiness, was sworn by many celebrities to get rid of any under-eye bags. There have been reports of burning and irritation occurring near the sensitive area of the eye and no real proof that it works. Among the list of ingredients within the cream is a yeast derivative that claimed to directly reduce puffiness. This specific formula has since been changed due to an FDA inquiry, yet some celebrities still support the use of this cream today.

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