1. The original 1891 White House Cookbook (which wasn't published by the White House itself, just in case you were wondering, but by Hugo Ziemann, its chief kitchen steward) is full of all kinds of cool facts about hosting state dinners and presidential favorite foods, but it also has recommendations on the best products to make for your "toilet." To remove freckles, the White House told young people across the country that:
"The following lotion is highly recommended: One ounce of lemon juice, a quarter of a drachm of powdered borax, and half a drachm of sugar; mix in a bottle, and allow them to stand a few days, when the liquor should be rubbed occasionally on the hands and face."
These days, borax is usually found in floor cleaner, but it's pretty fun to speculate about whether any first ladies of the 19th century were sitting around rubbing themselves with a sticky, week-old batch of this stuff.
2. Never trust a famous poet to help you get rid of pimples. In The Art of Beauty, Ovid suggests that young women suffering from breakouts do this:
"Make haste and bake pale lupins and windy beans. Of these take six pounds each and grind the whole in the mill. Add thereto white lead and the scum of ruddy nitre and Illyrian iris, which must be kneaded by young and sturdy arms. And when they are duly bruised, an ounce should be the proper weight. If you add the glutinous matter wherewith the Halcyon cements its nest, you will have a certain cure for spots and pimples."
So lead, scum from cave walls (aka nitre), and bird spit. This is why Ovid is remembered for his Metamorphoses, not his facials.
3. Baldassare Castiglione's Book of the Courtier is the definitive Renaissance guide to manners, but some of his advice on how to make yourself attractive is just execrable. For instance, he advises women not to be too good at anything because it might "show more skill than sweetness." You should also never move too quickly or sharply, and never attempt to play the drums, fife, or trumpet, because they'll make you look ugly.
4. Arsenic for bright skin and eyes. This one's been recycled a couple of times. Elizabethan women would put a mixture of arsenic, chalk, and vinegar on their faces to whiten their complexions, and in the Victorian era, arsenic eye drops were extremely popular for making eyes look large and bright. Of course, you couldn't see well after you used them, and they eventually caused blindness and poisoning, but whatever, right?
5. From the medieval period well into the 19th century, one of the most popular ways to attain perfectly pale skin was to use leeches. The blood loss would blanch women out for optimal whiteness. According to the 1834 Cyclopaedia of Practical Medicine, one could even keep things discreet with "frequent application of a few leeches to the anus."