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The Worst Beauty Tips in History 2011-08-03 06:00:00

5 of the Worst Beauty Tips Ever

There are lots of great tips for looking your best out there, but there are also some downright terrible ones. Most aren't bad enough to do real damage, but a few are so epically horrible that they're both hilarious and very, very scary. Behold! Five of the very worst beauty tips in all of history. They're jaw-droppingly awful, so to see them in all their infamy, just keep reading.

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."

Image Source: Thinkstock
Join The Conversation
GummiBears GummiBears 6 years
Leeches and anus. That is all...*cackles*
Ellenora Ellenora 6 years
Okay, leeches to the anus...that is just icky. Icky, icky, icky. It's sad to see someone would unsubscribe to a feed just because they find this ridiculous. I don't find this one bit ridiculous. It proves that we humans have EVOLVED in how we take care of our skin and what is okay for women. I think it also is a bouncing board to our minds to think about what dangerous beauty practices we practice today like tanning beds. That's just my opinion though.
awesomepants awesomepants 6 years
loool I wonder how many of them got sick or died from doing this.
ForeignFlowers ForeignFlowers 6 years
The leeches one is crazy - I can't believe they actually made reference to the 'anus'! The fact that now people risk their health trying to be as tan as possible when back then they did the same to be as PALE as possible just shows the ebbs and flow of beauty trends. Love the perspective this article gives! And good point about the scarcity of beauty knowledge from bygone eras.
gooz1231 gooz1231 6 years
LOL i think @stevcait thought you were recommending these things. Critical reading at its finest. I, for one, loved the post. My mom once recommended me to put something in my eyes to make them bright and twinkle... it wasn't arsenic, but i forget what it was.
Miriam-Lacey Miriam-Lacey 6 years
@ JLF and PoMo—Thank you guys! ;)
postmodernsleaze postmodernsleaze 6 years
Haha, don't play drums because it'll make you ugly... Love these old-fashioned beauty tips!
jlf85 jlf85 6 years
I don't understand what stevcait is complaining about. Sounds to me like someone is on the rag. The article was very well written and funny. How many nude/smoky eye application articles do you need to read? History is fun. I loved this article.
Miriam-Lacey Miriam-Lacey 6 years
@onlysourcherry Heavens forfend! But then how will you catch a husband?!?! Gentlemen prefer women woozy from blood loss, you know.
Miriam-Lacey Miriam-Lacey 6 years
@stevcait I'm really sorry you don't like the story, and I feel really bad that you're unsubscribing. What about the post do you find ridiculous? I love finding real-world applicable beauty tips, but I also find the history of beauty fascinating, funny, and sometimes scary, and when I find cool little nuggets like these, I'm really excited to share them with others I know have the same interests. As someone who's always loved cultural history, I think cosmetics are an important area that often gets overlooked—no one ever talks about Ovid's book on makeup and hairstyling, but it exists, and it's a great, engaging look into Roman life that reading Virgil doesn't give you. We learn so much about battles and politics, and so little about the daily lives of women like ourselves.
Miriam-Lacey Miriam-Lacey 6 years
@Amelie and Angri Oh, you totally know that injectables will be on here a century from now—heck, with the way things are advancing (topical Botox gel is only a few years off) they could make the list in a decade or two. Lead will make your skin look really, really white, as will blood loss, so unfortunately yeah, they do work if you're trying for the Dita Von Teese porcelain complexion. And I adore freckles; people just used to disdain any sign that you'd been out in the sun.
angri angri 6 years
"I wonder if in 100 years, they'll be making fun of us for injecting rat poison into our faces! LoL!!!" Oh my gosh, I hadn't thought of that! Too funny. Whenever I read old-time beauty tips, two things strike me: One, do these work? If so, a little lead poisoning might be just what I need ;) And two, why all the freckle hate? Were people in previous decades just unable to appreciate how cute freckles are?
onlysourcherry onlysourcherry 6 years
thanks for the heads up. i'm getting the leeches off my anus pronto.
stevcait stevcait 6 years
This is one of most ridiculous posts I've ever seen. In fact, I'm unsubscribing to your RSS based on this post.
Amelie074 Amelie074 6 years
I wonder if in 100 years, they'll be making fun of us for injecting rat poison into our faces! LoL!!!
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