When we think about beauty, we think about makeup, haircare, and skincare. We think dewy looks, wavy hair, bold lips, long luscious lashes, and defined jawbones. Beauty trends are constantly changing with new trends emerging from every direction. And as new trends come out, old ones die-hard. But in order to appreciate where we are, we need to take a look back and admire… or well, cringe, at the beauty trends of the past that led us to where we are today. 

Here are 20 of the most ridiculous beauty trends that at one point were just as popular, and sought after, as the beauty trends we have today.

1. Shampee

A woman washing her hair in urine and tossing it from side to side.
[Image Description: A woman washing her hair in urine and tossing it from side to side.] Via Giphy
No, that was not misspelled. The Incans actually did use urine as a form of anti-dandruff shampoo because of the urea found in urine. They would allow their urine to ferment for over a week and then would use it as their own version of Head & Shoulders.

2. And they were not the only ones. When in Rome….

Ancient Romans gathered around.
[Image Description: Ancient Romans gathered around.] Via Bust
Ancient Roman women would often use urine as a mouthwash to make their breath smell better. They would also brush their teeth with urine because of the presence of ammonia, which is a natural cleaning agent. Portuguese urine was the top of the range and was the most preferred. The product was so popular that Emperor Nero even had to place a tax on it.  

3. Mice wash

two women throwing up whilst one woman looks over them.
[Image Description: two women throwing up whilst one woman looks over them.] Via Giphy
If you thought the urine mouthwash was bad, the Ancient Egyptians took it a step further. Had a toothache or just wanted fresh breath? The Ancient Egyptians would mash dead mice with other ingredients to cure severe toothaches.


4. Europeans use to rub lead on their face to look paler

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I.
{Image Description: Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I] Via Historic UK

People from multiple historical civilizations used to use lead to make their skin appear paler whilst also giving themselves lead poisoning. You win some, you lose some.

5. During the middle ages, women would remove their eyelashes

Portrait of a young girl painted by Petrus Christus in 1470.
[Image Description: Portrait of a young girl painted by Petrus Christus in 1470.] Via ParkPlace
Back in the middle ages, a woman’s forehead was considered the sexiest feature, so women would often remove all of their eyelashes and their eyebrows to highlight this part of their face.

6. Georgian women used acid on their teeth

A woman dressed up as a lady from the Georgian period, smiling.
[Image Description: A woman dressed up as a lady from the Georgian period, smiling.] Via Giphy
Women used to use tooth powders made out of cuttlefish and bicarbonate of soda to whiten their teeth. In other words, they used sulfuric acid on their teeth which is both painful and dangerous.

7. And they did not stop there…

A womam placing fake mouse hair eyebrows on her face.
[Image Description: A woman placing fake mouse hair eyebrows on her face.] Via Giphy
With lead being applied to their face, Georgian women often had their eyebrows fall off so they got creative. They would either pencil in their new brows or wore brows made of mice fur. 

8. Women were not the only ones who tried some weird trends

A man dressed in a grey outfit saying "Brilliant. Quite Brilliant."
{Image Description: A man dressed in a grey outfit saying “Brilliant. Quite Brilliant.”] Via Giphy

Men from different historical civilizations tried multiple things to cure baldness. In Ancient Egypt, men would blend lead, iron oxide, onions, honey, alabaster, and fat to apply on their heads, and in Ancient Greece, men would blend cumin, pigeon droppings, horseradish, and nettles. None of the mixtures worked at all.

9. The Ancient Romans and Greeks bathed in crocodile dung

A woman with a towel on her head having a mud bath.
[Image Description: A woman with a towel on her head having a mud bath.] Via Giphy
They thought crocodile dung had restorative and beautifying properties and would mix it with mud for a relaxing bath or anti-aging facials. Talk about luxurious mud baths.


10. Women would bathe in arsenic for perfect skin

A woman seated by her mirror looking at her reflection and applying makeup to her lips.
[Image Description: A woman seated by her mirror looking at her reflection and applying makeup to her lips.] Via Atlas Obscura
During Victorian times, women would fully submerge themselves in arsenic to get pale white skin; the bath gave them a glow, and also poisoned them in the process.

11. People ate arsenic to clear their skin

Sears ad for arsenic wafers.
[Image Description: Sears ad for arsenic wafers.] Via History Collection
Back in the early 1900s, in a time where Skincare by Hyram didn’t exist, people would eat Arsenic Complexion Wafers. The wafers were meant to get rid of blackheads, rough skin, and pimples, but it could poison them as well.

12. Women bled themselves to look paler

Scene of Bloodletting carried out by professionals, at the time, on a woman.
[Imae Description: Scene of Bloodletting carried out by “professionals” on a woman.] Via Wikimedia Commons
During the Renaissance, women wanted to look as pale as they possibly could, to achieve this they would undergo bloodletting where they bled themselves or would even use leeches and let them suck their blood; the blood loss made their skin paler.

13. Accentuated veins

Painting of Marie Antoinette
[Image Description: Painting of Marie Antoinette.] Via Wikimedia Commons
In the 1700s, French women would accentuate their veins by drawing them in to make their skin look almost translucent. They were obsessed with looking pale since it was a sign of wealth.

14. Tudor hair dye

A woman dyeing the hair of a Tudor woman in a salon.
[Image Description: A woman dyeing the hair of a Tudor woman in a salon.] Via Giphy
Along with porcelain skin, blond or fair hair was considered to be ideal for a woman, so women in Tudor times would use a mixture of sulfur and lead to dye their hair blonde. The dye was highly toxic and resulted in lead poisoning and the early deaths of many women.

15. Sparkling eyes

An eye dilating a look that Tudors aimed to have.
[Image Description: An eye dilating, a look that Tudors aimed to have.] Via Giphy
Women in the Elizabethan era strove to achieve sparkling eyes by using a few drops of belladonna in the eye to dilate the pupils, as that was considered attractive. The issue? Belladonna caused minor visual distortions, inability to focus on near objects, and prolonged use caused blindness.

16. Elizabethan skincare routine

A woman looking in the mirror and applying a paste on her face.
[Image description: A woman looking in the mirror and applying a paste on her face.] Via Giphy
16th Century skincare routines involved peel made from mercury. While some used lemon juice and rosewater as a remedy for blemishes and spots, others made a face mask of alum, honey, eggshells, and of course more mercury. Skincare by Hyram would scream.

17. Women broke their ribs wearing corsets in Europe

Italian corset from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
[Image Description: Italian corset from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.] Via Wikimedia Commons
In the 18th and 19th centuries, tiny waists were the trend and metal corsets were used to help with the look. But this look came with a price; women who wore corsets regularly suffered from displaced organs and broken ribs.

18. Ancient Chinese women craved tiny feet

Shoe used by women who took part in foot binding
[Image Description: Shoe used by women who took part in foot binding.] Via Wikimedia Commons
From the 10th to the 20th Century, many Chinese women desperately wanted small feet as they were a symbol of beauty so they took part in foot binding. The process started from the age of five to eight, where the big toe was left facing forward and the four smaller toes were bent under the foot and were tightly bound by cloth. Until her early teens, the binding would be loosened and retightened. It was very painful, and not uncommon for women to lose toes or even their lives.


19. In Japan, darkening their teeth was popular and trendy

Painting of a Japanese woman with Black teeth.
[Image Description: Painting of a Japanese woman with Black teeth. ] Via Ancient Origins
Black teeth remained a trend up until the late 19th Century. The practice, called Ohaguro (“blackened teeth”), was regarded as a sign of beauty and wealth in women.

20. During WWII, women would paint on nylon stockings

A model, modelling her Nylon stockings that have been painted on with gravy browning's.
[Image Description: A model, modeling her Nylon stockings that have been painted on with gravy brownings.] Via Giphy
In 1941, Britain introduced clothes rationing to conserve resources which meant that the beloved nylon stockings were one of the first to go. Women resorted to painting on their stockings. Gravy brownings were a popular paint and some women even drew in a seam with an eyebrow pencil to make it more realistic.


All these fashion and beauty trends that seem bizarre today were once the height of popularity. Who knows, maybe centuries from now, some of our modern-day beauty trends may join this list.

For more awesome history facts, follow our brand-new history Instagram account. 

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  • Sabeena Wahid

    Sabeena is an aspiring writer who is currently studying Media and English Literature at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. In her spare time, she enjoys watching and obsessing over plays and musicals, watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine over and over again, and immersing herself in high fantasy books.


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