It’s truly incredible what modern cosmetic science has been able to achieve. Even in the past decade, advances in anti-aging, acne prevention & treatment, and skin protection technology have made leaps and bounds in their effectiveness. But, all of this progress had to start somewhere.
As English poet, William Blake, once said, “The true method of knowledge is experiment.” And back in the dark ages, boy did beauticians ever experiment. With no black-and-white scientific way to prove the efficacy of skincare treatments, certain unsavory trends were developed in antiquity and stuck around for far longer than they should’ve.
In the spirit of the Halloween season, we’ve compiled some of the most horrifyingly misguided beauty treatments from around the ancient world for your reading displeasure. After thoroughly researching the entries for this article, all we can say is thank god for modern science.
Pale at all Costs
In ancient Rome, it was considered a luxury to work in-doors and develop a sallow, pale complexion. Both women and men at the time would go to great lengths to achieve this status symbol, including going through an array of sheep-grime facials.
This process entailed wringing out the dirty wool of a sheep and using the sweat and grime it produced as the base of a pailing face cream.
Sheep juice too rich for your blood? Well, women in the middle ages opted for an even suckier treatment to bleach their skin: Leeches. Getting rid of some of that pesky blood in their faces gave them the gaunt, pallid complexion that brought all the boys to the yard. That was before all the boys fled from the yard in terror when they found out how they got so pale.
Looks that Kill
Disgusting beauty practices are one thing, but the lengths some ancient people went through to appear more refined were often times lethal.
In the 18th century, women used a lead-based powder called “ceruse” to smooth out their features and give them a pale complexion. While it accomplished their cosmetic desires in the short term, in the long term it slowly poisoned them, greyed their hair, dried out their skin, and gave them extreme abdominal pain.
Hog Grease Shampoo
This one feels like it’s straight out of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Women from medieval times would boil hog’s grease and put it in their hair to keep it from falling out, almost like an adhesive.
But, regardless of whether the pig grease shampoo worked or not, wigs came into fashion during the Victorian era that also required pig lard to keep them upright. The most horrifying part? These fat-soaked wigs would often attract critters like rats and bugs who would feast on the sticky mess.
Crocodile Dung Facials
OK, this is getting a bit ridiculous. Pig fat and lamb gunk are one thing, but using actual animal droppings for skin care? Get your act together, ancient society.
Ancient Greeks and Romans would soak for hours in mud baths complete with the special ingredient courtesy of our scaly friend up there. If that wasn’t enough, the mixture was also used as an anti-aging facial mask. We don’t know about you, but if the options were wrinkles or gator poop, we’re taking wrinkles every time.
Urine: Credibly Beautiful
Sorry to wrap up this article on such a toilet-centric one-two punch, but we had to save the best for last. There are three distinct ways in which ancient civilizations used urine – both human and animal – in their beauty routines.
The first instance dates back to the ancient Arabians, who would often dip their hair in camel urine due to its high PH balance. Although we haven’t tried it (the best we could find was llama urine on such short notice), it supposedly kills bacteria in your hair and leaves it with a glossy shine.
The second is from medieval Venice, where women would soak their hair in lion urine and lay in the sun to get bleached blonde highlights. Seems like a dangerous and smelly way to get golden locks, but to each their own.
The third and most disgusting instance comes from the ancient Romans, who have now been mentioned 3 times in this article (freaks). They believed that using Portuguese urine as a sort of mouthwash would leave them with fresh breath and a clean mouth. You read that right. And although urine mouthwash isn’t directly beauty related, we figured the hygiene connection at least afforded this disgusting practice an honorable mention.
We hope this terrifying list of gross-out beauty practices thoroughly chilled you to the bone and left you thanking your lucky stars for modern skincare.