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7 Historic (and Seriously Unhealthy) Beauty Practices

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While our modern beauty regimens certainly don't lack weird ingredients, by tradition our good looks have often been achieved at the cost of good taste and health. What deadly and disgusting things have people used to stay young and pretty? Here are a few of the truly disturbing used throughout history.

1. Bathing in Crocodile Excrement

For some reason, the ancient Greeks thought crocodile excrement had restorative and beautifying properties. It was mixed into natural mud holes or baths full of warmed mud, and Grecian lovelies hung about in it until they felt restored and beautiful (I'm guessing that took quite a while.) We don't know how they collected it (or why they decided it was a good idea in the first place) but it was all the rage in the wealthy and youth-seeking circles. Thankfully, bathing with water was also in vogue and there are no official reports of reptile-poo poisoning.

2. Sticking Bird Droppings Up Your Nose

In the early days of the geisha, Japanese women used a whitening paste on their faces made mostly of rice flour and bird droppings. It was applied over the entire face, including the ears, inside the nostrils, on the eyelids and lips.

3. Dyeing Hair With Cow's Blood

Hair dye has long been a staple of modern women, but ancient Iranian women also enjoyed a good dye-job. They compounded a nasty mix of henna, tadpoles, and the blood of black cows, which they applied liberally to darken and condition their hair. It was thought that the blood gave the cows their dark coloring and would do the same for human hair. Although henna is used as a natural dye to this day, the inclusion of tadpoles still confounds me.

4. Wearing Wigs That Caused Nosebleeds

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The women of England have been famous throughout history for their elaborate and strange beauty routines. In the era of Queen Elizabeth, when red hair was in fashion, women used a powder made of sulfur and safflower petals to color their hair and wigs. The blend caused headaches, nausea, and frequent nosebleeds.

5. Wearing Poisonous Eye Makeup

When it comes to heavy metal poisoning, no one trumps the ancient Egyptians. Men and women painted their eyes almost daily with a mixture called mesdemet, made from a dark gray lead, among other things. Also, a green paint called udju was used, made from a copper ore. Although neither product could be considered healthy, the eyepaint that Egyptians wore is credited with repelling insects and preventing infections due to the high antimicrobial activity of copper ore.

6. Liberally Applying Arsenic Powder

In a medieval version of today's CoverGirl compact, European women used a powder (pressed into cakes or small jars) to whiten their skin. The fashionable pallor was created by using white lead ore and arsenic, among other unhealthy-but-white ingredients.

7. Gargling With (Portuguese) Urine

Dental care was a little lax throughout most of history, but Romans in the time of Jupiter appreciated white teeth nearly as much as we do today. To improve the color of their teeth and freshen their breath, Romans imported Portuguese urine (believed to be stronger than their own) to rinse their mouths. While obviously unpleasant, urine contains several compounds like ammonia and urea that actually kill germs and help fight the gum disease gingivitis.

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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fun
How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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