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7 Historic (and Seriously Unhealthy) Beauty Practices

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
Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London
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Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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