9 Bizarre and Horrifying Beauty Trends from the Past

  • How much would you sacrifice for beauty?

We’ve all had a good chuckle at the weird things people do for beauty these days. Ridiculously long eyelashes, orange fake tans, smearing who-knows-what on your face… The list goes on.

But let me tell you, modern beauty treatments are nothing compared to what people used to do.

In the times preceding modern science, many beauty treatments and trends were really weird. And there are those that were outright terrifying — or even deadly.

Here are 9 bizarre beauty trends from history. And once you’re done reading this list, go check out some stupid historical fashion trends.

1. The Renaissance Baby Look

We’re not strangers to removing our body hair in this day and age. But that trend went to a ridiculous and creepy extreme during the Renaissance.

Renaissance ladies would shave and pluck off all hair on their faces — including eyebrows. They would also shave their foreheads so that their hair wouldn’t show from under their hats and hoods.

That’s weird enough, but it gets much worse once you hear that they did it to look like babies. Renaissance men considered hairless babies to be the pinnacle of purity and innocence — so they lusted after women who looked like bizarre alien babies.

2. The Greek Unibrow

These days, a unibrow will probably get you nothing but ridicule. In ancient Greece, though, it was the height of beauty.

A unibrow was considered a sign of purity, intelligence, and sophistication. Don’t ask us why, but that’s how it was.

Women with a light unibrow would darken it with ashes or soot. Those who couldn’t grow one naturally would dye goat hair to match their own and glue it between their eyes to make a fake unibrow.

3. The Long Nails of Chinese Aristocracy

Long nails are still in fashion, but they were much more so during a period of Chinese history. Aristocrats — men and women both — would allow their nails to grow several inches long.

You can’t do much with nails that long — and that was the point. The elite of Chinese society wanted to flaunt their wealth by showing that they could afford servants who did everything for them.

Naturally, they also painted their nails and decorated them with lavish jewels. They would also wear elaborate metal nail sleeves to protect their precious nails.

4. The British Tuberculosis Look

The fashion industry gets a lot of flak for its malnourished, sickly-looking models. But that is not a new trend — and it was even worse in Victorian England.

Women decided that they wanted to look like people dying from tuberculosis. They would lighten their faces, paint their lips red, and wear corsets to slim their waists for that “I’m about to drop dead” tuberculosis look.

Then there were those women who intentionally caught tuberculosis. And the men loved it — after all, what’s prettier than a woman in her death throes?

That was sarcasm, by the way.

5. French Royalty’s Bulging Veins

The British didn’t invent the deathly pale look, though. Before the Victorian era, the aristocrats of pre-revolution France would also try to make themselves as pale as possible to show they never needed to work outdoors.

Now, when your skin is really pale, your veins start showing through. In the minds of the French elite, it logically followed that the more your veins shine through your skin, the more fashionable you are.

They would use what were basically blue pencils to draw over their veins to make them stand out more. The most fashionable of the French royalty essentially tried to look like walking corpses.

6. Lead Facial Lotions

In their endless quest to make themselves paler and paler, European aristocrats eventually arrived at the most extreme method to lighten their skin — lead poisoning.

Lead does make your skin paler because it’s toxic. Whether the royals knew that or not was a moot point, because lead-based facial lotions were all the rage from the middle ages to the early modern period.

Of course, many upper-class members of society died from lead poisoning as a result. But hey — at least they achieved that ultimate deathly pale look by turning themselves into actual corpses.

7. Gladiator Sweat

Sweat is gross, right? Well, in ancient Rome it was everything but — if it came from a gladiator.

People would collect the post-match sweat off of famous gladiators and incorporate it into creams and lotions. Women (and probably some men) believed it would improve their complexion and make their skin healthier.

It was also considered an aphrodisiac. I suppose a sweat-drenched gladiator can be hot, but rubbing that sweat on your face?

That’s a turn-off in my books.

8. Rome’s Piss Mouthwash

Ancient Romans didn’t use just gladiator sweat to make themselves prettier. They also gargled urine to whiten their teeth.

Human urine. As in piss from people.

The saddest part is that it kind of works. Urine contains ammonia, which is an effective cleaning agent.

The piss mouthwash got so popular that Roman emperors eventually started taxing the pee trade.


9. Aqua Fortis

Disgusting as Rome’s pee mouthwash is, it’s not the most horrendous teeth-whitening method used in the past. We’re handing that award to aqua fortis.

“What’s aqua fortis,” you ask. It’s nitric acid.

In the Middle Ages, people would rub aqua fortis on their teeth to whiten them. And sure, it did dissolve any crud stuck to your teeth.

It also dissolved your tooth enamel. But at least people could enjoy sparkling white teeth for a while before the acid completely ate through them.