6 Beauty Trends That Blinded, Poisoned and Killed Thousands of People | by Alema Ljuca | March 2022

The price of beauty throughout history.

“La Calavera Catrina” by José Guadalupe Posada – represents death personified (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

B.B.aesthetics have always had a price. Whether it’s spending money on products, enduring uncomfortable treatments, or spending time on makeup, some sacrifices are made to achieve the desired look.

However, in the past, with the introduction of new beauty products to the market, more serious side effects have entered the scene. These six beauty trends have blinded, poisoned and killed thousands of people.

Advertisement for “arsenic complexion waffles”, The independent Elena Newspaper, November 9, 1889 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In the 19th century, women wanted pale, almost translucent skin. One popular way they got that look was by chewing on small arsenic wafers throughout the day. The “Complexion wafer” they were sold in all the larger pharmacies at a price of US $ 1–2.

In addition to making the complexion pale, the wafers were also said to remove spots, moles, freckles and any irregularities in the skin tone. They were also advertised as “perfectly harmless”. It goes without saying that thousands of women have had arsenic poisoning, which resulted in vomiting, severe abdominal pain, bloody stools, heart disease and cancer.

A homeopathic preparation of belladonna (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In Renaissance Italy, one of a woman’s most seductive and desirable looks were her large pupils and glassy eyes. Eye drops from a particular plant called “Pretty Woman” they were key to getting that look.

Belladonna, which translates to “beautiful woman”, is a highly toxic plant (albeit used in small doses). As the main ingredient of the famous “Belladonna eye drops”, it caused blurred vision, skin irritation, hallucinations, heart problems and even blindness. It is also called the dangerous plant “The deadly nightshade” and was used as a poison in ancient Rome.

Icall Limited Permanent Waver, 1934 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

During the 19th and 20th centuries, soft waves were immensely popular. With the growing demand for more innovative ways to achieve the desired look, permanent waving machines have been introduced to the market.

The first permanent fan was invented by hairdresser Eugene Suter and electrician Isidoro Calvete in 1917. It consisted of 22 stoves hung from a tall structure, under which women sat for 5-10 hours.

However, as with many brand new inventions, there have been problems and accidents with this machine. Clients often experienced electric shocks, bald spots and burns that were sometimes so severe that the woman ended up dying.

Tapeworm diet pill advertisement, early 1900s (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

During the 1900s, tapeworm diets were the hottest new trend. Tapeworm pills were advertised as “friends for a fair fit”, and it has been claimed that they have had no adverse effects. The author of “Calories and Corsets: A 2000-Year History of Diet”, Louise Foxcroft, wrote the following:

“Dieters would swallow beef tapeworm cysts, usually in pill form. The theory was that the tapeworms would reach maturity in the intestines and absorb food. This could cause weight loss, along with diarrhea and vomiting.

When the patient achieved the desired appearance, it was necessary to extract the tapeworm. The most popular ways to do this were dangerous pills and to “attract tapeworms by inserting a cylinder with food through the digestive tract.” Countless patients choked to death on the cylinder during the “procedure”.

Advertisement for the “Tricho” X-ray Hair Removal System (public domain)

When the first X-rays were discovered in 1896, beauticians almost immediately began using them for hair removal. One of the pioneers of X-ray hair removal was Albert Geyser, who created the “Tricho “ machine. The machine removed the women’s facial hair in just four minutes.

However, within a few months, clients returned with ulcers and atrophy. And in 1970, one in three women suffering from radiation-induced cancer was linked to X-ray hair removal. Tricho patient wrote the following:

“… In recent years I have had ‘white spots’ on my chin. This was … heartbreaking for me … I was wondering if there might be some new medical discovery that could help me.

Advertisement for “Radior Cosmetics” which featured radio, November 10, 1918 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

When Marie Curie discovered radium, the harmful effects of the substance were not known. In fact, radium has been seen as a miracle ingredient and has been used in makeup powders, soaps, creams, and even energy drinks. A 1915 advertisement stated the following:

“When placed on the face where the skin has become wrinkled or tired, the radioactive forces immediately act on the nerves and tissues. A continuous and constant current of energy flows through the skin and in a short time the wrinkles have disappeared ”.

Extensive use of radium has poisoned and caused cancer in thousands of men and women. Many died from the consequences and one of the most famous cases was the athlete Eben Byers. Byers drank three bottles of the radio energy drink “Radithor” one day that literally broke his jaw off.

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