Review in History : Deadly Beauty

Deadly Beauty : looking pretty used to cost you your life

In the Western civilizations, the most memorable beauty remedy was how Cleopatra used to bath in asp’s milk. Asp or aspis are poisonous snakes that live around the Nile region. Then you had dodgy make up ingredients like lead and heavy minerals. Back then, no one knew that lead and mercury were unsafe; plus I bet no one lived long enough to suffer from the side effects anyway.

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This might not be safe in the next century

What is safe? What was safe today might not be any more tomorrow. Today, we beauties focus on ‘all natural’ and organic. For the eco- warriors, the word ‘sustainable’ comes to mind. That is exactly what beauty products are made of in ancient times, all natural and organic products! But that does not mean that your lipstick isn’t going to give you cancer twenty years down the track.

People in those times died of childbirth and infection, if they wanted to slather gold onto their faces and get gold poisoning, so be it. It is not until we humans start to live longer that we see the effect of our deadly beauty regime. We can laugh, but we are not that far off.

Instead of asp, we use botox. The Romans loved to use lead on their face, white and red. They kept piling on more and more as the lead ate their faces, and then died from poisoning. The practice of using lead only fully stopped at 1906, when FDA officially banned it, along side radium baths and arsenic wafers.

What about Chinese civilization?

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Honey and the Bees …

In contrast to the Sumerian/ Mesopotamian/ Greek/ Roman civilizations, apparently Asians favor using flowers and animal fat to look pretty. With the exception of cinnabar, which is mercury sulfide. Cinnabar gives a bright red color, hence it is a popular rouge in ancient China. Asians did not fancy looking white like a ghost, preferring looking red as a beet. Pretty sure they drank a lot of alcohol for it too.

I think it is safe to say that pearl powder was a popular beauty item for many civilizations, along side arsenic and lead. Oh yes, the Chinese love arsenic. A lot of historical fictions favor the use of arsenic to poison enemies, as well as looking pretty. Imagine scraping some arsenic off your face to poison your enemy’s drink.

Even though Chinese make up and beauty regime is tame compared to the Western counterparts, the culture do have some seriously disturbing opinions about beauty. One classic example was the lotus feet, where females tie their feet up when they were still malleable. The result was a lotus bud looking limbs, but when you open the bandages, it will stick of rotten flesh.

A perfect reason to be thankful that the sordid practice has ended, honestly why did they think that being disabled makes you attractive? Of course, lotus feet only happens in the very rich, or in families wanting to marry well. If you are a poor farmer’s daughter, having your own feet may be a disgrace, but it means you have a certain freedom and responsibility.

The most popular beauty product in Asian civilizations could be the bird’s nest, although Chinese doctors prefer to prescribe a lot of things to keep people looking young. Almond milk, ginseng and many precious herbs were a popular recipe for good skin. A lot of rich people would use pearl powder to lighten their skin tone. The idea back then is good health was also an important factor in looking beautiful, so good food was important.

And if you read Memoir’s of a Geisha, you will probably remember Nightingale poo cream. You can still obtain the cream now, but they come from a specific bird:  the Nightingales that are native to the Japanese island of Kyushu, because they are vegan apparently. Not only that, today you have a sterilized poo that has all the bad bacteria removed. That was not the case back then, ewwww….

Beauty is Still Deadly

Honestly, if you think the age of deadly beauty is over, you are wrong.

One best example is botox. Botulium toxin is a neurotoxin that causes flaccid paralysis, it is useful medicine when used properly. Any overdose is deadly, and there is no way of reversing the effects. Another deadly thing is the fillers that doctors inject into lips, some of it can harden and cause pain. Going under the knife for procedures carries a certain risk of infection as well.

How about the days where people used to tan under the sun or solarium before they realized that the UV was giving them cancer? The Western society regards pale white skin unattractive, while the Asians wants pale white skin (why is that?). In Australia, thankfully we no longer have UV tanning beds, but the sale of tanning sprays has gone through the roof.

I am sure that there are many more deadly beauty practices that I may be forgotten, let me know in the comments below.

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  • I still cringe whenever I hear that lead was used back in the day. Can you imagine? Poisoning ourselves unknowingly all in the name of beauty. But then again, sure we’ve made advancements in cosmetics, but we sure found other ways to ingest poison in our system, didn’t we? Cigarettes, drugs…just to name a couple.

    • and food.. amazing how much chemicals goes into our food too

  • Such an interesting read, thanks for sharing!

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