Anyone who's ever poked themselves in the pupil with eyeliner knows that beauty is suffering — but up until relatively recently, your makeup game could actually kill you.
That's right. Throughout history, women (and men!) have been straight up poisoning themselves in the name of getting gorgeous. From lead-based liner to radioactive blush, the history of beauty is actually pretty deadly.
Check out the seven most horrifyingly poisonous makeup ingredients (and treatments) of all time, and prepare to squirm. At the very least, it'll put Botox into perspective.
Lead was the poisonous Duct tape of ancient times: you could use it for a bunch of things, but it probably wasn’t always a good idea. Lead was used in eyeliner and eye makeup, in creams to lighten skin and remove freckles, and also as the main ingredient in foundation-like makeup designed to create a deathly-white pallor.
If you wanted to exfoliate the shit out of your face in the 15th century, you’d use sublimate of mercury. Not only did it peel off all the dead skin cells from your face, it would also make you crazy. Vermillion, which creates a really intense red pigment found in old-timey blushes and lipsticks, was also mercury-based. And then, to hide the damage you’d done to your skin, you could also use mercury-based foundation. HOORAY.
Up through the 1920s, arsenic was THE ingredient to ensure clear skin. “Complexion wafers,” marketed as being totally safe, were “Guaranteed a sure cure for freckles, blackheads, pimples, vulgar redness, rough, yellow or muddy skin, and other facial disfigurements are permanently removed and a deliciously clear complexion.” You could also splash your face in arsenic tonics, or drink it to make yourself lovely. Fortunately, most of these preparations didn’t have much actual arsenic in them — overexposure to arsenic causes creepy lesions on hands and feet, kidney failure, and death.
Radium — which is m-fing RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL — was billed as a health tonic and beauty solution starting in around 1917. In the ‘20s and ‘30s, it REALLY took off and was included in every goddamned product you can think of, including condoms and diapers. And beauty products like lipstick, face powder, and blush were all sold with the promise of “A definite dose of Actual Radium.” People who were exposed to a lot of radium, like the Radium Girls, suffered the horrible illnesses, deformities, and excruciating pain of radiation poisoning before they died.
Literally meaning "beautiful lady," belladonna was used in eye drops to dilate women's pupils and give them a wide-eyed, sparkly look. It could also cause heart palpitations and blindness. Yeah, we'll stick to mascara.