The Most Dangerous Beauty Trends In History

We’ve all heard the phrase “pain is beauty, beauty is pain.” It’s an homage to the hard work that women have put into maintaining their looks for centuries. Today, celebrities like Kim Kardashian spend over $1,700 a day just on their makeup routine, and that’s not including the cost of surgeries, personal trainers, and hiring a glam squad!

It may seem like Kim K’s routine is insane but history is littered with crazy beauty trends and techniques. Not only were they expensive but a lot of them were downright dangerous. Check out these crazy (and dangerous) beauty trends throughout history. After reading these, winged eyeliner and lip injections don’t seem so bad.

Lead Makeup Basically Made Your Face Fall Off

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A sun-kissed tan might be all the rage now but for much of history, being pale was the ultimate trend. It showed that you were rich enough to stay indoors rather than work outside in the fields. To achieve that look, many women and men pressed lead-based white makeup on their skin.

The problem was, lead is poisonous and over time would eat away at the person’s face. Queen Elizabeth I was a notable wearer of white lead makeup and she had skin problems all her life.

That High Up-Do Could Catch On Fire

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In the 17th century, the higher the hairstyle the more respected you were. This was especially true for women, who would gather their hair up to extremely high heights when attending galas and parties. The problem was, in the 1600s, parties were lit with chandeliers that used open flame candles.

The tall coiffures that women wore were therefore apt to catching fire in the middle of the party. This beauty trend definitely puts a dark new spin on the phrase “the higher the hair, the closer to Jesus.”

Chinese Foot Binding

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The ancient Chinese custom of applying tight wrapping to women’s feet to reshape them has a long and troubled history. Toes were purposely broken and the foot was constantly rebound to become smaller and smaller. The average size of a bound foot was four inches long.

Foot binding practiced for more than 1,000 years until 1912, when the new Republic of China saw the practice as backward since it prevented women from working.

Crinolines Were Uncomfortable And Hazardous

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While we still use crinoline in fashion today, using hundreds of layers for a massive ballgown was common just a few hundred years ago. Not only were the crinolines heavy and uncomfortable for the wearer, but they were also likely to get caught in carriage wheels. Even worse, they were incredibly flammable.

In the 18th and 19th century, there were numerous crinoline-related deaths due to women’s crinolines getting caught in carriage wheels or catching fire without the woman being able to escape.

Green Dyes Could Kill You

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In 1814, a company in Germany created a new, vibrant color of green dye that immediately became popular. Victorian Britain became obsessed with the color but they didn’t realize the arsenic in the dye could actually kill them.

The women who wore the green arsenic dresses often developed scabs. The dye could make your hair fall out and prolonged exposure could lead to vomiting blood or liver and kidney failure.

Tortoiseshell Combs Would Explode

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The hair trends in the 1800s included beautiful hair accessories called tortoiseshell combs. The combs weren’t actually made of tortoiseshell but instead of a celluloid compound. Even though celluloid is beautiful it is highly unstable and easily combustible.

Anything from excessive moisture to leaving the comb at room temperature could result in the particles breaking down and the combs combusting. After many years and many lawsuits, celluloid combs went out of fashion.

1920s Shoe Polish Definitely Wasn’t FDA Approved

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In the early 20th century, the top of the line shoe polish was made primarily with an ingredient called nitrobenzene. It made shoes super shiny but unfortunately, it also could make you faint thanks to the toxins.

If fainting wasn’t bad enough, inhaling the nitrobenzene while drinking alcohol was basically like consuming poison. Maybe prohibition in the early 20th century wasn’t such a bad idea if they were using this shoe polish.

High Collars Could Cut Off Your Circulation

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Men’s fashion trends usually aren’t that dangerous but the high collars of the 19th century were a silent killer. In the late 1800s, a very high and extremely stiff shirt collar was all the rage. Unfortunately, if worn too tight the collar could cut off blood circulation and cause you to faint.

In 1912, there was even a case of one man whose neck swelled up so much that he was technically choked to death by his collar.

Corsets Squish Your Organs

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Corsets are one historical beauty trend that has become notorious for its dangerous history. They were worn for many centuries but reached their extreme in the 1890s. Many women had their ribs end up cracked or broken to get the proper shape.

Corsets could also cause shortness of breath and were shown to mash a woman’s internal organs together. Thankfully, they went out of style but ultra-slimming corsets have made a comeback in recent years.

Eating Chalk Wasn’t The Healthiest Way To Be Pale

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When people finally started to realize covering your face with lead to look pale wasn’t a good idea, they switched to chalk. For a while, women would simply cover their faces in chalk but by the 19th centur, some women were actually eating it!

Chalk can be toxic when ingested so when women ate the chalk, it would make them feel ill and in turn, they would appear pale (and sickly).

Eyelash Extensions Were Stitched Right On The Eyelid

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Lush, full eyelashes are still a popular trend today. You can get stick-on extensions or full stick-on lashes. Those in the 19th century were much more dangerous and were actually stitched right onto your eyelid.

The eyelash stitcher would run a needle through “the extreme edges of the eyelid” and leave thread at graduating lengths to look like eyelashes. Oh, and since it was the 19th century, there was no anesthesia.

X-Rays Were Originally Used For Hair Removal

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When X-ray technology was discovered in 1895, its hazardous side effects were quickly understood. The scientists who did the initial experiments suffered burns and hair loss almost immediately. Rather than shy away from the technology, women in the 20th century began using x-rays as a way to purposely get rid of unwanted hair.

Now we know that using X-rays without any protection can cause an increased risk of cancer, increased radiation levels, vomiting, bleeding, and fainting.

Teeth Lacquering Purposely Turned Teeth Black

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Today we’re obsessed with getting pearly white teeth but Japanese and Vietnamese people underwent teeth blackening for centuries. The practice involved using a variety of chemicals to give teeth a glossy black finish while effectively being a sealant.

The belief was that the black teeth symbolized maturity and civilization. The chemicals may have kept the teeth from decaying but it caused serious damage to gums and was irreversible once it was done.

Neck Rings Can Be Deadly When They’re Removed

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The cultural practice of neck rings is done by the women of the Kayan people, who are an ethnic minority in Myanmar. They stack metal rings around their neck from the time they are young women to physically elongate the necks.

The stacked rings can be hazardous though as the deform the woman’s clavicles and can make it impossible for her to support her own head. Despite the health concerns, the practice is still done today in part to attract tourists.

Muslin Dresses Led To An Outbreak Of Pneumonia

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For average women in the 18th and early 19th centuries, muslin dresses were all the rage. They were lightweight gowns that showed off women’s curves while still appearing modest. The only problem was they were extremely lightweight and did little to protect from the elements.

The muslin dresses left women susceptible to infections and one outbreak of pneumonia in 1803 was even nicknamed “the muslin disease” across most of Europe.

Eyelashes Were Plucked In The Middle Ages

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Long before eyelashes were being extended, they were being forcefully plucked out. In the middle ages, the forehead was considered the sexiest part of a woman’s face. In order to accentuate that, many women in the middle ages removed all or most of their eyelashes.

The wild look could cause serious pain and if done improperly, could lead to excessive bleeding. That’s definitely a bold look but we’re not sure it was worth it.

Fashion Braces Aren’t Safe Or Stylish

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This dangerous style trend is from very, very recent history. The trend of wearing fake braces picked up speed in 2009 in Thailand, Indonesia, and China. Fashion braces were worn as a status symbol because it showed you could afford dental procedures.

Unfortunately, the fashion braces backfired and there were at least two known cases of girls dying because the cheap braces gave them deadly mouth infections. Due to the deaths, the Thai government actually banned the practice.

The Tapeworm Diet Wasn’t Appetizing

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Women have always seemed to go through insane phases to slim down and at one point, they even opted to ingest tapeworms. The belief was that the parasitic worms would make themselves at home in your intestines. Once they got comfy, the tapeworms would eat your food before the body can absorb any nutrients from it.

Of course, that can get out of hand and cause death. The only way to get the tapeworms out was through surgery or when they crawl out of your corpse.

Hobble Skirts Resulted In Death

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In the early 1910s, hobble skirts hobbled their way into the fashion scene. They’re the type of skirt that balloons out at the thighs an knees but gets very narrow at the ankles. Not only did they make walking anywhere a difficult task for women, but it could also be deadly.

One deadly example came from a racetrack in Paris in 1910. A horse got loose and ran suddenly through a crowd. Everyone dispersed, but one woman wearing a hobble skirt couldn’t run away and was trampled to death.

Bloodletting To Look Pale Was The Most Extreme

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We know women have tried using lead-based makeup and eating chalk to look paler, but the women of the Middle Ages took it a step further by undergoing bloodletting. Women would actually make themselves bleed so that their skin looked paler.

Mind you, bloodletting was an extremely common practice at the time and was believed to cure many other ailments, but self-bloodletting for fashion seems like it’s a step too far.

Powdered Wigs Could Become Infested

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Tall, pale, puffy wigs were popularized when King Louis XIV of France began losing his hair. He hired 48 wigmakers to save his image which led to the massive powdered wigs. The wigs required a lot of upkeep though including sleeping upright so the style wouldn’t be pressed out.

The wigs were also so big that moths, lice, and even small rodents would bury themselves deep inside without the wearer knowing. Basically, the powdered wigs were so big because they were full of secrets.

You Had To Poison Yourself To Get Dilated Pupils

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One strange beauty trend from the 16th and 17th centuries were dilated pupils. In the 16th and 17th centuries, upper-class women in Italy purposely dilated their pupils because it was seen to be attractive and seductive. To do so, they used the poisonous plant belladonna.

When you ingest the belladonna, it could block muscle receptors to the eye to dilate the pupil, but prolonged use can cause temporary and permanent blindness.

Mercury Turned Everyone Into Mad Hatters

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The character of the Mad Hatter from the Alice in Wonderland series wasn’t entirely made up. In the 18th and 19th centuries, many hats made in England were lined with mercury because it was used in the production of felt. Wearing the hat continuously could result in long-term mercury poisoning.

Mercury poisoning led to symptoms similar to madness and even death. The phrase “mad as a hatter” originated because those who made the fashion accessories usually became sick the quickest.

Lead Makeup Led To Mouse-Pelt Eyebrows

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Lead-based white makeup could leave scabs on the wearer’s but it could also cause their hair to fall out…including their eyebrows. Women were forced to either draw on their eyebrows (that sounds familiar) or find an alternative. Many middle-class women resorted to catching and skinning mice.

The woman would then glue a tiny mouse pelt on as fake eyebrows and call it a day. Maybe microblading eyebrows on doesn’t seem so bad anymore.

Floating Ribs Are For Modern-Day Corset Wearers

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Broken and cracked ribs were an unfortunate side effect of corset-wearers in the Victorian era but modern trends have seen women purposely removing ribs to get a tiny waist. The procedure of removing one of your lower ribs in order to have a smaller defined waist is technically illegal but that hasn’t stopped some modern women.

Instagram star and “living doll” Pixee Fox alleged to have gotten the illegal surgery done in 2015.

Radium Definitely Gave You A Glow

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After World War 2, people became downright obsessed with radium. The atomic age was seen as both terrifying and exciting. Radium might have created the deadliest bomb in history, but it was also being used in everything from toothpaste to nail polish to add a “healthy glow.”

Of course, we now know that radium is extremely toxic at high levels but the crazy trends of the ’50s and ’60s already did its damage.

Rotting Your Teeth On Purpose Was Considered Beautiful

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In the Elizabethan era in England, being able to afford sugary foods meant you were wealthy enough to feed your family non-essential foods. It also meant you ended up with rotten teeth thanks to all the sugar.

Those in the lower-class wanted to make it seem like they could afford sugary foods so they specifically let their teeth rot. The lower-class even went so far as to blacken their teeth with harsh chemicals similar to the Japanese tradition.

An Ammonia Face Wash Cleared Out More Than Pores

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In the 17th and 18th century, British women seemed to add every chemical they could find to their beauty routine. That included using ammonia-based face washes in the morning and at night. The harsh chemical was used to strip the face of imperfections including moles, scars, and freckles.

While it may seem crazy that women knew they were stripping their skin with harsh chemicals, that was all the rage at the time.

Lips Are Plumped To Death

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The modern day beauty trend of plump lips was taken to the extreme in 2015. The Kylie Jenner Challenge was a viral internet fad that involved people sucking on shot glasses to plump up their lips. While most of them ended up with no adverse side effects, many people who took on the challenge were left with bruising and even hospital visits.

One reality star went so far that his lips burst from being over-plumped!

Skinny Jeans Can Cut Off Your Blood Flow

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Skinny jeans became an early trend in the 2000s and don’t seem to be going away anytime soon. That being said, there are some dangers that come along with the fashion fad. There have been reports of people needing to be cut out of their skinny jeans because they’re too tight and cut off blood flow.

That’s because, in ultra-tight jeans, your arteries will not compress and can even lead to high vein pressure.

An Elaborate Scarf Cost One Woman Her Life

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Isadora Duncan was a scarf enthusiast who prided herself on her collection of long, flowing scarves. But one evening in 1927, her favorite accessory led to her death.

Duncan was riding in an open-top car when her long scarf became entangled in the spokes of the car’s rear wheels. The scarf was wrapped tightly around her neck and only tightened as the wheel kept spinning. It ended up breaking her neck and essentially decapitating her.

It Was Almost Impossible To Walk In Chopines

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In the 16th century, noblewomen were all about the chopines. Chopines were extreme platform shoes that were made mostly from wood and cork and often covered in leather, brocade, or jewel-embroidered velvet. If you’re wondering why these kicks look so extra, it’s because they were worn as a sign of social status. The higher your chopines, the greater your wealth.

It goes without saying that chopines made the wearer very unsteady on their feet. Some women even needed assistance when they went out and about while wearing them. We wonder how many broken ankles were a direct result of chopines?

Sky-High Heels

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Believe it or not, high heels actually started as a men’s fashion trend. In 1673, King Louis XIV introduced shoes with a bright red high heel, meanwhile, Persian soldiers were wearing them to help secure their feet in stirrups.

Today, high heels are largely associated with women’s fashion. And while many of us don’t consider these shoes to be dangerous, high heels have been responsible for their share injuries. Wearing shows with a high heel can cause permanent damage to the bones, nerves, joints, and tendons in the feet and legs.

Panniers Were the Dangerous Fashion 18th Century Women Loved to Wear

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“Pannier” is derived from the French word meaning “basket,” which is exactly what panniers made 18th-century women look like. Underneath layers of fabric, panniers expanded the width of skirts and dresses, sticking straight out on both sides of the waistline.

Panniers varied in size with the largest ones being saved for special occasions. The fashion accessory was mostly made of wood, metal, whalebone and, like most absurd trends, reflected the wearer’s social status. It goes without saying that panniers were uncomfortable but they also severely limited women’s mobility, making it a dangerous fashion choice.

Crakowes Were Considered Vain and Dangerous

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Crakowes were long shoes that were widely sported by men across Europe in the late 14th century. They were so popular that they’ve been referred to as the Nike of the Middle Ages. Named after Krákow, Poland, crakowes were six to 24 inches long and were a quick indicator of social status. Can you imagine walking in shoes that were two feet in length?!

Many times, chains were strung from the toe to the knee to allow easier walking, but the kicks were still dangerous to walk in. Crakowes were considered ridiculous, vain, and dangerous by many conservatives and church leaders, who called them “devil’s fingers.” We agree.

Flammable Fabrics Were All the Rage

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In the 18th century, flannelette was a popular fabric used to make nightshirts and undergarments as well as bedding and pillows. Made from vegetable fibers, the fabric was inexpensive to produce. Although it was soft, it was highly flammable.

In fact, if the wearer wasn’t careful, too much friction could cause the fabric to go up in flames. For those with flannelette bedding and pillows, they had to take extra precaution when they went to sleep.

Collars Were Made With a Flammable Material

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Celluloid was often used in men’s collars and shirt cuffs to make them look clean and starched even when they weren’t. The only caveat was that celluloid is highly flammable. What was supposed to be an easy-to-wear garment actually turned in a deadly fashion accessory that could set a man on fire.

In 1897, a ten-year-old boy’s collar caught fire. He had previous tied his shirt closed with a string after losing a button and couldn’t remove the garment quickly. He suffered significant burns on his neck and face.

Long Trains Carried Diseases

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For the better part of history, women were expected to wear long gowns to cover up their legs. To avoid risking showing off the ‘scandalous’ body part, women donned extra long trains. These drains dragged on the ground (which was largely unpaved), picking up pathogen-filled debris along the way.

Considering cholera and dysentery were a real threat back then, the disease-filled trains could do some damage. Sadly, maids were most at risk since they were the ones who had to wash them.

Faux Silk Was Hazardous to the Workers Who Made It

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Viscose, which was referred to as artificial silk when it was first produced in the early 1900s, looked beautiful and was inexpensive to manufacture. The only problem was thought it was dependent on the use of carbon bisulphide which was extremely toxic to humans.

Workers who were around viscose all day often suffered from delusions, dizziness, headaches, and later depression and Parkinson’s disease. Today, viscose is still widely used today and is touted as a sustainable alternative to cotton or polyester.

Bliauts Hindered Movement

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Bliaut or bliaud is a word from Old French and German origins, which in modern terms means “blouse.” Worn by European men and women during the 12th century, the most notable features on bliauts were their extremely long sleeves that may have looked dramatic but likely hindered any movement.

Bliauts were mostly made out of wool, but silk was also a known fabric. The exact origin isn’t known, but historians believe the bliaut made its way to Europe during the Crusades.