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21 Old-Timey Beauty Ingredients That Will Freak You Out

Beauty is pain.

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1. Ambergris (aka sperm whale intestinal goo): to stabilize perfumes and pharmaceuticals.

No one has seen whales excrete ambergris, but most scientists assume it's from their (ahem) back end. You'll never look at a bottle of Chanel No. 5 the same way.

2. X-Rays: to treat "superfluous hair."

Flickr: therahim / Creative Commons

While it may have gotten rid of unwanted hair, X-Ray hair-removal also led to dermatitis and other harmful side effects like cancerous growths. Nope.

4. Kohl (aka more lead): as eyeliner


Galena (the lead in kohl) was easily absorbed through thin ocular skin. Side effects of prolonged use would include: "irritability, insomnia and mental decrease." Sorry, Nefertiti.

But don't worry about any eyeliners you have lying around. According to Allure, kohl as a mineral isn't FDA-approved because of the lead content, so when you see "kohl" on a beauty product, it just refers to the color.

8. Deadly Nightshade (aka belladonna): to dilate pupils and brighten eyes.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The name "belladonna," which means "beautiful lady" comes from this dangerous beauty regimen. You may get Disney Princess Eyes, but you will also get visual impairment, sensitivity to light, and eventually death.

9. Radium: to cure wrinkles.

Flickr: mr_physics / Creative Commons

Well, you won't get wrinkles after you die young from radium poisoning. Some young women, called "Radium Girls," who worked with glow-in-the-dark radium, even painted it on their teeth and finger nails.

10. Lard: to hold elaborate 18th century updos in place. For weeks.

Columbia Pictures / Via

"My head is too itchy. Fetch my scratching stick!"

The lard used to keep enormous hairdos in place also lead to lice infestations (hence the scratching sticks). Some women even slept with cages around their heads to keep mice from nesting in it.

12. Cyanide: to dye hair black.

Paramount Pictures / Via

"Use a mixture of celeste water... with a solution of yellow cyanide. (Take great care in using this preparation; the cyanide is a terrible poison."

Thanks for the warning, guys.

14. Mouse skin: as fake eyebrows.

Ralph Earl / Via

With lead makeup causing facial hair loss, women resorted to attaching false eyebrows made of mouse fur to their faces. As a satirical poet wrote in 1718:

"On little things, as sages write,

Depends our human joy or sorrow;

If we don't catch a mouse to-night,

Alas! no eyebrows for to-morrow."

17. Urine: to freshen breath and whiten teeth.

Flickr: bstorage / Creative Commons

The Romans gargled with urine mouthwash. But not just any urine: they imported pee from Portugal because they thought it was stronger.

Even the wife of Emperor Lucius Verus (pictured above) looks pretty grossed out.

19. Orange juice: to brighten and clear eyes. / Via

According to 1858's The Arts of Beauty, squeezing orange juice into the eyes makes them more brilliant. Yes, "the operation is a little painful for a moment, but there is no doubt that it does cleanse the eye." When you feel the burn, you know it's working.

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