History’s Deadliest Beauty Tricks!

The Horrible History of Beauty

Would it surprise you to know that someone holding a spot in your not-so-distant family tree more than likely bought and consumed a bottle or two of this?

Old Radithor water horrible beauty productsYep, that’s Radioactive Water

      In the early 1900’s Banning Radium Infused Products was actually one of the first campaigns for the newly formed FDA.

Chamber_of_Horrors_Radium FDA warning.jpg

It wasn’t careful use of the scientific process or triple-blind testing that put the fangs into the FDA’s argument either, it was actually a case of a mutilated socialite. Eben Byers was a Yale-educated athlete who won the US Amateur Golf Championship at age 26. Along with his good looks, the win made him a minor celebrity.

                                      Eban Byers Horrible History of Beauty Victim               eban golfing-Horrible History of Beauty Victim

Byers was, by most accounts, a healthy and vigorous guy when he visited his Ivy League-educated physician for ongoing pain in his arm. At age 47, he’d suffered an injury on the return trip from his annual Yale-Harvard alumna football game when he fell from his train berth.

It was 1927 and the debate about what actually constituted “medicine” was as frothy as it is today. Without enough scientific evidence on either side radium riddled products were big business– The higher the concentration, the better. Popular Science actually noted:

the Bailey Radium Laboratories of East Orange, New Jersey, offered $1,000 to anyone who could prove that its “Certified Radioactive Water,” sold under the brand name Radithor, did not contain the large amount of radium and thorium it claimed to.

Not one to do anything halfway, Eban Byers is estimated to have consumed about 1400 bottles of the “remedy” by 1930. That was the year that things went downhill in a hurry for Byers who was found to be riddled with cancer. After his death, The Wall Street Journal ran one of its biggest headlines of the decade, telling the story in a single line…

“The Radium Water Worked Fine until His Jaw Came Off”

eben byers Horrible History of Beauty Jaw Fell Off!!

 Ironically, “fraudulent” companies were being shut down at the time for selling harmless products claiming to contain radium!

Drifting back a little further through human history to the 1600’s you most likely know about the concept of “Blue-bloods”. A trend throughout Europe, beginning with the English aristocracy, that made extremely pale skin the height of beauty and social status. The goal was to go beyond pale to the point of translucency, those popping blue veins were considered ever-so sexy.

Lead white skin Horrible History of Beauty

Bloodletting with leeches was a favorite beauty treatment as was the age-old beauty favorite-Lead.

According to National Geographic:

Women in the Roman Empire used lead makeup to whiten their faces, and in the 16th century, English nobles did pretty much the same thing. One of the most famous figures to use lead makeup was Queen Elizabeth I, who used it to cover her smallpox scars.

Among the syptoms for this particularly horrible beauty mixture were skin discoloring, hair loss, and rotted teeth and eventual death.

egypt-Lead Eye Make-up Horrible History of Beauty

…And just so you don’t think lead-based beauty products were a European original, you may be interested to know that the Ancient Egyptians used lead-infused salts to create those famously hypnotic eyes. Given the 30-year average lifespan of the period, there are no records of actual medical consequences.

1800's beauy trend

By the Victorian era, though we knew arsenic was actually a deadly poison, it was still sold across Europe as a cure for skin imperfections. In fact, oral arsenic wafers were openly touted by advertisers in the US until at least the early 1940’s.

arsenic wafers Horrible History of Beauty


  The early 1900’s commercial age also gave us this bathing beauty 

skin saving mask.Horrible history of Beauty

 Along with a few other charming ideas
                             Horrible history of Beauty chin sculpter
So the next time you’re facing that overly trepidatious client remember- We’ve been fooled before!


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