Freckles

Cosmetics, Drugs, Medicine

As we already know, the Victorians were obsessed with ghastly pale complexion which was supposed to give them a more aristocratic look. 👻 This also included stigmatization of freckles as they were associated with the working class and outdoor labor in general. In part, freckles were also seen as a health problem resulting from the overproduction of yellow bile by the liver. One of the ways to treat this ‘problem’ was to bring balance to the four humors, either by purging or bloodletting.

Those unwilling to lose their blood over freckles could purchase products which were supposed to “gently” get rid of freckles. However, even pharmacists at the time spoke against these products, as they often contained highly invasive and poisonous ingredients like arsenic or lead. And while the first results could have been promising (rashing and peeling skin would reveal some lighter skin beneath), long-term effect included permanent skin damage and heavy metal poisoning. ☠️

You may ask, “if they reeeally wanted to hide freckles, wouldn’t it be easier and safer to just put on some makeup?” Unfortunately color cosmetics fell out of favor at the time, when Queen Victoria deemed it vulgar and unfit for respectable ladies. 🙄

Check out this Sawbones episode for more weird historical “cures” for freckles!

Princess Sisi

Cosmetics, Famous Victorians

Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1837 – 1898), more commonly known as Sisi, was famous for her extraordinary beauty, lavish hair, and fashion sense. To live up to her own standards, she practiced elaborate beauty routines with the use of a variety of products. Some of these products contained surprisingly weird ingredients… 

This comic was inspired by a great Sawbones episode: Wrinkles.

Arsenic Routine

Cosmetics, Everyday Life, Medicine

Many Victorians wanted to have a very pale complexion which was supposed to give them a more aristocratic look. 👻 Because of that, companies started to add arsenic to various cosmetics, including soaps 🧼, lotions, 🧴 and powders . Arsenic was also advised, either in the form of wafers 🍬( e.g. Dr Rose’s Arsenic Complexion Wafers) or fluids 🥛 (e.g. Fowler’s Solution, also used as medicine).

There were known cases of death caused by such treatments, but it didn’t discourage many of the customers. ☠️

Interestingly, prolonged use of arsenic actually darkens the skin, which suggests that the producers might have skimped on the arsenic quantity in their products, thus making them a little bit less deadly.

You can find more crazy treatments from the past in a fascinating book: Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything.

Wax Noses

Cosmetics, Everyday Life, Medicine

The Edwardian Era brought a new craze in plastic surgery – paraffin wax injections.🕯 The promise of a perfect nose👃or chin quickly faded, when it turned out that wax could wander beneath the skin causing infections, blood clots, and even cancer. ☠️

For reference, I learned about upper class women fixing their wax noses in a great BBC documentary series Blood and Guts (there’s also a book available) 

Phossy Jaw

Cosmetics, Everyday Life

The harrowing conditions in match factories, including the use of highly poisonous ☠️ white phosphorus ☠️, were not a secret in the Victorian times. However, It was not until the matchgirls’ strike of 1888 🗣 that the situation started to get better.

Find out more about the matchmakers in “Striking a Light: The Bryant and May Matchwomen and their Place in History” (book fragments are available on Google books)