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9 Phenomenally Stupid (And Fatal) Beauty Trends From Victorian England

Updated October 21, 2020 659.3k views9 items

The Victorian Era lasted throughout most of the 1800s. This period of time was known for its technological advancements and for its increased social mobility. And with that came new beauty trends that spread from Britain to the United States by word of mouth and publications aimed at women - some beauty trends that would never happen in today's world.

Not all of these trends were good - many of them had deadly consequences. Some deadly Victorian beauty trends included the use of what we now know are poisonous compounds that women placed on their eyes and skin. These deadly Victorian beauty fads did not stop at makeup, even clothing created hazardous conditions. One beauty trend has even been referred to as 'Consumptive Chic' because it romanticized tuberculosis. Until the Victorian era ended and new trends took over, women subjected themselves to these dangers every day - all to make themselves more attractive to the opposite sex. 

  • Corsets Impaired Breathing And Moved Around Vital Organs

    Photo: Madame Roxey Ann Caplin/Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

    The ideal Victorian woman had a curvy, hourglass figure. Of course, most women aren't built that way, so corsets were created to give the illusion of a very thin waist. When combined with the large hoop skirts of the era, an hourglass figure was created. The only problem was wearing a very tight corset for hours on end every single day could cause permanent deformities, shortness of breath, and even suffocation if the lungs couldn't get enough oxygen. 

  • They Ate Arsenic Complexion Wafers

    Photo: Andrea Cefalo / Andrea Cefalo Blog

    Purposely eating a wafer containing arsenic is unheard of in this day and age. No such thing would make it onto store shelves unless it was sold as rat poison. But, in the Victorian Era, before people realized such things were dangerous and prior to the Food and Drug Administration, things like arsenic wafers were sold and consumed by women who wanted pale, translucent skin. 

  • Mercury Was An Important Ingredient In Eye Paints

    Photo: John William Waterhouse / Bustle

    Women were supposed to call attention to their eyes, according to Victorian beauty trends. This was done by painting eyeliner and eye shadow onto their faces. However, these eye paints contained mercury, lead, and antimony oxide, all of which are dangerous to the body. Mercury, for example, can cause kidney damage, antimony oxide is a carcinogen. 

  • They Administered Nightshade Eye Drops

    Photo: Churchh/Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

    Nightshade is considered to be one of the most poisonous plants in the world. It also causes the pupils of the eyes to dilate, or become larger. Women during the Victorian Age believed that large pupils were more attractive, so they would place nightshade drops in their eyes before going out.