Dangerous and Disgusting Georgian Beauty Practices

During England’s Georgian period, which is the time when a series of kings named George held the British throne (roughly 1714-1830), developed many interesting fashion and beauty practices. Some of them, such as wearing giant, powdered hairstyles like Marie Antoinette, would be considered merely silly by us today. But a few of the beauty treatments and fashion choices of the time were either deadly or just plain disgusting. Here are just a few of the things fashionable British women did in the era of Jane Austen.

i2.cdn.cnn.com
i2.cdn.cnn.com

Lice-Ridden Hairpieces

Contrary to popular belief, most of the crazy hairstyles we associate with this era in both Britain and France were not wigs. Powdered wigs were worn mainly by men. Women used their own hair to create these styles. Stylists would build wooden and wire frames on top of their clients’ heads, pad them with horsehair to fill in the gaps, and apply hair powder to the hair to give it that fashionable whitened color.

These styles were very expensive to create, so ladies often kept them in place for weeks at a time, sleeping on special headrests designed not to muss the hair. This obviously meant that hair would go long periods of time without being washed. Lice and other vermin often found its way into the elaborate hairstyles.

Instead of removing the hairpieces and trying to comb or wash out the lice, ladies carried scratching rods with them so they could alleviate the itchiness. There wasn’t much else they could do anyway, since there were no safe and effective pesticides for dealing with the creatures. The only known treatment for lice was mercury, which could kill, so just dealing with the itch was preferable.

Lead Makeup

Unlike today, sun-browned skin was highly unfashionable during the Georgian era. It was associated with poor people who had to work in the fields. White skin was highly prized, and women resorted to cosmetics to achieve porcelain whiteness.

The active ingredient in many of the available cosmetic creams was lead. Lead and other toxic materials, like mercury, were also present in the creams used to give lips and cheeks a red tint. Not only did this makeup cause illness and death in its users, it also eventually ruined the skin and caused hair and teeth to fall out, thereby destroying the beauty it had been used to create.

Oddly enough, poorer women were luckier than the rich in this aspect. They could not afford expensive lead-based cosmetics, and had to use flour to whiten their skin. Though not as fashionable, it spared them the painful deaths caused by the pricier creams.

Troublesome Teeth

 Hair and skin weren’t the only body parts expected to be white. A full set of white teeth were also required to be truly fashionable. With all the sugary treats available to the upper classes, not to mention the loss of teeth from using lead makeup, keeping a perfect white smile was a bit of a chore. Tooth powders made of cuttlefish bone and spirit of vitriol were used to whiten teeth. The problem with these is that spirit of vitriol was another term for sulphuric acid, which whitened the teeth by stripping off their enamel.

Many Georgian ladies had to have teeth removed, if they didn’t fall out on their own. To maintain their appearance, they would purchase false teeth. Some of these were made of materials like porcelain or ivory, but many came from corpses from the morgue or gathered from dead soldiers on various European battlefields. Often, these donor teeth would transmit infections and diseases to their new owners. If you were wealthy, you could pay a poor person for his or her teeth and hope they were not infected with any communicable diseases.

So, the next time you gaze admiringly at a painting of a beautiful Georgian lady, with her creamy skin and fashionably styled hair, you should keep in mind that you are looking at a carefully-constructed, and possibly deadly, façade.

Next Article
ADVERTISEMENT
  • The unstoppable Iron Mike

    If you thought Iron Man was indestructible wait until you hear about Michael Malloy or Mike The Durable as his friends liked to call him. Malloy was a firefighter who lives in New York City during the 1920s but by 1933 he was homeless and had fallen deep into the clutches of alcoholism. You see...

    Read More
  • You Want To Live Forever? Start By Getting A Dog.

    Next time you find yourself screaming at your dog in anger because the young puppy chewed up your shoes, tore down your curtains or ruined your sofa, do keep this in mind: Buddy may actually be adding years on your life! In Sweden, researchers followed over 3 million people over the age of forty for...

    Read More
  • The Town That Respectfully Maintained The Grave Of A Toilet

    General George Smith Patton was a highly decorated senior officer of the United States Army, he is best known for commanding the U.S Third Army during the Allied liberation of Normandy in June 1944. His military exploits are well noted and documented, in fact, he is seen as one of the greatest war generals to...

    Read More
  • New Evidence Shows Menopause Treatment Not a Cancer Risk

    An exciting major new study has found that taking hormone replacement therapy to counter the symptoms of menopause does not increase a woman’s risk of early death. Researchers in the early 2000s discovered a link between women taking HRT for over five years and a higher risk of cancer. It even detailed how patients could...

    Read More
  • The Mysterious tale of Lucky Lord Lucan

    Some claim it to be one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th Century and when you dive into the story it really just begs the question - what in the world happened to Lucky Lord Lucan? On November 7, 1974, Lord Richard John Bingham the Seventh Earl of Lucan murdered his wife’s nanny by...

    Read More
  • A French Noblewoman Who Became a Ferocious Pirate Legend

    During the height of the Hundred Years War between England and France, one French noblewoman became feared throughout France for her ferocious never-ending appetite for revenge. Jeanne de Clisson with the help of the English outfitted three warships and caused havoc to any French ships crossing the English channel. Some may say privateer but at...

    Read More
  • The Native American Who Saved the Pilgrims

    Many of us are familiar with the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving, but have you heard of Squanto, the Patuxet Native American from Cape Cod Bay that saved the Pilgrims from disease and disaster? Squanto was a young man when, in 1614, he was abducted by Spanish conquistadors. He was forcefully taken by ship back...

    Read More