Every once in a while we discover a blog that’s so delightful that we just HAVE to share it with our Beauty Brains community. Today we’re highlighting Bonnie Downing’s Peculiar Beauty, an insightful and hilarious blog that dispenses vintage beauty advice, especially by glamorous but wacky celebrities. Here’s a guest post from Bonnie that will give you a good taste of what her blog is all about.
The dangerous side of glamor fascinates me. Earlier this week, I wrote about Death by Shampoo on my blog Peculiar Beauty. Beauty Brains readers often write in concerned about toxic chemicals in cosmetic products. The Brains have responded to alarm more than once over mercury and lead finding their way into mascara and lipstick. Did you know both were once lauded as beauty-promoting ingredients?
Corrosive sublimate (mercury) was long valued as a complexion whitener. A turn of the century lotion recipe adds egg yolk and rose water to mitigate the drying effect. The fashionably pale ladies weren’t entirely carefree; there was one important warning for use from the author of this recipe:
“No preparations containing mercury should be allowed to come into contact with any rings or other ornaments, as it corrodes the metal and loosens the setting of the stones.”
– Cora Brown Potter, The Secrets of Beauty and Mysteries of Health (1908)
Lead also lent opacity to white powders and creams used by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Style dictated that this makeup be plastered thickly onto the face. The sad truth is that the skin under all that white was often lacerated and and terribly inflamed. In pre-Victorian London, colored lead paint was applied in the salon and meant to last for months. If you lived that long; lead exposure causes (among many decidedly un-pretty side effects) muscle paralysis and death.
That era was truly a heyday of deadly glamour. Sophisticated women swallowed tiny arsenic pills, custom-ordered at the apothecary, to put a lively spark in their eyes and a glow in their cheeks. Still looking tired? Belladonna was popular in eye drops. This is based on solid science: the Deadly Nightshade dilated pupils. Dilation is a sign of arousal and, has since been proven to attract the opposite sex.
The Brains have also discussed the controversy over aluminum in antiperspirants. The flappers had no problem working around that issue; they chose to simply embalm themselves (after all, the dead don’t sweat):
” The following lotion may be used three times a week, or less often for checking excessive underarm perspiration after the parts have been bathed with salt water and dried: Mix one-half ounce formaldehyde with one pint water and apply to armpits.”
–Lois Leeds, Beauty and Health (1927)
Not to worry if none of these rather exotic potions were handy, common household poisons would do in a pinch. Dark circles?
“Bathe frequently with cold water and use friction. A little turpentine liniment may be rubbed into the skin daily, or weak ammonia– one part to four parts water– care being taken to let neither get into the eyes.”
–William A. Woodbury,
Beauty Culture (1910)
Aren’t you glad this is all behind us? With the advanced beauty science that now guides us, what could possibly go wrong? To those who are now feeling quite modern and wise, I have but a word: Botox.
If you like the Peculiar Beauty blog, then you’ll love the Peculiar Beauty book!
What do YOU think? Are you fascinated by the wacky cosmetics practices of yester-year? Leave a comment.