A Slightly Terrifying History of Facial Beauty Treatments—From Poison to Blood Injections

Everything you need to know about the history of skin services

By Taylor Stephan Oct 27, 2015 1:01 AMTags
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"There are no ugly women, only lazy ones," or at least that's what beauty business mogul Helena Rubinstein claimed.

Dating as far back as the Elizabethan era in Europe, women have gone to extreme measures to attain youthful-looking skin. With little science behind early skin care, initial attempts often did more harm than good. In the 1600s pale skin that was untouched by the rays of the sun signified wealth and power. To further the skin-whitening process, Queen Elizabeth and other members of the upper class used Ceruse, a poisonous mixture of white lead and vinegar. Even more extreme, some would draw their own blood to achieve that faint color.

At the turn of the century women were more focused than ever on youthful skin and various, new beauty products like Madame Rowley's toilet mask hit the market. An ad for the overnight beauty mask was "recommended to ladies for Beautifying, Bleaching, and Preserving the Complexion." It's not surprising how a mask that suffocated your face and encouraged perspiration while you sleep would fall out of favor.

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The universal preference for glowing skin continued to inspire new, resourceful treatments. Raw meat facials popped up abroad and with the discovery of radium, a number of cosmetics companies started putting the chemical into their products. One variation of the trend was Kemolite Radio-Active Beauty Plasma that was advertised as a volcanic clay mud treatment. Women of the time were booking salon appointments almost daily to get radium-infused masks that promised to restore smoothness and revive sallowness. As it turned out, the radium salts in the OG face mask were actually very harmful to the salon-goers health.

Sunbathers in the ‘30s were so anti-freckle that they would wear a freckle-proof cape to avoid sun damage. For the already freckle-afflicted, Italian physician Dr. M. Matarassoa invented a new spot removing procedure that used carbon monoxide to freeze off freckles with a sharp needle. Luckily, chemist Franz Greiter came along to invent sunscreen in 1946 leaving the prickly device behind.

With well-established beauty moguls Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden leading the industry, more salons began opening nationwide and ushered in a variety of new anti-aging treatments. For a perfectly flushed, youthful complexion, the glamour bonnet and other helmet-like structures came into fashion. Rosy cheeks were also sought after via electronic heated face masks, skin-tightening wraps and vacuums aimed at addressing issues like sagging skin, circulation and acne.

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With the advent of television homes in every household the idea of Hollywood beauty became attainable and everyday women were highly focused on their physical appearance. In addition to heading to day spas for seaweed baths, paraffin treatments and many other services that we still see on menus today, steam facials became the popular pick for achieving that long sought-after glowing healthy skin.

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Facials certainly have come a long way since the early days of poisonous serums and overnight torture devices. Today, celebs like Kim Kardashian, Jessica Alba and Victoria Beckham are no strangers to the latest and greatest of the industry. Kim has tried the vampire facial, which promises younger, firmer skin by using your own blood combined with Restylane or Juvederm. Victoria is said to be a fan of the bird poop facial that stems from Medieval Japanese geisha girls, while Jessica favors Hollywood's current favorite facial that enlists LED lights to penetrate the skin and reverse signs of aging.