Radiant and clear skin with arsenic and lead
In the past, women with light skin, as pale as alabaster, were considered to be the most beautiful. They used a variety of products such as powders or concealers to hide blemishes, scars or other skin changes. Lead was often used as an ingredient in these cosmetics, and over time it was replaced by... arsenic. The use of such cosmetics led to severe abdominal pains, rapid greying of hair, and dry skin. What’s interesting, arsenic was used in the cosmetics industry virtually until the end of the nineteenth century.
A large forehead
In the Middle Ages, it was considered beautiful if a woman had a very high hairline. So what did ladies do in those times? It was popular to pluck your hair to have a higher hairline (sometimes even up to the middle of the head). Women also often got rid of their eyebrows to enhance the effect. Mixtures containing vinegar or burnt lime were used to avoid regrowth. This, of course, resulted in scars after such a treatment, and cosmetics with arsenic and lead were used to conceal them.
Beautifying Eye Drops
Belladonna extract was used as an addition to “beautifying" eye drops. These drops were used to dilate pupils, which gave the effect of a “deep" look. The eyes also became more glowing. Unfortunately, the use of such drops lead to hypersensitivity to light, and in the worst cases even to blindness or death.
Hair dyes with lead
Hair colouring was popular in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Though the dyes were often natural, e.g. saffron was an ingredient that gave the hair a reddish colour, harmful substances such as lead were used for colour fixation.