Pictures of Beauty is Pain: The Most Extreme Beauty Rituals Throughout History and Bizarre Beauty Treatments

Pictures of Beauty is Pain: The Most Extreme Beauty Rituals Throughout History and Bizarre Beauty Treatments

We tend to think of the union of vanity and technology as a particularly modern affliction. It’s only recently that science brought the world botox and collagen injections, skin peels, liposuction, and breast implants. And thanks to the Internet world of photo-sharing and online gossip, the obsession with looks only gets amplified in the social-media echo chamber. Tales of plastic surgery spread like contagions online: Everything from a celebrity’s slight change in appearance to a disturbing fixation on perfection.

But the truth is, humans have long been pursuing this elusive quality known as “beauty” before the miracles of modern medicine. Inventors were always coming up with tools meant to help women—and men—achieve the wide-held physical ideals of their era. Eager test subjects would get hooked up to devices that looked like torture machines, or they would employ products that contained poison. You can be sure that, when it came to results, most of these people ended up disappointed. (collectorsweekly)



Padaung women of the Kayan people in modern-day Myanmar and Thailand have become famous for the practice of wearing neck rings. Young girls belonging to the ethnic minority start wearing the brass coils at around five years old. More rings are added as they grow older, until as many as 20 coils encircle the neck. The pressure from the rings pushes the clavicles down, giving the illusion of an elongated neck – considered beautiful by the Kayan people.


Foot-binding is a practice that was popular in Imperial China from the 10th century until it fell out of favour in the 20th century. Young girls’ feet were bound to inhibit growth, signifying status and desirability. Unfortunately for women in China at the time, the results were painfully deformed feet.


Made famous by Kim Kardashian, the vampire facial is a procedure where your blood is injected into your face with a needle called a Dermapen. It is said to boost collagen and elastin production.


In some cultures scars are seen as desirable. These women from the Hamar tribe in Ethiopia bear the scars of whipping they received as part of a ritual symbolising their passion.



Early Japanese geishas used these little presents from the sky in a powder that removed their heavy make-up and kept their skin soft and glowing. If you feel the urge to try this one, some high-end spas continue to offer the treatment.


Queen Elizabeth I used heavy white make-up to hide facial scars caused by smallpox in her youth. During this time, pale skin was considered a sign of beauty and high status. Women mixed carbonate, hydroxide and lead oxide and applied the powder to the face and décolletage to achieve the look, which proved terrible for their health.

Another strange technique used to appear paler was attaching leeches to the ears in order to have the blood drained from the face.


Ancient Greeks and Romans believed crocodile dung had age-defying properties for the skin, using it in warm mud baths, and anti-aging face masks. Cleopatra also used the strange ingredient for facial treatments. If that wasn’t strange enough, crocodile dung was also used by Ancient Egyptian women as a contraceptive.


Once upon a time Italian women used eye drops made from the deadly nightshade plant to make their eyes appear bigger and brighter. The poison dilates the pupils and makes eyes look large and attractive, earning the plant the name “Bella Donna” or “Beautiful Lady”. However prolonged use of the poison could result in blindness.

Want to make your pupils look beautiful and enormous, like a drug addict hit on the head with a spanner? Belladonna, or deadly nightshade (that is clearly a name that indicates it’s not meant for fun and games), was used by the Greeks as an eye-drop to make the pupils expand and look seductive. Atropine eyedrops are still used today, but in small doses, because too much can make you go blind.





Circa 1890, the “Harness Magnetic Corset” promised to make “the most awkward figure become graceful and elegant,” while strengthening internal organs. X-rays of 19th century women reveal displaced ribs and other internal traumas cause by the undergarments. Yet, even today, the corset trend lives on.

harness corset



Both the ancient Egyptian and Elizabethan women used crushed up bugs to achieve the perfect red pout. Egyptians also used rust, red clay, iodine, seaweed, henna, and bromine mannite for lipstick, but bugs turned out to be the safer option as bromine mannite is poisonous.


The traditional technique is said to erase wrinkles, shrink pores, and tighten the skin without surgery, instead using slapping, kneading and massaging of the area.

Rassameesaitarn ‘Tata’ Wongsirodkul, who was trained in Thailand, says she is the first face-slapping beauty therapist in the western hemisphere, and charges $350 for each 15 minute session at her San Francisco salon.

“This has been around for more than 100 years,” Mawin Sombuntham, co owner of Tata Massage in San Francisco, said. “The reason why there are so few people who can do this is because [Tata’s] teacher is very selective in choosing who to teach this technique to. She is only going to accept 10 students of face-slapping in her lifetime.”

Dr. Matthew Schulman, a plastic surgeon in New York City, says there’s truth to Sombuntham’s claims. Slapping the face will dilate blood vessels and increase blood flow to the area, which can remove free radicals and toxins, helping to stimulate collagen and improve skin quality, he explained to the Daily News.

Still, it won’t compare to going under the knife.

“While I do not see face slapping as replacing more invasive cosmetic procedures such as face lifts and neck lifts, it may be an alternative way to promote healthy skin,” Schulman said.


The procedure – In everyday life, you usually try to avoid fire, but in China they are actively seeking it with this increasingly popular beauty treatment. As part of a practice known as Huo Liao, an alcohol-soaked towel and special ‘elixir’ is placed over the problem area, such as the face, legs, or back, and then lit on fire. After a few seconds, it is quickly extinguished before the heat becomes unbearable. Experts believe it helps with dry skin and can even cure the common cold.

There is no orthodox medical evidence that it is effective, a fact that matters little to one of China’s most prominent fire therapists.

Why? – Claim can  cure stress, indigestion, infertility and even cancer, and  stimulate the skin and reduce dullness, sagging and wrinkles, has been used for hundreds of years and recently garnered a blaze of attention in Chinese media.

Risks – Serious burns, hyperpigmentation and singed hair.

The practice is based on Chinese folk beliefs that health depends on maintaining a balance of “hot” and “cold” elements within the body. “We start a fire on top of the body, which gets rid of cold inside the body,” said Zhang, who claims to have lit blazes on foreign diplomats and senior Chinese officials.

“It feels warm, not painful, just warm,” said the 47-year-old, who recently suffered a brain haemorrhage that affected his memory and mobility. “I think it’s effective.”

“There have been injuries, patients have been burned on their faces and bodies, because of a lack of standards,” said Zhang. “I have taught tens of thousands of students, and we have never seen an accident.”

So far the practice has received little attention from medical journals, but the theory behind it bears some relation to the Chinese medicinal practice of “cupping”, where a flame burns away the oxygen inside a receptacle to create pressure on parts of a patient’s body.

Several long-term studies of that supposed therapy have found little evidence of any effectiveness.

Zhang has received some recognition from publications covering “traditional Chinese medicine”, which is widely available in the country’s hospitals.

The industry is lucrative, producing goods worth 516 billion yuan ($84 billion) in 2012, according to official statistics.

Looking out from behind his patient’s burning back, Zhang recited a poem.

“A fire dragon has come to earth/a mysterious therapy has its birth,” he said, as flames jumped below his chin.

“Medicine needs a revolution, fire therapy for the world is the solution.” – AFP


The procedure – There has been widespread criticism of the beauty industry in countries like India, Thailand and China, as the majority of cosmetic products claim to achieve a whiter complexion. Some creams have reportedly contained the EU-banned substance hydroquinone and mercury levels between 9,000 and 65,000 times the recommended dose.

Why? – To achieve a more Western-looking complexion.

Risks  – The presence of hydroquinone can cause horrible irritation to the skin, and has also been linked with skin conditions like ochronosis. Skin can also become susceptible to photosensitivity, while mercury can instead increase pigmentation and lead to itchy rashes.


Carboxytherapy is injecting carbon dioxide gas under the skin. The basic concept is that the body doesn’t want CO2 in it, so when it is injected under the skin, the brain senses that somewhere in the body there is a deficit in oxygen, and responds by immediately sending a rush of blood to that area, rich not only in oxygen, but all the goodness that comes along with blood, that aid in wound healing and tissue regeneration.

The idea originates in France back in the 1930’s, when it was found that bathing in CO2 rich waters (naturally occurring spas) promoted wound and ulcer healing. In 2002 a study showed that in 80% of patients with critical lower limb ischemia, by bathing in CO2 rich water twice a day for ten minutes, doctors were able to salvage their legs, which were ulcerated and even gangrenous.

Many are drawn to the concept of carboxytherapy as it is considered natural, after all carbon dioxide is found in our bodies anyway, and it won’t be sticking around for long. It’s non allergenic and non toxic in low concentrations. Carbon dioxide has been used for a long time for injecting inside the abdominal cavity during laparoscopic surgeries, as a safe way to expand the abdominal cavity for better visualization and easier access. Even if a blood vessel is nicked during carboxytherapy it is still safe, as CO2 would not cause an air embolism at such low doses, and it is actually injected in the blood stream in certain heart procedures.

Why? – To fade stretch marks, scars and even melt fat.

Risks – Some find the sensation of gas bubbling under the skin unpleasant, while others have experienced unbearable pain. Slight bruising is also possible.

Tiny needle – not very uncomfortable, and many who did not like it felt it was still worth the discomfort!


Red ochre and yellow ochre (pronounced /‘əʊk.ə/, from the Greek ὄχρος, yellow) are pigments made from naturally tinted clay. It has been used worldwide since prehistoric times. Chemically, it is hydrated iron (III) oxide.

Ochres are non-toxic, and can be used to make an oil paint that dries quickly and covers surfaces thoroughly. Many people believe that the best ochre comes from the area of Roussillon, France.

To manufacture ground ochre, ochre clay is first mined from the ground. It is then washed in order to separate sand from ochre, which can be done by hand. The remaining ochre is then dried in the sun and sometimes burned to enhance the natural colour.

Himba woman covered with a traditional ochre pigment

Egyptian women often used this natural pigment as lipstick and cheek stain. The ochre was ground finely and mixed with water then applied with a brush to the lips and face.

15. KOHL 

In its simplest form, kohl is a fine black or dark grey powder. In the past, better quality kohl was made by grinding up galena (lead sulphide) or stibnite (antimony sulphide) – both of which are poisons – but it could also made from carbon black or iron oxide – which are harmless. Kohl is therefore a chemically diverse material, defined more by its colour and use than by its composition. In Europe, this diversity was magnified by the tendency to call any black eyebrow or eyelash cosmetic a kohl, even those made from materials such as ink – a situation that lasted well up to the Second World War.

Ancient Egyptians had a very distinct form of makeup. What we know today as eyeliner was created by the Egyptians not as a cosmetic form but as protection. It was made mainly out of kohl and fought off bacteria around the eyes. It also reflected sun rays.

1976 ‘Kohl’ eye make-up affect being achieved with eyeliner, mascara and smudging kohl powder around the eye. “For daytime, use green or blue kohl. Draw a pencil line close to the lashes all around the eye. Smudge this line, especially at the outer edges. It must not look like eyeliner. Now colour the eyelid with kohl powder and smudge it upward towards the eyebrow. Let it fade out toward the brow. Bring the powder around the outer corners of the eye and along the lower lid a fraction. Now use masses of mascara.
For night time, use black kohl. Draw a pencil line around the eye to outline. Smudge the powder along the eyelid and upward toward the brow. Using a pencil again, draw a line along the inside rim of the upper and lower lids. Fade the whole shape out toward the outer eye corner to make a long eye. (Australian Women’s Weekly, 1976)


A modern day application of kohl on a man using the traditional technique. The kohl stick would be dipped in powder before being dragged across the waterline of the eye.

Applying kohl


In 1936, Isabella Gilbert of Rochester, New York developed a “machine” to create dimples. In order to create the desired indentations, this device was worn over the cheeks while two knobs press into the cheeks. According to the advertisement, after continual use, the device “soon make a fine set of dimples.” The American Medical Association argued that the “Dimple Maker” would not make dimples or even enlarge original dimples. They also stated that prolonged use of the devise may actually cause cancer.

Not only is the “Dimple Maker” an unfortunate invention, but it also sounds (and looks) like it would hurt!

In 1936, Isabella Gilbert of Rochester, NY developed a machine to create dimples. In order to create the desired indentations, this device was worn over the cheeks while two knobs press into the cheeks. According to the advertisement, after continual use, the device soon make a fine set of dimples. The American Medical Association argued that the Dimple Maker would not make dimples and that prolonged use of the devise may actually cause cancer. (History By Zim)

The Dimple Machine shown in an advertisement on the left while a women poses with the face device in the right photo. Photo Credit: Modern Mechanix/The Babble


“You have a beautiful face… But your nose?” If you were alive in the early 20th century and you didn’t like your nose, the good news is that you didn’t have to resort to expensive, painful rhinoplasty. The bad news is that your other option involved this painful-looking and unsightly Trados Nose-Shaper. Model 22 was pretty popular in 1918, if the number of ads is any indication, but “Face Specialist” M. Trilety didn’t stop there. By 1928, Trilety was a “Pioneering Noseshaping Specialist” who offered quick, painless and permanent nose correction with Model 25:


Icall debuted the wireless perm machine in 1934, which was unplugged before the curlers were attached to the head. From “Permanent Waving: The Golden Years” by Louis Calvete.

Icall debuted the wireless perm machine in 1934, which was unplugged before the curlers were attached to the head. From "Permanent Waving: The Golden Years" by Louis Calvete.


With the burgeoning movie industry, unbelievably beautiful Hollywood stars became larger than life in the 1930s. So it’s not surprising their flawless close-up mugs became a national obsession. What is it that makes them so comely? Can it be measured, analyzed, and re-created at home? Chemist, cosmetician, and wig-maker Max Factor led the charge with this frightening looking device from 1933. While the Beauty Micrometer looks like something out of a “Hellraiser” nightmare, apparently it was pretty innocuous: It measured your face and head to determine where you should apply blush, shadow, and highlights to the greatest effect.

Max Factor (left) and his assistants analyze a woman's face in 1933. Via

Max Factor (left) and his assistants analyze a woman’s face in 1933. Via

No collection of crazy-looking beauty contraptions would be complete without a nod to Maksymilian Faktorowicz, purveyor of fine cosmetics since he opened up shop as Max Factor in 1909. In addition to his excellent lipstick and eyeliners, Factor is also famous for developing the Beauty Micrometer in 1932, an instrument designed to detect a woman’s facial flaws so they can be corrected with makeup “by an experienced operator” before filming. The ad describes it as looking like a baseball mask, but that’s only because Hellraiser hadn’t been filmed yet.



Naturally, innovators got to work developing products to protect and restore precious, youthful skin. In 1889, Margaret Kroesen grew concerned that her daughter Alice, a concert pianist, was developing frown lines—and that those damning wrinkles could hurt her stage career. According to the company’s site, the elder Kroesen came up with a product called Wrinkle Eradicators (now known as Frownies), which consists of unbleached paper strips backed with a vegetable-based adhesive.

The 1941 Glamour Bonnet was supposed to improve your complexion by reducing the air pressure around your face. Via

The 1941 Glamour Bonnet was supposed to improve your complexion by reducing the air pressure around your face. Via


While today we are told to embrace our freckles, women were pretty adamant about getting rid of them in the 1930s. It was popular to freeze freckles off with nitrogen. Eyes were covered with airtight plugs and nostrils were blocked, leaving the ‘patient’ to breathe through a tube.


Seriously, how thankful are we for the convenience of curling tongs? Women would spend hours having sections of hair set to get the tightly-wound curls that were then so popular.


Slenderising salons’ in the Forties had all manner of weight-loss treatments, from full-body wraps to chairs which massaged your legs with metal rollers.

These leg rollers were used to break down fat cells in the legs, resulting in slimming. Apart from the much more forgiving and pleasant slimming treatments available today, nothing has changed.


We should be thankful that nowadays we can get our sun protection in the form of lotions and potions – not a hideous cape like this one!

Before sun cream, bathers found other means of covering up. In the Forties, the Freckleproof Cape offered protection from the sun, plus built-in sunglasses.


Plotting a murder? No, just trying to get rid of some fine lines and wrinkles. We prefer the creams and treatments of today, thank you very much.


This spooky headdress was launched in the 1940s. It could be plugged in and switched on to heat the face, stimulating circulation, which helped in giving skin a fresh look.


This Max Factor face pack was studded with plastic ‘ice’ cubes which could be filled with water before the mask was popped in the freezer. Hangover Heaven was popular with party-going Forties Hollywood stars


Got a chronic case of “turkey neck?” Strap on Professor Mack’s “Chin Reducer and Beautifier” and strangle that double chin right out of existence!

curves of youth


Hungry all the time? Lend your digestive system to a tapeworm in need! TheTapeworm Diet was first advertised in the early 1900s as a way to lose weight, while still eating to your heart’s content. Don’t let that tempt you: the Tapeworm Diet comes with serious health risks, like meningitis and epilepsy. It’s now banned in the U.S.

One of the creepiest beauty tricks ever – women in Edwardian England would swallow pills containing sanitised tapeworm larvae to stay thin. The tapeworms would eat most of the food and nutrients the women ate before having to be removed in a very unpleasant way.

beauty ads

The only problem was that tapeworms can also lay eggs and while one tapeworm may not be a problem, a bunch of eggs definitely are.


Are your stilettos way too uncomfortable, or do you just have way too many toes? Some women think the latter, and they’re undergoing “stiletto surgery” to shorten or remove a toe or two. All the better to strut your stuff — after the recovery period, of course. Experts warn against reshaping your foot to fit your highest of heels. After all, buying a sweet pair of comfy kicks is way less expensive.

womens toes


In the 18th century women often sported enormous, decorative wigs that were secured with lard. Women would wear these wigs for months, even though they’d often become infested with rats and lice.

18th century woman painting

The Church of England broke away from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century and many changes occurred in society. Law and restrictions on wigs were lifted and both men and women wore big, bouffant and elaborate hair pieces.

During the 18th century women often wore wigs that were over one metre high and lavishly decorated with fruit, birds and even ships. They would don the same hair piece for months and each creation would be matted with lard to stop it falling apart. Unfortunately, however, the wigs often attracted insects and at one point caused embarrassing lice infestation amongst the upper classes. Nice!


Sing operatically while wearing this mask for just five minutes a day to reduce wrinkles and terrify your neighbors. It supposedly “stretches and tightens the face and cheeks,” thereby “kneading out wrinkles, lines and sag.” Available online from the Japan Trend Shop.

face slimming


Your facialist is a human? How quaint! Apparently, Siberian beauty mavens believe that snail slime is the secret to pretty skin. If letting a family of snails crawl all over your face grosses you out, the sheep-placenta facial is always an alternative.



To give their hair golden highlights, Venetian ladies applied lion urine to their heads before sitting out in the sun. Not sure if blondes had more fun back then.

34. pumice stones

In ancient Babylonia, rough pumice stones were used to sand off pesky facial hair, taking exfoliation to a whole new level.

Pumice stones

This type of body modification was to help women attract a husband. It was seen as very sexual and attractive. Women were seen more as objects within these tribes.  


Skull binding was done by tribes such as The Mangbetu tribe who binded babies skulls with winds of material to elongate them. This was a sign of having more knowledge.


Short hair was all the rage in the Twenties, but even a bob needs a good blowout. The first portable handheld hairdryer was invented in 1920, but that didn’t stop some intrepid soul from building this massive industrial-strength version sometime soon after. Given that it stands on six legs and appears to be rather heavy, we can probably assume that this model didn’t grab much of the hairdryer market.



Targeted vibration worked so well for hysteria that it was soon prescribed for curing everything from cellulite to cankles.


Following soon after, a “multiple electric vibrator” for the scalp hit the market, promising to stimulate circulation in the “scalp and brain cells” in addition to removing dandruff and loose hair. The 480 vibrating pins were euphemistically called “artificial fingers,” probably because they look sort of terrifying.



Remember Linda Evans’ Rejuvenique mask? This was its grandma. In 1933, Dr. Joseph Brueck introduced “an electric face moulding mask” that contained a “battery of heating coils” to warm the face and melt away wrinkles and lines. If that seems uncomfortable and claustrophobic, no worries: “While milady is being made beautiful, she breathes through a tube set between the lips of the mask, and views the world through eyes cut where eyes should be.”



You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who can tell you how magnets work, but one thing is for certain: they can cure just about anything. OK, it’s not true, but no one mentioned that to Thomson, Langdon & Co., manufacturers of the Wilsonia Magnetic Corset, which advertised itself as both a remedy for indigestion, paralysis and nervousness and the key to a teensy tiny waist.



When it comes to hairstyles, the fashion consensus about what kind of hair is most lovely has swung wildly between curly and straight. That’s why you have women wrapping their hair in Coke cans one decade, and then flattening their locks with clothing irons the next.

Women weren’t the only ones to benefit from high-tech beauty aids in the early 1900s. A slew of baldness-reversing devices flooded the market, all promising improved hair growth and slower hair loss. One such instrument was Merke Institutes’ Thermocap, which was meant to stimulate dormant hair with heat and blue lights.



There’s really no difference between cheek piercings and dimple piercings. Some people call them one thing, some the other. If you don’t have natural dimples, properly-placed cheek piercings can give the illusion that you do, which is why cheek piercings are also known as dimple piercings. If you do have natural dimples and piercing them won’t negatively impact your parotid ducts, then your piercer will likely suggest placing your cheek piercings in the indentation of your dimples.

Dimple Piercing Pictures

Is there any risk in getting my cheeks pierced?

A. If you want to get your cheeks pierced, it’s important to find a professional piercer who has experience doing dimple piercings. The reason is that an improperly-placed cheek piercing can damage your parotid duct, which plays an important role in saliva creation. If either or both of your parotid ducts are injured when you have your cheeks pierced, the damage will be permanent. It will leave you susceptible to infection, and infections anywhere in the head are very serious because of the close proximity to your brain. Piercing through the parotid duct can also cause saliva to constantly stream down the outside of your cheek. The only way to address that issue is to have the tissue cauterized, but again, the parotid duct cannot be fully repaired once it’s been damaged. This is NOT a piercing you should have done unless your piercer comes highly recommended, s/he has successfully performed cheek piercings in the past, and his or her portfolio includes dimple piercing pictures (preferably ones of healed dimple piercings).

Bioflex BarbellsAfter getting your cheeks pierced, there’s also a small risk of damage to your teeth. You have to be careful not to bite down on the barbells, particularly when you’re wearing extra-long barbells and your cheeks are swollen during the healing process. If that becomes an issue for you, or you want to prevent damage to your teeth, you can ask for soft BioFlex (PTFE) barbells as your starter cheek piercing jewelry.


Incredibly extravagant wigs were worn by wealthy Ancient Egyptians of both sexes. The hair pieces would be extremely ornate and would be decorated with beads, ribbons, hair bands, tiaras, tassels and even flowers. The wigs were often made from human hair which was sometimes supplemented by plant fibres or sheep’s wool. They would take hours to make and were available in dark as well as blonde shades.

A little fascinating fact: Egyptians were obsessed by hygiene and often shaved and plucked every hair off their body to protect them from lice. They would rub scented oils onto their heads (or natural hair if they still had it) and walk around smelling as good as possible all day.


Judges and barrister in Britain have worn elaborate head gear in courts for hundreds of years including flat bonnets and caps. It is thought that wigs were introduced around 1680 and were originally made from powdered white or grey hair. In 1822 a man called Humphrey Ravenscroft invented a legal wig made of whitish-grey horsehair which did not need frizzing, curling, perfuming or powdering. It is thought that judges initially began to wear wigs as a form of disguise; however, today they have become part of practice and tradition.


After 1915, x-rays became a fairly popular as a means of hair removal. The only downside was that it also caused skin lesion, ulcers, and cancer.


 Queen Elizabeth’s famous red hair wasn’t exactly pain-free. In the absence of henna, her red locks came about through a combination of lead (hello again), quicklime, sulphur, and water. Apparently this smelled acrid and was, unsurprisingly, poisonous.  


If you were in Mesopotamia in around 3000 BC and wanted some lip plumping, you’d have to call on what was around: bromine mannite (a highly poisonous substance), henna, seaweed, iodine, red clay, and iron oxide, otherwise known as rust. As least it’s not as disgusting as Cleopatra’s reported recipe, which comprised ants, beetle’s blood, and beeswax.



Hundred-year-old woman grows horn in forehead . The horn began growing on the left side of the forehead of Zhang Ruifang last year. Now it measures 5-6 centimeters long but the elderly woman feels no pain in the horn.










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