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Beauty trends we could do without

Beauty and fashion horrors of past and present

Author: Charlotte Kuchinsky November 6 2010

Victorian corset

Beauty trends come and go over time, and while some are harmless others are more questionable - for example, who thought putting lead in makeup products would be a good idea? Let's take a look at some of history's most famous beauty trends with an eye toward uncovering which ones we believe should never be repeated. We'll begin with ancient Egypt.

Egyptians had a thing about hair. They thought it was a sign of being unclean, so they shaved their bodies in every conceivable place including the head. However, that meant they had to wear wigs if they were uncomfortable in their baldness. A lot of those wigs were not made with human hair; they used a variety of materials to create them including horsehair and sheep's wool as well as palm leaves, straw and vegetable fibers. Some of those trends weren't particularly healthy (let alone attractive), since bacteria could be transferred to the wearer. I think that's one beauty trend none of us would like to see repeated.

The Egyptians are also responsible for putting lead into makeup, using white lead as well as chalk to make face powders. Worse still, they used animal blood to tint their nails when henna wasn't available, neither trend looking particularly healthy in retrospect. While the latter didn't catch on in Europe, the former did, with white lead later often being used to make a white makeup paste for whitening the skin. The same look was also popular in the Orient.

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The Renaissance also gave birth to several questionable beauty trends. One was plucking the hairline in order to achieve a high forehead. Women also used a mixture of bleaching products that usually included sulfur to achieve the desirable blonde hair coloring, and spent hours in the sun to bleach out their hair. Thankfully we no longer do the former, but we're no cleverer about the latter today despite all we know about the dangers of the sun's rays.

Makeup of that era not only contained white lead, but also contained concentrations of mercury and arsenic - no wonder that women of that age were often fragile and unhealthy or died young.

The dreaded corset was also born out of the Renaissance era, although it really took hold during Victorian times. Unfortunately, the corset didn't die the natural death it should have. Instead, in subsequent eras women continued to fracture or even break their ribs in order to achieve that highly sought after 16" waist. The practice still has a moderate cult following today with the tiniest waist a mere 12". That's not only unhealthy but it really doesn't look good.

It is doubtful today's woman would be willing to haul around the extra 15 to 20 pounds of steel, petticoats and extra fabric that the women of the Victorian age did; in particular, it is hard to imagine those immense bell skirts that were anywhere from 10 to 20 yards around. Women of that era often suffered from back and knee problems associated with carrying all that extra weight.

Some women bound their breasts to achieve the flat-chested look that was so popular during this time. It was not only painful, but may have led to caused problems like inability to breast feed and even breast cancer.

The 1700's was the time when use of powdered wigs became most popular. While the rich could afford human hair wigs, the majority of people were forced to use those made from horsehair. By this time the making of the wigs was that people wore their wigs constantly, thereby giving their own hair little time to breathe. Plus, because they didn't show their real hair, many were lax in their grooming. That lead to many ugly and painful skin diseases as well as serious hair loss.

Not all of the really bad beauty trends were conceived in the past. Modern times provided its share of tortuous and dangerous trends as well, case in point - the stiletto. Most women have worn them at least once in their lives. Nothing does more for a well-turned leg than a high heel, but there is no denying that those beautiful shoes are the cause of many a back, knee, and foot problem.

Nonetheless, the high heel is one trend I don't think women will allow to become extinct. The real point is for them to keep pushing designers to come up with new and better ways to balance out the shoe, which would help reduce the negative impact stilettos can cause. Great strides are being made to do just that, so don't count the high heel out quite yet.

If there is one major modern trend that should never be repeated it is a look that began in the 60's and carried well into the 90's. It evolved from the carefree hippy look to the down and dirty grunge look. While people from those eras might cry "comfort" in their defense, there is simply no excuse for being unkempt or downright dirty. The "no bathing policy" that followed some - but not all - who participated in these styles caused a variety of health issues. The whole free love concept also increased the amount of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs); a trend that shows little sign of decreasing.

While I personally would love to see the thong abolished, the truth is that this trend remains strong, despite a number of studies that have shown a link between the thong and feminine health issues.

Last, but not least, is my vote for the trend that definitely should never be repeated. It's the fashion trend where both males and females wear pants that hang around or below mid hip. Hip huggers are one thing, they can be sexy when done properly. However, loose, baggy pants that defy gravity are simply appalling. I can't count the number of times I've been mooned because those pants didn't stay put. It's offensive at the very least, especially in front of small children.

There are cases to be made for the perma-death of many more trends like the leisure suit, the 5" wedges of the disco era, over-tanning, nails longer than the fingers they embrace and tattooed eyebrows, to name a few, but we'll save those for another time.

You could let us know what beauty trend you hope will never be repeated - add your comment below!

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