The Price of Beauty: Fatal Beauty Trends from History

Throughout history, people have gone to great lengths to achieve what they perceive as beauty. From ancient civilizations to modern times, beauty trends have evolved and sometimes taken dangerous turns. Sure, today’s beauty standards seem pretty excessive and unattainable too. However, the ones we’re talking about seem straight-up vile. So here are some of the most fatal beauty trends from history.

Foot Binding


One of the most notorious beauty trends in history is foot binding, which originated in China during the 10th century. Foot binding involved tightly wrapping the feet of young girls to prevent them from growing naturally. The desired result was small, delicate feet, which were considered a symbol of femininity and beauty. However, this practice caused excruciating pain, permanent deformity, and lifelong disabilities for those who underwent it.

Foot binding was not only physically painful but also had severe social implications. Women with bound feet were seen as more desirable for marriage, and those without bound feet faced social ostracism. The practice persisted for centuries, despite its harmful effects. It was finally banned in China in the early 20th century, but its effects still linger in the lives of those who endured it.

Lead-based Cosmetics

In ancient times, lead-based cosmetics were popular among both men and women. Lead-based products, such as white lead powder, were used to achieve a pale complexion, which was considered a sign of beauty and social status. However, the use of lead-based cosmetics had severe health consequences.

Lead is a toxic substance that can cause lead poisoning, leading to symptoms such as abdominal pain, muscle weakness, and even death. Despite the dangers, lead-based cosmetics remained in use until the early 20th century when their harmful effects were finally recognized. The discovery of safer alternatives and increased awareness of the dangers of lead led to a decline in its use in cosmetics.


During the Victorian era, corsets became a staple of women’s fashion. These tightly laced undergarments were worn to achieve an exaggerated hourglass figure, with a tiny waist and a pronounced bust and hips. However, the pursuit of this idealized silhouette came at a great cost.

Corsets constricted the internal organs, causing difficulty in breathing, digestive issues, and even displacement of the ribs. The pressure exerted by corsets on the body could lead to fainting spells and long-term health problems. No matter the health risks, corsets remained popular due to societal pressure. But also the desire to conform to beauty standards.

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Thankfully, the popularity of corsets waned in the early 20th century as women began to prioritize comfort and freedom of movement. The emergence of the women’s rights movement also played a significant role in challenging restrictive fashion trends and promoting body positivity.

Mercury-based Skin Whitening

In the 16th and 17th centuries, mercury-based skin whitening products gained popularity among the European elite. These products promised to lighten the skin and remove blemishes, but at a grave cost to health. Mercury is a highly toxic substance that can cause severe neurological damage, kidney failure, and even death.

Prolonged use of mercury-based skin whitening products led to devastating consequences for those who used them. Despite the known risks, the desire for fair skin and the societal pressure to conform to beauty standards drove many individuals to use these dangerous products. It was only in the 20th century that the dangers of mercury were fully understood, leading to the discontinuation of such products.

Kanita Bajrami

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