The Price of Beauty

Elizabeth I of England

Tuned in: Christina Aguilera, Beautiful

When you look in the mirror, what do you see?  Most likely you see the ‘faults’ rather than the wonder of two eyes that have seen a million images, places, and faces; a nose that has inhaled scents that often delight, and a brow that can wrinkle with joy.  For centuries people have sought ways to enhance nature’s special gift to us, our bodies.

Cleopatra of Egypt bathed in donkey’s milk, Mary Queen of Scots bathed in wine, Isabeau of France (12th century) bathed in asses’ milk followed by rubbing her skin with crocodile glands and the brains of boars. Marie Antoinette added to her bath sachets filled with almonds, pine nuts, linseed, lily and herbs, as well as drops of lavender and lemon essence.  George Sand bathed in cow’s milk with honey.

For thousands of years, women, and most notably Queen Elizabeth I, slowly poisoned themselves by wearing face makeup called ceruse, a mixture of egg, powdered eggshells, poppy seeds, white lead (a lethal ingredient), borax and alum.  Some historians believe Elizabeth began using ceruse after a bout with smallpox that left her scarred.  The white lead ate into Elizabeth’s skin so she had to apply more layers.  It most likely contributed to her thinning hair and premature death.

Women in the past also used rouge, which contained mercury and led to birth defects and miscarriages.  In ancient times, Romans admired pale faces enhanced by pink cheeks.  This was considered attractive because it signified health.  Some rouges derived from rose and poppy petals, red chalk and crocodile dung.  A more expensive blush came from red ochre ground into powder.  Despite a common knowledge that cinnabar and red lead were poisonous, they were used widely.

Kohl, an ingredient in eye makeup, was made from ashes and antimony (another toxic chemical).  Colored eye shadows were also used to accentuate the eyes.  Green eye shadow came from poisonous malachite, while blue came from azurite, a copper mineral.

Have we followed in the footsteps of our ancestors in modern times?  Today, many methods exist far beyond maintaining beautiful skin or enhancing our facial features.  The quest to preserve our youthful appearance has become an obsession and multi-billion dollar market.  Two common methods used are Botox injection and chemical peels.  Botox is a drug made from the toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. It’s the same toxin that causes a life threatening type of food poisoning called botulism. Chemical peels range from superficial and medium to deep peels.  Superficial peels use glycolic acid, medium peels trichloroacetic acid (TCA) and the deep peel uses a chemical called phenol.

Some of the known worst side effects from Botox are paralysis, seizures, severe muscle weakness, speech problems and migraines.  It is cited that the less invasive peels can cause scarring, while in some cases deep peels can lead to heart, liver and kidney failure.  What would our ancestors say?  Perhaps, whom do I call for an appointment?  In truth, I too have thought about it on more than one occasion as I gazed in the mirror and pulled back a wrinkle, or maybe two.

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About cinzia8

Published writer and teacher.
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5 Responses to The Price of Beauty

  1. Jamie says:

    I think I’ll stay away from the Botox… You don’t need it with your beautiful olive skin! Great post!

  2. Anita Cannella says:

    Hello, The article is very interesting. Thousands of years have past and we as women still are not happy with our Worth. As we love longer lives (80-90), how will we deal with our vanity while we have the gift of life.

  3. cinzia8 says:

    Thank you for the compliment, but a wrinkle is a persistent little cuss that navigates even through the nicest skin tone. Of course, you don’t have to think about this yet. Just be careful with the eyeshadow. LOL

  4. cinzia8 says:

    Anita, that’s a great question and difficult to answer. I’ve always wondered, why are we driven to enhance or change our natural selves?

  5. Collin says:

    Man let me just say, I am happy that I am not a woman and have to worry about that!

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