Deadly White

A woman without paint is like food without salt.

-Platus

belladonna

Poisons that led to tooth decay. Hair loss. Blindness. Madness. Addiction. Early death.

It sounds like the plot of a thriller.

But for centuries women have applied cosmetics full of toxins directly to their faces.

 

Women strove for the appearance of youth and innocence. Women in the Middle Ages bled themselves to achieve this. In Georgian times women used white powder that contained mercury, sometimes known at Venetian Ceruse. The powder hid age spots, freckles, or other blemishes. They had to be careful not to show too much emotion, or their faces might “crack.”

 

But prolonged use of mercury can lead to addiction. Women lost their teeth and hair. Their skin even blackened.

 

Another side effect to whitening one’s skin was the inability to blush. But it was desirable for women to blush, to show modesty. So women began applying vermillion to their cheeks and lips. Unfortunately, the vermillion also contained mercury, which made the tooth decay even worse.

 

The wide eyed, dewy look was also desirable. Women began dropping belladonna into their eyes in Renaissance Italy to dilate their eyes. Though it was called Belladonna for beautiful lady, it is also known as deadly nightshade and is a known poison. But prolonged use could lead to visual disturbances and eventually blindness. Some women even went mad.

 

To this day, belladonna is considered a top murder weapon for its effectiveness and its availability. It is easily hidden in the victims’ food or drink.

 

When the leaders of fashion began to lose their hair and teeth, it was suddenly considered beautiful to have high foreheads and gray locks.

 

For some women, the appearance of youth and loveliness was worth dying for. One renowned beauty died at age 27, poisoned by the cosmetics she used, but unable to stop using them.

 

As I wrote this I thought how lucky we are to be past these fashion expectations. But in the future will people look back on what we did for beauty, and be amazed at what we were willing to do?

 

It sounds like the plot of a good story.

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