The Weirdest Makeup Ingredients Throughout History

Maybe she’s born with it.  Maybe it’s not what you’d expect.

I like to think I know a thing or two about makeup, but when it comes to makeup’s actual makeup — I’m pretty clueless.  Truthfully, the ingredients of our fave cosmetics can be kinda really weird.  And even though some of today’s makeup is still chock full of gross chemicals, it’s nothing compared to what girls before us have endured in the name of beauty.  Here’s what some of their makeup was made of:

Burnt Matches

Once upon a time in Ancient Egypt, liquid eyeliner pens weren’t exactly easy to come by.  So if a girl wanted to rock a killer cat eye, she turned to burnt matches for what may be the most dangerous approach to eyeliner on record.  Smokey eye, anyone?

Insect Blood

Yep, bug blood — that’s like that red lip classic thing that I hate.  Yet surprisingly (and kinda disgustingly), insect blood was Cleopatra’s secret to a perfectly rouged pout.  Deepest condolences to anyone she may have smooched.

Burnt Cork

You’ve gotta go to great lengths to give your eyelashes great length.  But rather than flicking a mascara wand across their lashes, the ladies of Ancient Rome often coated their eye fringe with burnt cork.  Try this out after your next Wine Wednesday! (But don’t actually).

Rat Poison

Beauty may not be skin deep, but keeping your skin healthy is extremely important.  That’s why American girls in the 1930s were super diligent about slathering on moisturizer.  Unfortunately, this was before the FDA was super diligent about regulating cosmetics, so their lotion actually contained rodent poison.  Oh, rats.

Fish Scales

Shine bright like a diamond fish scale?  It turns out lipsticks with a hint of shimmer have often included a couple ingredients from under the sea.  Actually, some makeup products on shelves today still contain fish scales — so swim at your own risk.


In the early 20th century, girls were battling to be the fairest of them all.  So when they wanted their complexions to look a little lighter, they slapped a ton of arsenic on their faces, as you do.  One of the few instances in history where looks could, quite literally, kill.

Oh, makeup of the past.  Beautiful?  I’m sure.  Easy & breezy?  Not so much.

Brenna McDonald

Brenna McDonald

Editorial Contributor, Fordham University Major: Communications & Media Studies Her heart belongs to: early mornings, window seats, & Sunday brunch Her guilty pleasures: re-watching Gossip Girl, collecting mascara, browsing lifestyle blogs, & having breakfast for dinner

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