Medieval Alternatives to Beauty and Health

Liza examines medieval cosmetology and wellness.

Do you ever wonder what people from the dark ages used to keep a desirable appearance in such sparing, archaic times? Were they simply dirty and unattractive? Or did they use natural, unique remedies to improve their cleanliness and beauty? I’ve researched for weeks to find the answers, and in this article I will explain the most interesting gothic approaches to beauty and health. Stay tuned for an unforgettable exploration into historical cosmetology and wellness!

First, we will begin with dentistry. What did medieval people use to keep their teeth clean and white? A rough linen coated in plant-based pastes! Unlike our modern-day gentle toothbrush, they used an abrasive cloth soaked in popular herbs such as sage, salt crystals, charcoal, pepper, and even rock salt! Now, you may be wondering…what if they get a cavity? Well, due to lack of medical advancement, they’d have it pulled by a local barber without any anesthesia! However, with the increased sugar consumption and likelihood of tooth decay during those ages, many of the wealthier citizens would invest in dentures procured from animal bone.

Next, we will delve into personal cleanliness—specifically, bathing products such as soap, shampoo, and conditioner. While the poorer citizens would bathe in communal cold baths known as “stews,” the rich would bathe with hot water at home in a wooden barrel or personal lavatory. Though many believe medieval people did not use soap, medicinal and cosmetic manuals from the 16th century have proved this untrue. Common blends of soap included soda ash, raw honey, gourd/melon seeds, and various fragrances. Unlike bathing, hair washing was often an exclusively wealthy activity, though even the rich only partook in it a few times annually. When they did clean their hair, they would use a medley of egg whites, ashes, and vines as shampoo; however, their daily hair care routine included a thick powder that absorbed scalp oil. Conditioner was virtually nonexistent.

Lastly, we will examine medieval “beauty hacks,” or the gothic alternatives to modern-day makeup. First, women would use a poisonous blend of arsenic, lead ore, vinegar, carbonate, and mercury as their daily facial serum. While this may have allowed for a glowing white complexion, it also lead to madness, paralysis, and even death in severe cases. In addition, women would excessively pluck their eyebrows and tint their lips with beeswax and red-hued plant dye. Facial beauty was highly valued during these times, as smallpox ruined the appearance of many medieval women and men.

That’s all, Raptors! Thanks for tuning into my review of beauty and health techniques in the dark ages…I’m sure it made you very thankful to live in the twenty-first century!

Renaissance women went through a lot…”

— Hannah O