10 Odd Beauty Inventions Women Had to Use in the Past

Women were once forced to go to more ridiculous and often times even dangerous lengths than they do today to make themselves presentable.

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Putting on our all-seeing, judgemental hindsight helmets, it can safely be said fashion expectations have played a cruel role over the past 100 years in the extremes to which women are driven to stand out on the physical appearance front. We know – the argument can easily be made that not much has changed today compared to the early-to-mid 20th century, but can anyone in more recent history claim they’ve been coerced into wearing a device over their head that promises to change the atmospheric pressure around their face to stimulate circulation? We didn’t think so.

At the same time women were wearing ridiculously over-sized hats with stuffed birds adorning (or should we say nesting?) on them, they were also strapping on uncomfortable masks to help re-shape their noses. If a woman really wanted to take things to the next level she could also try out the Dimple Maker, which made its debut in 1936. How could forcing bolts into your cheeks several times a day be bad for you, right? It took the American Medical Association 10 years before it declared the Dimple Maker to be dangerous and basically useless. Unless you wanted cancer – the one thing the AMA said the Dimple Maker might be good for.

Although we’ve all heard the phrase, “beauty is only skin deep,” some early beauty inventions could fry, freeze, and poke women’s skin, all for the sake of perfecting an image.

Weird beauty inventions from the past include an ice cube mask that was said to heal hangovers, a vacuum helmet that “aided” with complexion, and even a dimple maker that was supposed to poke dimples into cheeks. It’s fascinating to venture back in time and view odd beauty devices that women willingly used – even though some of these wacky inventions should have appeared in a torture chamber.

Taking extreme measures to achieve beauty is nothing new. Take the Ancient Egyptians, who in addition to utilizing natural beauty remedies like ochre and mud, also used eye makeup made out of metals that caused insomnia and mental disorders. Or the Ancient Romans who thought painting themselves pale with a lead mixture that caused infertility and skin issues was scholarly and attractive. And remember foot binding that originated in Imperial China? Women would painfully wrap up their feet to shrink them all for the sake of “beauty” and to display status.

Fast forward to the 1920s, 30s, and 40s which were equally unkind. Apparently, during these decades, there was no fear of risking pain to attain beauty. Not only that, but these beauty inventions looked incredibly odd, and are difficult for our elders to explain to their grandkids.

These strange gadgets will trick you into thinking that you are viewing a horror movie nightmare, when in reality, they were beauty treatments found in salons. There’s no question that these ten odd beauty inventions women had to use in the past will scare your socks off.

1. Freckle Freeze


Want to look like a robotic zombie? Then try the Freckle Freeze. Invented by Italian physicist Dr. Matarasso, this freaky technique involved metal rods that protected women’s eyes and a breathing tube so women wouldn’t inhale carbon dioxide. This wacky invention used dry ice to freeze off freckles one by one. Ouch, you’re probably running for the closet.

Dry ice, the solid form of carbon dioxide (that also keeps your steak frozen in the mail) maintains a temperature of -109 degrees and burns your skin after prolonged exposure after it solidifies your skin’s tissue. . . Lovely.

But this didn’t stop women of the 1930s from paying money to look freakier than Hannibal Lecter while their freckles were frozen off. The good news, the carbon dioxide pen was only on each freckle for about three seconds before moving onto the next, so you could take a quick breather in between each one.

Another kicker, you wouldn’t receive your results immediately because each freckle took two weeks to fall off! In the meantime, you could have a fascinating discussion about your freckles in limbo.

Although the concept may sound ridiculous, especially since freckles are harmless, some women – even today – choose to have them frozen off with the use of liquid nitrogen. Others just avoid the sun to keep the freckles at bay.

Don’t worry redheads; many people also find freckles beautiful. But for those of you determined to get rid of them, there are products on today’s market, such as Freeze Off, that uses similar techniques to the freaky Freckle Freeze of the past. At least the breathing tube and metal rods are optional. And instead of a pencil-like device, the new applicator looks more like a Q-tip which you apply in your own home. Freeze away.

Sources: Freckles Frozen Off With Dry Ice (Feb, 1933), What if I touched dry ice?, Compound W Freeze Off® Wart Removal

2. The Vacuum Beauty Helmet

Image Source: Nationaal Archief via Flickr

Imagine a salon filled with women wearing helmets and looking like they were heading to space. Instead, this 1941 invention claimed to improve a woman’s complexion by changing the atmospheric pressure around her head and increasing blood flow.

The helmet’s inventor, G.M. Ackerman, claimed that wearing this outrageous device resulted in a more natural beauty for those willing to give the “glamour bonnet” a try. Ackerman initially invented the helmet with the stars of Hollywood in mind. It was supposed to mimic the same technology of the scuba diving helmet and was said to lower the atmospheric pressure around your head, in a similar way to what mountain climbers feel at higher elevations.

So if you didn’t want to wear the helmet, you could always climb Mount Kilimanjaro to obtain similar results. Get real, these beauty inventions were all about shortcuts.

Although Ackerman’s device was supposed to improve blood circulation which would result in a stellar complexion, there was no actual evidence that it worked. Still, women went to salons in droves to wear this oxygen deprivation mask. Who wants to breathe comfortably anyway, right?

The early prototypes of this beauty helmet put its users in complete darkness. Picture yourself in a salon with an awkward helmet over your head, and all you can see is blackness – boring. This is why Ackerman decided to add a window to the beauty bonnet so women could read or at least see what was going on in front of them.

This odd beauty invention put a whole new meaning behind the saying feeling light headed and spacey.

Sources: “Glamour Bonnet” Provides Vacuum to Aid Complexion (Mar, 1941)

3. The Slendo Massager


Wouldn’t it be great if you could eat donuts and Oreos all day and then melt away the fat with a massage? The Slendo Massager of 1940 appeared to be the answer. Women would stand or sit while rollers massaged their hips and thighs. This fat blaster supposedly did so through electricity. Talk about one hell of a massage chair.

The concept was similar to an old-school version of the Ab Energizer, a product that was on the market a few years ago. According to its infomercials, you strapped on a belt, and the electrical currents would melt away belly fat by stimulating muscle contractions. Consumers ended up complaining about burns caused by the belt.

But back to the Slendo – Instead of side-by-side at treadmills, women would go to slender salons to stand or sit still and hope this electric device would shed the pounds. Exercise is overrated.

Made famous by a Life magazine article featuring actress Pat Ogden, who used the invention, the Slendo massager was a hip fat-blasting trend. If only shaving away cellulite really was that easy.

Sources: The Slenderizing Salon: Looking for Shortcuts since 1940,Exercise Machines

4. Suction Machine


Wouldn’t it be great if you could just get your acne scars or any other blemishes on your skin vacuumed off with none other than the Suction Machine?

This next odd beauty treatment features rubber tubes connected to glass nozzles that suck away your imperfections. These glass suction cup devices were similar to a technique that you now see in the Olympics called cupping.

The Suction Machine was supposed to bring more blood to the skin’s surface and provide healing power. Women also used it as an anti-wrinkle device and contraption capable of sucking up those pesky blackheads. This odd gadget was even supposed to improve complexions.

Let’s be honest; it was a crazy, creepy device that vacuumed your face with cups. It also made you look like you were cruising on a super fast roller coaster.

5. Hair Permer

No, we are not on the set of a bad Sci-Fi movie, but the hair permer of the 1920’s resembled a Jetson nightmare. This metal contraption, with crazy suspended wires, could be wheeled around like a modern-day IV pole. The wheels were even designed to go over that singed hair on the floor easily.

Charles Nessler received credit for the first permanent wave, and believe it or not, this suspended version of the permer caused fewer burns than his first prototypes. His brave wife was his guinea pig for his permer inventions, and lost a lot of hair. They must have had a good marriage counselor.

The permer made women’s hair curly and poodleish. Apparently, this was fashionable at that time, and there were so many curlers suspended by wires that salons looked like they were housing robotic Medusas.

Let’s not forget that the heated metal rollers were applied to wet hair and suspended with these wires from a chandelier to prevent the scalp from burning. Still, accidents happened, and when you went to get a perm, you risked a singed scalp and a very smelly head. But many women continued to do this every three months. That’s a strong love for curls.

Source: The History of Hair Perms

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