The Edwardian Motto: Beauty Is Pain and Deadly


After the end of the Victorian era, with the death of Queen Victoria, the Edwardian era spanned from 1901 to 1910. Throughout this shift from the Victorian to the Edwardian era, there was a change of perspective on beauty for Edwardian women. In the Victorian era, the heavy use of makeup was discouraged, and women were encouraged to flaunt their natural beauty. On the other hand, in the Edwardian era, women were able to use makeup to enhance their beauty, but at what cost? As more makeup products were manufactured in factories and popularized, there was an increase in deaths from poisoning due to dangerous chemicals such as arsenic, bleach, and ammonia used to achieve beauty.

Through the years, people have always wanted to seem beautiful, yet the standards of beauty have changed over time. By the Edwardian era, makeup was being offered to Edwardian ladies over the counter in brand-new department stores. But beauty had a price, no testing on makeup was done to check if it was suitable to use. Many new makeup products had false advertising and were harmful and, in some cases, deadly. The Edwardian lady had to become beautiful to attract a husband and keep him. To do that, women used poisonous products on their faces. In response to the new social norm, high-class Edwardian women needed to separate themselves from the tanned working classes, an Edwardian lady needed to have a flawless lily-white complexion, and women used some of the most hazardous methods to do so.

Harriet Hubbard Ayer Moth and Freckle lotion was one of the items utilized by women in the Edwardian era. It was a treatment for liver spots and skin discolorations. As stated in Cosmetics and Skin: Harriet Hubbard Ayer, “Ayer also enlisted ‘eminent scientists’ to attest that her products were free of harmful chemicals such as lead, bismuth and arsenic.” Many companies claimed their products were suitable to use, and many Edwardian women had to depend on their word, because it was not obligatory to put any labeling of ingredients in a product. Ingredients like bleach, ammonia, and lead were found in other makeup products. Lead compounds, for instance, were exceedingly white and had very bright, distinctive hues that are characteristic of poisonous substances. Women frequently applied it to their skin as a face powder, and as the lead was absorbed via the skin, this resulted in chronic lead poisoning. Heavy elements of mercury were also used in makeup products, which were extremely harmful to the body. It can have an impact on several organs, especially the kidneys, lungs, and brain. In addition, it may impair the ability to feel and your vision. Another highly used product was the Belladonna plant. Belladonna was a popular plant among women in the early 20th century. In Bad Decision in History: featuring Belladonna, by Meghan Masterson, “Atropa belladonna, the resulting eyedrops dilate the pupils, providing a soft and seductive effect, just like in a romance scene of a novel where someone’s eyes darken with desire.” When drops from the plant were applied to the eyes, it enhanced the attractiveness of women which was the ideal look to achieve. Since Belladonna is used for medicine, there were side effects to the body after overconsumption. The consequences resulted in a dry mouth and hazy vision, and at worst, an extremely erratic heartbeat and possibly blindness.

Edwardian women had no idea what was contained in these products. Because there was no requirement to provide a description of the content or any ingredients used, many women suffered the consequences. All of these products were in the name of beauty, would you go this far?