We’ve come a long way as a society when it comes to personal hygiene but it hasn’t always been that way. The generations before us had to get pretty crafty when it came to keeping clean and staying healthy.
Just think about it. Before we had fancy face wash infused with kale extract, our ancestors had to try out some pretty gross ways to keep their face clean, like using their own urine (ew!). Check out some of the most disgusting—and sometimes dangerous—ways our ancient ancestors kept clean.
Entire Families Reused The Same Bath Water
In the Middle Ages, bathing was emphasized by Christianity as a way to show off your cleanliness. While the upper class could afford to heat a bathtub of water every night, the lower class couldn’t. Families would instead end up sharing the same bathwater.
They often bathed from oldest to youngest, so if you were the baby of your family you ended up in some pretty dirty water. Bathing has evolved a lot over time, but it used to be a pretty gross affair.
Balding Men Would Rub Chicken Poop On Their Head
History has a lot of strange medical remedies but none as weird as using chicken feces to cure baldness. A 17th-century medical book titled “The Path-Way To Health” advised men to mix chicken manure (known back then as Culver-dung) with Lye and wash their scalps with it.
We’re not so sure about the chicken dung but considering the fact Lye is a poisonous alkaline solution, we doubt any hair was growing back with that remedy.
The King Has His Own Butt-Wiper
The Groom of the Stool was a position in the English court who’s job was to, well, wipe the King’s butt after he used the washroom. It sounds like a disgusting job but it came with a surprising amount of privileges.
The Groom of the Stool would become one of the most intimate and trusted hands of the English King. The male servant was often a confidant for the King and knew some of the most scandalous royal secrets.
Egyptian Women Used Crocodile Dung As A Contraceptive
Women have tried a lot of things over the years to prevent unwanted pregnancies, but Ancient Egyptians take the cake. Scrolls that date back to 1850 BC show that women were taking crocodile dung, turning it into small pellets, and inserting it into their genitalia.
It might sound crazy but modern science has proved that this ancient family planning technique may have actually worked. Crocodile poop has a similar makeup as alkaline and other modern-day spermicides.
Noble Women Painted Their Faces With Lead
While having sun-kissed skin is all the rage today for much of history being pale was much more fashionable. That’s because it proved that you didn’t have to work in the fields. Both noble women and men would paint their faces white to look even fairer.
The problem is that the white paint was made of pure lead that was poisonous and would eat away at the wearer’s skin. Then they’d have to wear more makeup and the vicious cycle continued.
Rotten Teeth Was A Symbol Of Wealth
During the Elizabethan era, refined sugar was only available to the upper class and wealthy members of society. Therefore, if you had teeth that were rotten, covered in gingivitis, and falling out, it was actually a sign of extreme wealth. Some peasants even went so far as to fake gingivitis so they could look richer.
The upper echelon may have been rich but they clearly weren’t rich enough to afford a visit to the dentist.
Most People Had Four Outfits…For The Entire Year
Fashion in the 19th century wasn’t about looking good. It was about being practical and saving money. Only the upper class had a different outfit for every day. The rest of society had to make do with one outfit for an entire season. And yes, the same rule applied to undergarments.
The clothes might get washed once every few weeks but don’t expect it. The only reason you might get a fifth outfit is if you had somewhere formal to go.
Shoe Polish Was Basically Pure Poison
In the early 20th century, most shoe polishes were made with an ingredient called nitrobenzene. It had the incredible ability to make shoes extra shiny and slick, but it also could make you faint in an instant if you inhaled the toxins.
If frequent fainting wasn’t dangerous enough, mixing nitrobenzene with alcohol was practically a death sentence. Even modern shoe polish can be deadly if it is ingested in high quantities.
Toilet Paper Is A Very Recent Invention
The Chinese were the first to use paper for sanitary purposes, but the widespread use of toilet paper didn’t occur until 1857. Before that, most people used things like leaves, rags, a wet cloth on a stick, or even their hands.
Just the thought of going No. 2 without toilet paper probably makes a lot of people queasy. That’s why it’s important to count your blessings and remember that humans survived for a long time without proper sanitary cloths.
Hair Care Was Awful
To achieve the trendy hairstyles of the 1920s, women in effect, destroyed their hair health. Ladies began experimenting by making their own curling irons, using round iron shafts with wood handles, heated over coals. This method lacked temperature control and women’s hair was often burned because of it.
If burning hair smell wasn’t bad enough, women used petroleum jelly to design their curls, which smelled like glue. One you achieved the perfect look, you wouldn’t want to wash it right away, either…
Urine Was A Popular Face Wash
If you walked into a 17th century Sephora, you’d see shelves and shelves of skin care products that all included human urine as the main ingredient. Noblewomen of the time would wash their faces every day with urine because they believed in the antiseptic abilities.
Not only did urine do a surprisingly good job of keeping a noble woman’s face clean, but many believed it had anti-aging properties and would keep your skin feeling firm.
Lysol Was Originally A Feminine Hygiene Product
Yes, we’re talking about the same Lysol that you probably use as a kitchen cleaner and that kills 99.99% of germs. Lysol was first invented in 1889 and became a popular disinfectant during the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak.
For some reason, Lysol tried to re-brand in the 1920s to become a feminine hygiene product. It was advertised as both a cleaning agent for women and as a birth control agent. It was later discouraged by the medical community because it was too strong of a disinfectant.
You Can Thank The Dead For Your Dentures
Back before wooden carved teeth became standard in dentures, anyone looking for a new set of teeth had to find someone who didn’t need theirs anymore. Unsurprisingly, the only people who were “willing” to give their teeth up were the dead.
During the 18th century, most of the dentures at the time were made from the teeth of dead soldiers. It might sound morbid but people from the time didn’t seem to mind all that much.
Snail Slime Was A Sore Throat Solution
Nowadays we might brew a pot of tea and add some honey to cure a sore throat. Back in the day, doctors did something a little different and instead chose to combine one pound of snail slime with one pound of sugar. It would create a sweet syrup that would coat your throat and cure your cough.
When you think about it, it’s really not that different than having a spoonful of honey but it’s still pretty gross.
Dying People Turned Their Body Into Edible Medicine
The process of mellification was an old Arabic process that consisted of a dying person turning their body into a mummified candy bar for the living to eat. It began when the person was still alive. They would decide to donate their body and begin an all-honey diet. After their death, the body is placed in a stone coffin filled with honey for up to a century.
Eventually, the “mellified man” was unearthed and consumed by the living as a treatment for several ailments. The process was so popular that people in 16th century China also began doing it.
Early Toothpaste Wasn’t Exactly Minty Fresh
Toothpaste is a relatively modern invention but people still needed something to brush their teeth with. Toothpaste from the Middle Ages was made of burnt herbs like rosemary and mint, so it really wasn’t that bad. Toothpaste from the Roman era was much worse though. The Romans reportedly used to brush their teeth with pureed mouse brains.
Other gross kinds of toothpaste included crushed oysters from the Ancient Greeks and crushed pepper and salt from the Ancient Egyptians.
Using Urine As Mouthwash Was Commonplace
When it comes to cleaning clothes and ridding your mouth of bacteria, people didn’t always have Tide Pods and Listerine. They had to come up with their own anti-bacterial solution and luckily, they were full of it. People used to use their own urine to wash their clothes and their mouths.
Human urine is sterile when boiled and contains ammonia, which many modern cleaning products also contain. The process may sound gross but even Bear Grylls suggests doing it when you’re in a pinch.
Tall Hairstyles Would Attract All Sorts Of Creepy Crawlies
Those ultra-high hairstyles of the 18th century may have looked prim and proper but they were a breeding ground for bacteria. The hairstyles were a mix of wigs and real hair that were built up using lard. Since the style took so much work, the hair was not washed for weeks.
That means that during those weeks all sorts of vermin like bugs and small animals would find their way in and make themselves at home.
People Just Didn’t Wash Their Clothes During Winter
Do you know how people only had four outfits? Well, they also just never washed them in the winter. For most people, it was simply too cold to take your clothes off so they just kept them on. Washing your clothes meant having to heat up water, wait for the clothes to dry, and do it all while being stark naked.
At least if it was cold they probably didn’t sweat as much, and hopefully, their clothes didn’t smell too bad.
Teeth Lacquering Caused Serious Damage
An ancient beauty trend that makes no sense today is teeth blackening. The tradition was common in Japanese and Vietnamese cultures and they believe black teeth was a symbol of maturity and civilization.
The process involved using a mixture of chemicals to corrode away teeth enamel and give them a glossy black finish. While the chemicals technically kept the teeth from decaying, they also cause serious irreversible damage. The tradition has mostly disappeared since the colonial era.
Ancient Tampons Weren’t Exactly Comfortable
For women living in ancient societies, it was basically “anything goes” when it came to preventing leaks in public. Tampons were said to have originated in Egypt where women would mix dirt and honey then wrap it in linen. Ancient Greek women used a similar technique.
The women of Ancient India would use a mixture of rock salt and oil that doubled as a contraceptive. Japanese women were ahead of their time using paper tampons but they didn’t absorb much and apparently had to be changed 12 times a day.
Body Hair Was Removed With X-Rays
Using X-rays to remove body hair in the early 20th century was seen as a permanent solution to shaving. Why worry about grabbing your razor and foam on a busy morning but you could radiate the problem away?
The only problem with this treatment for hair removal was that many patients got cancer. This is because in order to remove all the hair they wanted to permanently, they would have to be exposed to radiation for more than 20 hours!
Radium Was Used To Battle Grey Hair
When we say radium was used to battle grey hair we use the word “battle” loosely. Getting rid of unwanted faded hair this way was 100 percent effective. They only problem was it would also cause a person’s hair to fall out.
Thank goodness today we have actual hair dyes that are safe to use in the battle of grey. You could also go all into to the look. The more mature shade has become surprisingly trendy in the 21st century!
Cannibalism Was Part Of A Healthy Diet
You already read about what they used to do to mummified bodies in Egypt, but that was the only culture that consumed the dead. Wealthy people in the 17th century believed that flesh, human fat, and blood could be used to maintain health.
Thankfully today we know that none of those things are true. Excuse us while take a walk around the block to get the image out of our heads! Okay, onto the next slide!
Beaver Parts Were Considered Birth Control
There’s unfortunately no real way to sugarcoat this one. If you thought using reptile dung was gross, then you definitely won’t enjoy this. In the 16th century, male beavers special parts were taken and turned into a birth control potion.
Women then drank this potion and were supposedly protected from getting pregnant. We’re going to go ahead and guess that this didn’t work since it’s not something still used today. And let’s all be thankful for that!
Silphium Is Extinct It Was Used So Much
Here’s a birth control tactic that won’t make you cringe. Ancient Romans used the silphium plant as a natural form of born control. To use it, they would simply eat it. That plant was so popular, in fact, that it didn’t survive the Roman era.
These people valued the plant so highly that they placed its image on their money. It really must have been some kind of wonder plant. Too bad we’ll never know just how great it was today.
Teeth Were Pulled To Cure Toothaches
If you had a toothache back in the day and needed to get rid of it, there was one solution that always worked; pulling out your teeth. This painful practice was done in barbershops, since barbers were licensed to perform minor surgery at the time.
Of course, this was only done to rotting teeth that were going to need to be removed anyway. The lesson here: take care of your teeth, because they don’t grow back.
Use Sulfur To Get Rid Of Those Unwanted Freckles
Freckles today are considered a beautiful thing. In the past, however, they were considered less than desirable. The solution for anyone cursed with freckles was to rub sulfur on them to make them disappear.
This seems pretty unfair to us. Having freckles makes a person unique. By taking away those markings, you are destroying a part who they are. Sadly, the past was a much less accepting place to live than the present. And cover-up hadn’t been invented yet, either.
Flowers Masked Unwanted Odors
Today, we can shower every day, wear deodorant and perfume, and reapply as necessary. In the past, none of these options existed. Well, people could shower every day, but it would have been seen as a huge waste of water.
In order to make themselves smell better, people would carry flowers around them to mask their own scent. Flowers were so popular that the term “nosegay for a small bouquet” was even coined. Now you’ll think about flowers differently when someone tries to offer you some!
Eagle Dung Was A Painkiller
Women had it rough in the past. Not only was old birth control questionable at best, but so were painkillers used during labor. To help quell labor pains, women were given eagle dung mixed with oil and vinegar to consumer.
The times have definitely changed. Women are much taken care of during labor now. Pain can be managed easily enough if they choose, or they can opt for a natural birth. Either way, their breathe won’t be effected at all.
Never Swim In A Castle Moat
A castle moat might look like fun (as long as there are no alligators swimming around), but the truth is you would never want to step foot in one. Castle keepers often used the water around the home to dump leftover food and human waste.
Now when you watch a movie where someone falls into a moat, you’ll know just how awful it really would have been. Remember, just because something is filled with water doesn’t mean there aren’t other things beneath the surface.
Floors Were Made Of Straw
One solution to having a bathroom in medieval times was this; cover the floor with straw. At least we’re assuming that’s why people used to do it. The really gross part is many people reportedly didn’t remove the old straw before adding a new layer in.
Hopefully, medieval people weren’t walking around their houses barefeet. They had to wear some kind of protection, right? No wonder so many people became so easily sick back then. There was literally nowhere to hide!
Everything Was Finger Food
Fun fact; medieval people didn’t have silverware. If you’re ever watching a movie and villagers are eating with spoons, don’t be fooled. They ate with their hands, the only tools that were available for them to eat with.
Sometimes they would use bread as a utensil, but then they would obviously eat the delicious carbohydrate. Did we mention no one washed their hands in those days either? Nothing like a little extra season on your stew beef!
Surgery Was Non-Sterile
Until the 1800s, people had no idea that germs existed. Sure, people would get sick, but no one really knew why. That meant that whenever someone was so sick they needed surgery, the equipment used was not sterilized.
Amazingly, records of surgery being performed date back hundreds of years ago, long before we knew about germs. Skeletal records even show that ancient civilizations like the Mayans performed highly advanced operations such as brain surgery. Just, you know, without sanitized medical equipment.
Mercury Was A Failed Cold Sore Cure
Is there anything they wouldn’t try as a miracle cure in the past? Apparently, mercury, the liquid metal found in thermometers, was used to cure cold sores. The person suffering just had to let the toxic metal touch the wound.
This “miracle cure,” like so many others, didn’t work and probably left people worse than when they started. The good news today is that cold sores aren’t lethal; just incredibly annoying. An we Carmex now to help deal with them, too.
You Probably Know About The Lead Problem
Sadly, lead is still a problem we deal with in our water supply today, although it was much worse in the past. When water systems and bathtubs were originally built, lead was used. No one knew at the time how dangerous the metal was.
Today, our water supply is still tainted with lead, although we have filters and various other tools to keep it as clean as possible. This has resulted in far fewer people getting sink from drinking or bathing in tap water.
Wounds Were Burned Closed
There’s an old myth that says it’s okay to close wounds by cauterizing (burning) them. The origins of this myth lay in medieval times, when that was exactly what they did. The thought process was simple enough; by burning the wound, the bleeding stops.
The bigger issue was that cauterized wounds get infected very easily. Burning the wound closed basically exposed the wounded soldier or person to greater risk. Of course, when your options are die now or later; most people would probably pick later.
Graham Crackers Were Invested To Fight Off Lust
You right that correctly. When graham crackers were invented, they were supposed to fight off feelings of lust. Not just any lust, though. The inventor believed the crackers were so bland that after eating them you wouldn’t even be able to lust after yourself.
Really? We have no idea what the science behind this is, but obviously people bought his lies. Graham crackers are still incredibly popular today. We just add things like chocolate and marshmallows!
The Invention Of Deodorant
In 1888, a beautiful thing happened; deodorant was invented! People finally got tired or walking around with flowers and found a new way to mask their hideous odors. Perfume was also an option.
What’s really important is that with along with the rise in deodorant, there was not a decrease in showers. People liked smelling good, and this was a cheap and effective way to make sure you smelled good all day long. We can all be grateful for that!
Kerosene Kept Bugs Out Of Beds
It turns out bed bugs were just as annoying in the past as they are today. To deal with these tiny creepy crawlers, people would douse their beds in kerosene. Guess what; it didn’t keep the bed bugs away.
Kerosene also made people’s beds smell terrible. And it’s a highly flammable liquid. If you have bed bugs, definitely do not try this. Like we said, it was 100 percent ineffective against bed bugs and there are perfectly good products you can buy at the store.
This Is Where The Term “Feminine Hygiene” Came From
Starting in 1973, birth control was illegal to advertise in the United States. To be clear, the products were not illegal to use, but they could not be marketed as what they actually were.
To get around this, companies began branding their products using the terms “feminine hygiene” and “male hygiene.” No one was fooled, but the use of words was enough to get around the conservative laws. Decades later, and these terms are still used on thousands of products.