There were many, many poisons sold as beauty and skin treatments back then, one being the "Arsenic Wafers". Arsenic soap could be found in many drug stores as well.
Photo: Nesster / Flickr (CC)
The Victorian era was all about “consumption glamour.” Victorians romanticized the tuberculosis epidemic and its effects on appearance; healthy women went to great lengths to achieve that brink-of-death aesthetic. Very pale, translucent skin symbolized both beauty and class, the logic being that wealthy, privileged women didn’t need to work outside. Advertisements for arsenic wafers and face soap promised to “transform the most sallow skin in radiant health; remove pimples; clear the face of freckles and tan; give the complexion an indescribable brilliancy, and lend to every young lady a charm of person which makes her ADORABLE.” Not-so-adorable? The side effects of the arsenic: nervous system damage, kidney failure, hair loss, conjunctivitis, and, ironically, skin lesions.
It's always amazing how some folks will go to such extreme lengths to look better...at least, what they think is better! Now days it would seem that cosmetic surgery is much the same, ya know?
Coffee out on the patio, if it doesn't rain.