Nowadays, we definitely take our hygiene habits for granted. Things were very different back in the day, though, and they were actually kinda gruesome…
When you wake up in the morning, you probably have a routine when it comes to your hygiene. You might have to wrestle with your snuggly comforter to get out of bed and head to the bathroom, and then you might kickstart a chain of events to get you ready for the day ahead. You do your business on the toilet, you wash your body in the shower and shampoo your hair under the trickling water, and you clean your teeth. Most of the time, you probably don’t even think about these things. After all, they have become a normal part of everyday life.
However, it hasn’t always been like this. While we have electric toothbrushes and running water, our ancestors weren’t so lucky in terms of their personal hygiene. They didn’t get to play around with confusing bidets that have way too many buttons, and they could have only dreamt of using eyebrow pencils to make their faces look even more beautiful and defined. Don’t believe us? Check out these truly bizarre hygiene facts from the past.
A couple of leeches
Nowadays, we think of leeches as those friends who always seem to “forget” their wallet and have to borrow money from us. It’s easy to forget that leeches are real animals, and they were often used by our ancestors to practice their hygiene and keep on top of their health.
When an individual came down with an illness, doctors normally went to their houses with a bucket of leeches and allowed the animals to suck the person’s blood – and, supposedly, the illness – out of their body. This was a common practice until the 1900s when bloodletting was considered to be doing more harm than good.
Two for the price of one
When you head to the barbers, you know that you’re putting your hair in their hands. Of course, this isn’t too bad if you know them and you trust their craft, but this can sometimes be a little nerve-wracking. But what if we told you that there were two types of barbers to choose from during the Dark Ages?
One type of barber focused on performing time-consuming and life-threatening operations, while other barbers focused on making sure that your hair and your overall facial area looked as good as could be. This meant that they would also go to town on your teeth if they needed to, and these barbers were no strangers to pulling teeth when a toothache got a little too painful.
All about the volume
Big hair don’t care, right? In today’s day and age, we have hair spray and all kinds of amazing products to thank for our voluminous hair, but our female ancestors didn’t have the chance to buy a few cans at the local mall. Instead, they had to come up with their own ways of giving their hair that extra lift, and they came up with a rather strange alternative.
These women used to stock up on lard, mix it with their favorite fragrance, and then slather their hair in the animal fat. This was an extremely popular method during the 1700s as the lard would often stay in place for weeks on end. Unfortunately, this lard seemed to attract little hungry critters who wanted to take a bite…
Getting up close and personal
Although it’s not uncommon for babies to have baths with their parents, it’s fair to say that most people like to bathe in their own bathwater. It just seems much more hygienic, doesn’t it? Well, the people of the Middle Ages didn’t have the time to fill up their individual tubs, so they made their way to communal bathhouses instead.
These giant pools of water were similar to swimming pools we have today, but they definitely weren’t as clean as the ones we swim in today. They were a breeding ground for disease and infection, and many people found themselves getting ill after their dips.
Taking drastic measures
There are two kinds of people in this world. There are those who hate the fact that they are balding and try to do everything they can to prevent it, and there are those who rock their skinhead look. In the 1900s, there were many people who decided that they didn’t want to deal with their hair anymore, so opted to embrace their baldness.
However, they didn’t just go to the barber and have them shave everything off. They would instead spend up to 20 hours in an X-ray machine to be exposed to radiation that would make them lose their hair. As soon as we learned that prolonged exposure to radiation can make people extremely ill, this practice came to an end.
Pale and pasty
Queen Elizabeth will always be regarded as one of the biggest style icons to grace this world, and we’re not the only ones who think so. Her citizens also believed it to be true, and they tried everything they could to ensure that they looked just like her.
Although fans loved everything about the esteemed royal, her pale face was particularly popular. Because of this, many people would use lead makeup on their faces to make them look as white as possible and as smooth as possible. While it had the desired aesthetic effect, the symptoms associated with the lead weren’t too great. In fact, the symptoms were often fatal.
Eyebrows on fleek
In today’s day and age, eyebrows are extremely important accents on the face. Brow trends chop and change as the weeks go by, and one minute it’s all about big and bushy eyebrows, and the next they’re out for something much smaller and more defined.
During the 1700s, women were equally as enamored by their eyebrow trends, and they used to do everything they could to make sure that theirs were on fleek. They would actually use the skin of a mouse and cut this skin to their desired eyebrow shape before sticking them in place and going about their day. Surely there must have been another way?
Hitting the floor
What kind of flooring do you have in your house? Carpet? Rugs? Wooden flooring? Back in the Middle Ages, most homeowners created something called rush flooring, which was created using layers of leaves from the rush plant. Although this created a soft base for people to stand on, it wasn’t exactly the most hygienic thing in the world.
The leaves were a breeding ground for dirt and bacteria, and they also seemed to attract animals and wildlife. Because the top layer was the only layer of the floor that was regularly changed and removed, that meant that there was a whole host of nastiness lying at the bottom.
Going back in time
Sanitary products are now fairly easily accessible to those who have the money to buy them, but there’s still no doubt about the fact that a monthly cycle can get pretty messy. So, imagine a life where these sanitary products didn’t exist. Life in the Middle Ages was incredibly different from the life we are living now, and these products weren’t even an idea in the back of someone’s mind.
Instead, women had to use other alternatives to keep on top of their monthly cycle, and this often involved something called Sphagnum cymbifolium. This is a type of moss that normally grows in England, and women used to make their way to countryside bogs to fashion their own pads out of this green growth.
Grooms of the stool
If you’re the kind of person that loves your privacy, there’s a high chance that you don’t like anyone being near you when you need to go to the bathroom. Yet, things were a little different during Henry VIII’s rule. When this king made his way to the bathroom, he didn’t go alone.
He took his “Groom of the stool” along for the ride, and this meant that ol’ Henry didn’t have to do any of the dirty work himself. When he was done on the toilet, he would hand over to his groom, who would wipe his derriere for him. At least they were paid for it, we guess…
Sinking your teeth into it
Do you know anyone with dentures or veneers? Fake teeth are becoming extremely popular in the modern world, and it seems as though things were no different back in the 1700s. Many people would lose their teeth due to poor hygiene during this time, but replacement teeth weren’t readily available.
Porcelain dentures appeared to be too fake, and ivory dentures were just too expensive for the average person to afford. So, this paved the way for “Waterloo Teeth” to make their mark in the oral hygiene market. This involved dentists using the teeth of soldiers who had passed away in battle to create a whole new set of teeth for those who were still alive.
Desperate times, desperate measures
When you head to the bathroom, you probably don’t think anything of the fact that you can simply reach out to the side and grab some soft toilet paper. It’s just a part of everyday life, right? Well, things were a little different back in the day. Before the earliest form of our toilet paper came into the world in 1888, our ancestors had to use something that wasn’t quite so soft on their private parts.
Because they didn’t have anything specifically designed for the job, they would often use whatever they got their hands on first. This could have been a collection of leaves, sticks that had cloths wrapped around them, and even just their hand when desperate measures needed to come into play…
Whether you have freckles yourself or have always wanted some, it’s fair to say that freckles are pretty popular right now. More and more people are buying kits to give themselves temporary freckles, and it seems as though they are the most-wanted facial addition of the decade.
Of course, it hasn’t always been this way. Those who lived during the Middle Ages didn’t want to show any freckle or blemish on their skin and would rub pieces of sulfur over their bodies to scrape them off. While small traces of sulfur are used in similar products today, they’re not quite on the same level.
Dressed to impress
What would you do if you didn’t have a washing machine? What if the laundromat didn’t exist? It’s fair to say that most people would be lost, and wouldn’t be able to wash all of their clothes in the sink. In fact, it’s easy to forget that washing machines are a new invention and an invention that we take for granted.
Our ancestors didn’t have these machines to call their own and instead had to deal with washing their clothes and getting hard-worn stains out of the fabric. To do this, they would soak their clothes in urine which would loosen any dirt and bleach any dark stains.
Saving some time
Let’s be honest; we’ve all been in a situation where we’ve tucked ourselves in bed and made sure that we were cozy, only to realize that we need to go to the bathroom. This can be extremely irritating, and it can also be upsetting. Nobody wants to leave the comfort of their bed, and it’s extremely cold and time-consuming to head down the hallway to the bathroom to relieve yourself.
Thankfully, our ancestors seemed to have the right idea. If they needed to relieve themselves during the night, they would pick up the chamber pot underneath their bed and do so right there and then. While we can’t imagine the smell was too desirable, it definitely sounds easier.
Ditch your swimsuit
If you’re the kind of person that loves to shove on their swimsuit and go for a swim near any large body of water, you’ll be happy to know that this isn’t a modern thing. Individuals across the ages have done just that, and many people actually used to swim in the moats surrounding many Medieval castles.
However, they often found that they were extremely ill after this swim, as these waters weren’t exactly the cleanest waters in the world. Chamber pots and old food were often ditched in these moats, which meant that they would become contaminated with all kinds of parasites.
A boring wardrobe
Could you tell us how many items of clothing you had in your closet? Most of us have a varied and vibrant wardrobe that suits us throughout the whole year, but things were a little different back in the day. Although those who had more money were able to buy more clothes, those who lived an ordinary existence normally only had around four different outfits.
They simply switched between these four outfits and wore them multiple times before they were given a wash. Because of this, their clothing and their bodies often smelled. Of course, they did have their own ways of combating this, and that’s why many people carried flowers around with them.
A breeding ground
Nowadays, if you head to any doctor or surgeon, you will be greeted with sterilized equipment that will reduce the risk of you contracting an infection. That’s because the genius minds of our world have been able to learn as much as they can about bacteria and the effect on the human body.
However, this knowledge is fairly new, and our ancestors didn’t understand that unwashed utensils and equipment were a breeding ground for illness and infection. Because of this, doctors and surgeons didn’t clean their utensils, and they actually tried their hardest to make sure that they could move from one patient to the next without having a break in between. That was the mark of a good surgeon in those days.
Strutting your stuff
Nobody likes to know that their oral hygiene isn’t up to scratch, and we currently live in a world where bad oral hygiene is frowned upon. That’s why we are encouraged to brush our teeth two times a day, and even floss every once in a while. However, things were a little backward back in the day. Like in the modern world, sugar was associated with rotting teeth and bad gums.
Sugar was a luxury item during the Elizabethan era, and only those who had oodles of money to their name were even privy to the sweet taste that sugar provided. To strut their stuff and show the world that they had money, many people during this era would try to make their teeth as rotten as possible, and would even purposefully stain their teeth!
Red hot pokers
You’ve probably heard of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but have you ever heard of the red hot pokers that were used to cauterize wounds by our ancestors? Doctors and surgeons back in the day weren’t quite as in-tune with medicine as they are today, which meant that they often went to the nearest quick fix to deal with their patients.
When they had patients who had open wounds, they would put metal rods over a fire and wait until they were burning red hot. Without any anesthetic or pain relief, the doctor would then place the poker over the wound in an attempt to stop any infection. It sounds painful if you ask us.
Getting through the pain
If you’ve ever had a child, you’ll know that it’s not the easiest thing in the world. It’s incredibly painful, and the toll it takes on your body just cannot be put into words. Although we know have resources to help women get through the pain, things were a little different when modern medicine wasn’t involved.
Many women who gave birth during the Middle Ages passed away during childbirth, and others barely survived the pain they had to endure throughout the whole process. However, that doesn’t mean that they didn’t have their own methods. Nurses would often apply a mixture of rosewater and eagle’s excrement on the thighs of the woman who was in labor, and that supposedly helped things out…
Do you ever think about what you’re doing when you’re brushing your teeth? There’s a high chance that you don’t, because it’s something we have done for much of our lives. We slop the toothpaste on the toothbrush and brush away without a care in the world because you know it’s minty fresh and good for our teeth.
But what if we told you that toothpaste and toothbrushes weren’t always so advanced? In Ancient Rome and Greece, our ancestors would crush up hard objects such as oyster shells, bones, and even mouse brains to create a powder that would scratch away the dirt on their teeth. We can’t imagine that it was a very enjoyable experience.
Chalk and cheese
If you’ve looked at the packaging of your powdered makeup recently, you may have noticed that chalk is an ingredient that crops up time and time again. That’s because chalk is great in terms of matte powders that create a finished layer on your skin, and our ancestors also knew this to be true. They often used chalk to create the illusion that their skin was whiter than it actually was, but they also went one step further with their chalk usage.
You may not have thought about ingesting chalk yourself, but it seems as though many women did so regularly to supposedly make their skin even whiter. While it’s still not known whether this was the case, we do know that this chalk ingestion did nothing for their health.
Washing your mouth out
Everyone gets bad breath every now and then, right? It may be that you had a particularly strong coffee before getting to work, it may be that you just can’t fight the feeling to have that extra piece of garlic bread for dinner. While we’re lucky enough to have proper toothpaste and mouthwash to wash our mouths out, that hasn’t always been the case.
That’s because those who lived in Ancient Greece and Rome would use urine as mouthwash! It was said that the ammonia in this human waste product not only freshened breath but also whitened teeth in the process. We’d rather not test whether that works or not.
A hairy option
Over the course of history, women have gone to extreme lengths to try and keep on track of their birth control. While modern medicine has created medicine and products that provide effective birth control, the same couldn’t be said for Native Canadian women who lived in the 1500s.
With little knowledge of hormones or the conception process, they continued to believe the thought that one particularly hairy option would ensure that they remain childless. So, they created a juice made from the private parts of a beaver, and they drank it on a regular basis. While there is some suggestion that the hormones could have prevented pregnancy, the science just isn’t really there.
An inconspicuous trend
Have you ever wondered why so many of our ancestors wore wigs? This wasn’t because they just didn’t like the look of their natural hair, but actually because they were trying to cover something else up. During the 16th and 17th centuries, many countries around the world suffered an intense outbreak of syphilis.
This bacterial infection is normally spread through intimate contact and often results in some obvious symptoms such as painful wounds and sores, and hair loss. As the younger generation began to lose their hair at an early age, people began to get suspicious. To try and hide the fact that they had contracted the infection, they started to wear wigs. This soon became a trend.
Keeping things dilated
Thankfully, we live in a world where most people don’t focus on the pupils of our eyes or whether those specific features make us beautiful or not. Our ancestors didn’t quite have the same privilege, as women were deemed to be more beautiful during the 16th and 17th centuries if their pupils were as big as they could make them.
Of course, most people can’t control the size of their pupils, which is why these lovely ladies turned to something called belladonna. This plant is often known by its informal name of “nightshade,” and you might have heard of it before. That’s because belladonna is extremely dangerous and caused these women to contract gastrointestinal tract infections, hallucinations, heart failure, and stomach ulcers.
An interesting coat
If you’ve ever used charcoal toothpaste, you’ll know that seeing your mouth filled with black foam can be a little alarming. It can make you wonder whether it’s really going to make your teeth cleaner and whiter, but then you brush it away, and it seems as though it never happened in the first place.
Yet, what if we told you that some people coat their teeth in black material on purpose. This was an extremely popular practice back in the 19th century, and those who lived in Southeast Asia coated their teeth in a black lacquer to make them look more beautiful and to protect them from decay. In fact, there are still some people around the world who do this.
A slight tingling sensation
Birth control is a relatively new addition to our world, and many women find it easy to access. Of course, it hasn’t always been that way. During the 1900s, women struggled to come across a method of birth control that was both easily accessible and cheap. Because of this, make-shift trends soon made their way out of the woodwork – and some of them were a little questionable.
Perhaps one of the most popular methods involved Lysol, a popular disinfectant. It’s believed that women would treat their private areas with the disinfectant under the illusion that it would stop them getting pregnant. That wasn’t the case, and most were left with a slight tingling sensation instead.
Keeping the flies at bay
Flies seem to follow us everywhere we go, but it’s fair to say that they’re pretty annoying. Although it’s sometimes easy to ignore them, other times, it’s hard to ignore the fact that they are buzzing around your drink or resting on your food. It seems as though the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt weren’t too fond of these flying things either, and had a sweet trick up their sleeves to make sure that their outdoor picnics weren’t spoiled.
So, what did they do? They got their servants to slather themselves in honey and sit a short distance away from them. This meant that any potential flies would be attracted to the honey rather than their delicious food.
Dying to go lighter
It seems as though the people of the past loved to use their own excrement within everyday life, and things were no different when it came to hair dye. Although we now use ammonia in our hair dye – which can often smell like urine – our ancestors used to use the real deal to change the color of their hair.
Most of those who lived in high society during the Elizabethan era either wanted to copy Queen Elizabeth with her red hair or they wanted to lighten their hair to show off their wealth. Of course, this wasn’t as easy as it sounds. To do this, women would often mix the likes of sulfur, saffron, and urine to make their hair lighter.
Brushing away the risks
Men and women alike have hairbrushes and combs, and you probably don’t expect them to cause you any harm. After all, most of them are made of plastic. That wasn’t the case back in the 1800s, as many everyday items such as hair combs were made from something called celluloid instead.
This moldable material seemed absolutely perfect for the task – but some unlikely victims didn’t think so. That’s because celluloid is extremely combustible when close to a heat source. When the temperature rose, and the material was in the presence of this hot environment, it would often explode in an instant. This meant that many people lost their lives to exploding hair brushes.
While there are many men in this world who grow bald gracefully, there are others who do everything they can to keep this male pattern baldness at bay. This can often involve a hair transplant or even nifty little products that create the illusion that their hair is still there. However, men who lived in the 16th century didn’t have these nifty little products.
Although men had the option to wear wigs, others found them uncomfortable or didn’t have the money to afford such a thing. So, they instead created a concoction of chicken droppings and potassium and applied the mixture on their heads to stimulate the hair follicles. Of course, there’s no proof to say that this actually worked.
All about the heart
If you know anything about Ancient Rome, you’ll know that our Roman ancestors used to love a plant by the name of silphium. In fact, they used so much of this plant during the course of their existence that it later went extinct and we haven’t seen it since. This plant adorned their currency and coins, and they used it within all methods of hygiene and health.
However, it’s been suggested that the most common usage of this plant involved birth control. Women would crush up the plant and eat it, and this supposedly kept any unwanted pregnancies at bay. It’s also been suggested that this plant is the reason we have the heart symbol in our lives!
Although there are many countries around the world that use their hands to eat their food, there’s no doubt about the fact that even more use utensils. Knives and forks are commonplace in the world that we live in, but it seems as though these things are a luxury that our ancestors didn’t get to enjoy.
Rather than having utensils to eat with, these men and women had to simply get hands-on and get down and dirty with their food. While we can’t imagine this was too much of an issue with certain foods, spaghetti probably would have been a little messy.
Having a good wash
There’s nothing better than getting your favorite soap or cream and washing your face, is there? The fresh feeling is something that you just can’t beat, and it’s something that many of us take for granted. That’s because those who lived their lives back in the day didn’t get the chance to use these soaps or face washes on a regular basis.
They instead used urine – and they were pretty happy about it at the time. Women of a higher nobility took great pride in the fact that they could wash their face on a regular basis with urine, as they believed that the waste product was teeming with antiseptic qualities that would leave them feeling fit and healthy.
Water, water, everywhere
We live in a world where water is readily available to most people, and all you have to do is make your way over to the faucet and fill your glass. This is a great addition to our ecosystem, but one that those of the past had to live without.
Modern water tanks provide us with clean water, but ancient water tanks were much simpler, and often coated and lined with lead. You probably don’t need us to tell you the dangers of too much lead exposure, which means you’re probably not surprised to hear that many people fell ill due to this lead poisoning.
Treating the transmission
Modern medicine seems to have a cure – or at least a treatment – for most ailments out there, but this wasn’t quite so prevalent in the past. Instead, doctors often treated their patients on a hunch or hearsay, and this was the case for those suffering from diseases transmitted through intimate actions.
Before penicillin and antibiotics came into the world of modern medicine, doctors would actually treat these diseases with mercury. They would inject the mercury into those affected and hope that it would cure the disease. Of course, this didn’t happen, as we now know that mercury isn’t too safe.
Thrown onto the ground
Nobody really likes to think about smelly human and animal waste, which is why we should all be thankful for modern engineering. All we have to do is flush our toilet and let the underground systems do the rest of the work, but things weren’t quite as efficient back in the day.
For centuries, people had to simply throw their waste into cesspits in the ground and then had to deal with the stench and the sight of this stuff just sitting around. In fact, there were often rivers of waste snaking their way through towns and villages, which meant that there was no getting rid of the smell even if our ancestors wanted a little breather.
Netflix and chill
There’s nothing better than hanging out in your bed and watching a whole season of your favorite show on Netflix, right? We are lucky enough to have proper bed frames, mattresses, and comforters to make sure that we’re as cozy as possible, but our ancestors didn’t have the chance to properly Netflix and chill.
Instead, they had to deal with the fact that their beds were made from leaves and rush plants that seemed to attract bugs and other animals. This meant that things got pretty itchy for them and that a pleasant night would often be interrupted by dirt and critters. It’s a no from us…