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4 Very Bizarre — and Kinda Gross — Ancient Remedies for Wrinkles (Crocodile Dung, Anyone?)

Swan fat was very popular among Ancient Romans.


Before the days of scientific studies and clinical testing, humans created all sorts of strange remedies for wrinkles. Some of these remedies — like the clay masks that originated in Ancient India — are still considered the best treatments for clear, plump, and smooth skin. Others, like the Roman crocodile dung facial (more on that later), are fascinating reminders of how far we’ve come.

Overall, ancient remedies prove that we aren’t that different from our ancestors in our quest to remain youthful. Isn’t everyone on the hunt for the next quick cosmetic fix? Check out these bizarre ancient treatments for wrinkles below, and find out which ones are still used today.

Cleopatra enjoyed an ‘Egyptian facial.’

caucasian woman getting an Egyptian facial
Robert Przybysz/Shutterstock

Ancient Egyptians, including Queen Cleopatra VII, often enjoyed a special facial. It started off fairly ordinary — milk and fruit were used to soften the skin. But things got a little dicey when a scalpel (or surgical blade) was used to scrape away dead skin cells. The idea was to brighten the skin’s overall tone with fruit; expose a fresh layer of skin; and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. While it might seem odd and potentially dangerous, using a scalpel isn’t all that unique. Barbers today use a single-edge metal blade to shave beards, after all.

In fact, many of today’s aestheticians employ variations of the ancient Egyptian facial. Those who have tried it report that it’s terrifying — but effective.

A Hungarian countess bathed in blood.

Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed, a Hungarian noblewoman who lived in the 1500s, was an alleged serial killer linked to horrifying tales. Legends say that she killed over 600 women and bathed in the blood of virgins, a “beauty treatment” she believed would grant her eternal youth.

Though some historians believe Báthory’s crimes were exaggerated, the theory that blood has anti-aging powers lives on. The “vampire facial,” for example, is a highly popular procedure involving a micro-needle; the micro-needle pokes tiny holes in your skin and implants your own blood platelets below the surface. (The aesthetician draws some of your blood before the procedure begins, and spins it in a centrifuge to separate the plasma from the platelets.)

Ancient Romans applied crocodile dung, swan fat, and donkey milk.

crocodile entering the Nile river

Yes, you read that right. In Ancient Rome, there is evidence that women coated their faces in crocodile dung to help whiten and brighten aging skin. (Some evidence suggests that crocodile dung was also used as a rouge.) In addition, Ancient Romans used swan fat and donkey milk to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Crocodile dung is quite a dangerous remedy, and could have made many people ill (and imagine slathering it on your face — ick!). However, Romans had the right idea in terms of swan fat and donkey milk; most wrinkle creams today are highly moisturizing and rich in fatty acids, which help plump up and fill out skin.

Americans once used radioactive face creams.

This remedy isn’t exactly ancient, but it’s strange enough to warrant a mention. After Marie and Pierre Curie successfully isolated radium in 1902, most people thought of radioactivity as a good thing — an innocent substance that contained energy. Though there wasn’t any research to prove that radium had beauty benefits, manufacturers began creating radioactive beauty products like Tho-Radia: a facial cream claiming to boost circulation, reduce body fat, and smooth wrinkles.

Fortunately, creams like Tho-Radia had such low levels of radioactivity that they didn’t do any significant harm. And once researchers found that radiation exposure causes serious illness and death, new laws limiting radioactive products were introduced. Perfect skin is definitely not worth radiation poisoning!

Which ancient wrinkle remedy surprised you the most? Which of the lasting remedies would you try today? (Please don’t say crocodile dung.) Let us know in the comments below.

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