Modern technology has exposed a lot of these concoctions to be worthless (or, in the case of Elizabethan-era women using lead paint to lighten their skin, very harmful) and also given us less disgusting alternatives (like synthetic dyes replacing bat poop in mascara).
And yet, the weirdness continues.
Here are some odd ingredients used in beauty products and treatments today.
Snail Secretion: In 2009 Michael Todd Cosmetics introduced Knu Anti-Aging Tri-Complex, which includes a 90 percent concentration of, yes, actual snail goo. They claim the (purified) secretion has excellent regenerative properties and helps prevent and correct wrinkles and loss of firmness.
Sperm: Or, more accurately, spermine, is an antioxidant found in human sperm. A Norwegian company found a way to synthesize it and now women pay to have spermine facials in the hopes of smoothing fine lines and wrinkles.
Bird Poop: A load of crap -- literally. For centuries geishas have applied nightingale poo to their faces to detoxify (that seems counterproductive) their pores and brighten discolorations. For a few hundred bucks, you can have a modernized version of the ancient treatment -- the droppings are sterilized via UV light and applied during a facial. (David and Victoria Beckham are reported fans of the fecal facial.) And another strange treatment from Japan that is gaining popularity Stateside...
Fish Pedicures: Forget pumice stones and foot files -- why not dunk your tootsies in a fishbowl and let little carp nibble away rough skin and calluses? Although people report their feet to be soft and smooth afterward, there are some concerns that letting fish eat your feet is less than sanitary.
Baby Foreskin: Fibroblasts from infant skin are particularly regenerative, which means they can be used for wound healing or, in this case, wrinkle reduction. SkinMedica uses stabilized human-growth factors derived from circumcised foreskin that would be discarded anyway, and it's always, um, donated to the supplying lab with informed consent from the baby's guardian.
Beer: Ever consider soaking yourself in a tub full of beer? And we don't mean that time in college when you spilled your Bud Light in the hot tub. Head to Chodovar Family Brewery right outside of Prague, Czech Republic, and take a 20-minute soak in the special "bathing beer," which is supposedly very nourishing for the skin.
Snake Massage: At Ada Barak's Carnivorous Plant Farm in Israel, you can take a little break from watching plants devour rodents to have a bunch of snakes slither over your bare body. The snake massage is reputed to have soothing, therapeutic benefits and can help chronic problems like headaches or tight muscles. (Or cause cardiac arrest!) And speaking of snakes...
Snake Venom: (Or at least a synthetic version.) Syn-Ake is a skin-care ingredient meant to mimic the paralyzing effects of snake venom and soften wrinkles -- at least temporarily -- like a topical Botox. Get a "snake venom" facial at Sonya Dakar in Beverly Hills or look for the ingredient in Kumaara Overnight Repair Complex.
Chocolate: Strange and delicious! Check out the Chocolate Spa at The Hershey Hotel in Hershey, Penn., for skin-nourishing, aromatic chocolate soaks, massages, mani/pedis, and something called the Chocolate Fondue Wrap, which sounds an awful lot like a fantastic chocolate-themed dream we once had.
You know what else is strange? Someone spending $47,000 per year on her hair.