Flickr Friday – Raise the Bar

The FlickrFam has once again found a way to #RaiseTheBar for Flickr Friday’s latest theme. We expected to see dramatic photos of what it means to take things to the next level, but in classic Flickr fashion we got fabulously quirky interpretations like this:

...Flickr Friday asked us to “raise the bar”, so I did 😀

The phrase ‘raising the bar’ was redefined as photographers put their personalized spin on the word ‘bar’.

Clean and Jerk
Raise the Bar

Keep up the creativity, folks. We can’t get enough!

raising the bar

If your photo wasn’t selected and you can’t control the flames from your raging fury, not to worry! You can add your photo to the comments section of the gallery with this format: [FLICKR URL] This way your photos will get some more exposure and everyone will have the opportunity to ooh and ahh over your work, as they should. Want your photo featured in next week’s roundup? Stay tuned for the announcement of the next theme tomorrow morning.


Tycho European Dates + Glider Music Video


Tycho Europe tour kicks off 19 October in Ireland and continues through 09 November in Russia!

19 OCT – Dublin, IE – District 8 – SOLD OUT
22 OCT – London, UK – The Roundhouse
24 OCT – Barcelona, ES – Razzmatazz 2
25 OCT – Toulouse, FR – Bikini
27 OCT – Bologna, IT – Estragon
28 OCT – Turin, IT – Movement Festival
30 OCT – Basel, CH – Kaserne
31 OCT – Zurich, CH – Plaza
01 NOV – Antwerp, BE – Trix
02 NOV – Utrecht, NL – Tivoli
04 NOV – Copenhagen, DK – DR Koncerthuset
05 NOV – Stockholm, SE – Nobelberget
09 NOV – Moscow, RU – Izvestia Hall

Tickets and more info

Live visuals for Tycho – Glider by Scott Hansen (Tycho)

As an homage to the visionary Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, Scott incorporated elements of Tarkovsky’s 1972 film Solaris into these visuals for Glider which we will be performing in Moscow.

Triangle element by Bradley Munkowitz

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Japanese cups of tea

A little over a week ago we took the family out of town for a quick getaway. When we just want a short trip away from home we usually go to Portland because it’s within driving distance. One of my favorite stores is Canoe, which carries a great variety of design from all over the world. Loads of Scandinavian and Japanese design fills their shelves and I picked up an extra large tea cup to go with my growing collection of Hasami mugs and tea pot. I really like this bigger size because normally I have two cups of tea every night but with this, one big one does the job! If you love Hasami pottery they’re super easy to find now and with great variety like bowls, lids and plates. Source:

The International Postcard Show 2018

The International Postcard Show 2018
Call for submissions
Deadline: 5th January 2018
Application fees: see below

Postcard show

Surface Gallery invites artists from across the world to participate in our annual International Postcard Show.

All submissions will be included in this vibrant and hugely popular exhibition. The International Postcard Show will feature hundreds of original creations in an array of different media by established and aspiring artists from all over the world.

All artists can choose to have their work on sale during the exhibition; postcards will be priced at £15 each. If postcards remain unsold, all participants have the opportunity to exchange their postcard with another artist, who will be randomly selected at the end of the exhibition.

In the case of no sale or if you opt out of selling your work(s) and do not wish to take part in the international exchange, your postcards will be returned to you via post following the exhibition.

The deadline for submissions is 6pm, Friday 5th January 2018.

We will be awarding prizes for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place postcards, selected by the exhibition coordinators. There will also be our annual People’s Prize, where visitors to the exhibition will have to chance to vote for their favourite postcard. The creator of the selected postcard will win a free exhibition in Le Loovre.

UK ENTRIES 1 postcard = £6, 2 postcards = £11, 3 postcards = £16, 4 postcards = £21, 5 postcards = £25
INTERNATIONAL ENTRIES 1 postcard = £7.50, 2 postcards = £13.50, 3 postcards = £17.50, 4 postcards = £22, 5 postcards = £26
Entries are limited to 5 per person.

All works received with a completed application form before the deadline will be accepted and exhibited as part of the show. Artworks in any medium are welcome, but must fit the postcard-sized specifications of 4×6 inches (10.5x15cm) with a maximum depth of 5mm.

We are also accepting group entries from schools at a 50% discount rate. Please email us at for more information.

Download the application form here:

Please read the application form carefully to ensure that your work fits the exhibition criteria.

1st Prize= £50
2nd Prize = Original Signed Drawing by Zoe Spowage
3rd Prize = A piece of jewellery from Keishi Jewellery
People’s Prize = Free Exhibition in Le Loovre

Submission Deadline = 5th January 2018, 6pm
Opening Night = 12th January, 2018
Exhibition = 13th January- 10th February 2018 /



Creative: First Blurb Layflat Sample

Fellow Passengers,

Blurb now has layflat. You asked for it. Here it is. Now go forth and prosper, or better yet, do a test book and see how this new format fits your visual, tangible world. That’s what I did. Those of you who know me know I make a lot of test books, so what you are looking at here is a comparison between my Wyoming book in both standard-style and layflat.

Technical notes:

20-110 pages
100#, double thick, 148 GSM paper

Layflat is another arrow in your book quiver. That’s it. Is it for everything? No. It’s a unique little offering that makes me think marketing collateral, portfolio or the perfect way of showcasing panoramic images. Or, if you are like me and are known to purposely put key elements of your images dead center in the gutter then this format is calling you. Layflat is more costly, but again, this isn’t designed for all encompassing, self-publishing style projects and sales but rather a specialty product that fits a very specific bill. It lays flat and it looks GOOOOD. Mission accomplished.

As you will see, one image has both the standard book and the layflat open to the same page and you will see the difference in how the book handles. Plus, you can hold this book with one hand and easily read the entire spread, something to consider when most humans have their phone in their hand the bulk of their waking hours. (Yes, I’ve seen people try to look at book while on IG.) There is also a significant difference in thickness. The cover is a slightly different texture as well. You lose nothing in the gutter.

I really like what Blurb is doing. That might sound strange. I work for Blurb, full time, so yes, I SHOULD like what Blurb is doing, but because I’m so awesome I often think of myself as another person, someone pure and stoic who tames animals for a living and ALWAYS does the right thing. When I’m this person I see layflat, magazine, trade, photo, Amazon, Ingram, custom books, bespoke options, offset runs, etc. and I just wonder would I could do given the right amount of time. The tools are there. The good version of me thinks about a book of Fuji, digital files because he hasn’t done a book like that. He thinks about continuing his magazine series ESSAY and he thinks about a collaborative, custom offset book run with some of his equally stoic friends. And then he finds 128 episodes of Miami Vice online and he knows he will stop everything and attend to this magical find.

On a serious note, layflat is a good option and the perfect fit for specific projects. I would start small, like a 7×7, and test out what works best for you. Any questions hit me up in the comments below.


Recipes Organized into Component Parts in Food Styling Photos by Mikkel Jul Hvilshøj

All photos © Mikkel Jul Hvilshøj

In a shoot for Nordic cookware brand Eva, Copenhagen-based photographer Mikkel Jul Hvilshøj lets the ingredients speak for themselves. In flatlay photos on rich matte backgrounds, Hvilshøj creates compositions of raw recipe materials like carrots, star anise, and lemon that seem to suggest that the cookware itself is an essential element in classic Scandinavian food and drink. You can see the full series on Behance.


Business News: Swiss Watch Exports Jump Again; Latest Figures Showing Continuing Recovery

Swiss watch global exports jumped 3.7% in value in September, in the latest sign that the industry’s two-year slump is over. It was the fifth consecutive month that exports rose in year-to-year comparisons, and the sixth increase in the last seven months. “The trend over a 12 months period shows a continuing recovery,” said the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH), which released the data today.  

 September watch exports amounted to SF1.77 billion ($1.81 billion). The data represents wholesale – not retail – sales, i.e., shipments from watch companies to their distributors and retail agents.  

By far the best news for the Swiss in the September data is that their long-suffering top market, Hong Kong, is on the mend. Exports there rose 13.7% in September over what the FH acknowledged was a very weak September 2016. Nevertheless, after a nightmarish run of 25 consecutive months of declines through February of this year, Hong Kong exports have rebounded. They have increased every month since May. It’s an indication that the tremendous glut of inventory there has finally fallen to manageable levels 

The Hong Kong jump overshadowed a surprisingly soft increase in shipments to China for the month (+1.2%). China, Switzerland’s third largest market, has led the industry’s recovery this year; exports are up 17.2% to SF1.07 billion ($1.09 billion) through the January-September 2017 period.  

The China number was one of several anomalies in the data for September. Another hot market, the United Kingdom, which has benefited from the weakness of the pound after last year’s Brexit vote, rose just 0.7% in September. It remains up 10.2% for the year, however. Singapore, on the other hand, the eighth largest market, saw its exports nearly double in September (+90%) “because of the delivery of high priced watches,” the FH said.   

The worst news in the September data is that the United States, Switzerland’s second largest market, refuses to budge. “The downward trend continued in the United States, although the decline was limited last month,” the FH said. While tiny (0.6%), the drop extends a long-running weak streak here that puzzles Swiss executives. They see our expanding economy, low unemployment and high stock market, and figure that luxury watch sales should be booming. Instead, exports to the U.S. have dropped for seven of 2017’s nine months. Through September, U.S. exports of SF1.51 billion ($1.54 billion) are 4.1% below 2016. Measured on a quarterly basis, they have now dropped for 10 consecutive quarters. 

The main hall of Baselworld, 2017

Switzerland’s troubles in the United States are a reminder that the five-month Swiss-watch recovery remains fragile. Through September, exports are up a total of 1.5% over a dismal 2016. That may be enough to avoid the first three-year drop in watch exports since 1932. But through September, this year’s exports are 8.9% below those of 2015. A look at Switzerland’s top 20 export markets, which account for the lion’s share of sales, shows 10 are up year-to-date and 10 are down. 

Still, September’s export jump will cheer Swiss watch executives. The consensus in Swiss-watch C-suites is that the worst is over. A survey of 60 Swiss watch executives by the consulting company Deloitte between May and July indicated that a majority were bullish about business prospects through the first half of 2018. (The findings are in the Deloitte Swiss Watch Industry Study 2017 released at the end of September. Asked about their outlook for the next 12 months, 52% said they were optimistic, the highest percentage since 2013. A year ago, 2% were optimistic. (Deloitte has conducted the study each year since 2012.) Only 16% of Swiss watch executives had a negative outlook for 2017-2018. 

They were most optimistic about three main markets and regions: mainland China (excluding Hong Kong), the rest of Asia, and North America (dominated by the U.S.; Mexico is Switzerland’s 19th largest market, Canada the 21st).  

China makes sense. The recovery there started in the fourth quarter of last year, when exports jumped 12%. They jumped 17% through the first quarter of this year, and 27% through the second quarter. Consequently, 71% of the executives expect watch sales in China to grow over the next 12 months. 

The same percentage, 71%, expect sales to increase in the rest of Asia. But not Hong Kong. Most executives (56%) predict flat sales there over the next 12 months; 36% expect sales growth. But that’s an improvement from last year, when 57% predicted continued declines there and only 8% were optimistic. 

Asia accounts for 50% of all Swiss watch exports. Europe is the next largest region, accounting for 34%. But the executives are not bullish about Europe: 48% think sales will be flat going forward, 45% think they will grow. 

As for the United States, the Swiss remain optimistic, despite the continued sluggishness here. In each of the previous Deloitte studies, the U.S. was considered the most promising market. It is, after all, the world’s largest economy. This year the Swiss are more optimistic about China and Asia. But not by much. For the Swiss, when it comes to America, hope springs eternal: 68% of those polled expect Swiss watch sales to grow in the U.S. market through mid-2018.  

Exactly why the executives think the U.S. will shake its slump, Deloitte does not say. In fact, in a section on “Challenges and Risks” to the Swiss watch industry, Deloitte cites a factor that may have a negative effect on the American market. I confess that, in the list of ailments hurting Swiss watch sales here that I routinely cite (gray market goods; e-commerce retailers; smartwatches; strong Swiss franc; decline of department stores, malls and brick-and-mortar retailers, etc.) it’s one that I had not thought of: Donald Trump. 

Deloitte notes that political uncertainty is a risk factor that can impact Swiss watch sales. “The level of political uncertainty has increased in most of the main export markets for Swiss watches,” Deloitte says. “In December 2016, the global economic uncertainty index reached the highest level since its inception in the late 1990s, mainly as a result of the vote in the UK to leave the EU and the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president.” It asked Swiss watch executives to “rate the level of political uncertainty facing your business” in major Swiss trading partners. The U.S. came out on top with 50% of Swiss watch executives citing it. The UK was next (49%), followed by Hong Kong (44%), China (41%), France (31%), Italy (29%) and Germany (3%). 

Concludes Deloitte, “Despite the political uncertainty following the results of the U.S. presidential election in November 2016, watch brands continue to believe in the importance and potential of the U.S. market.” Just when – and whether – the U.S. rewards that vote of confidence remains to be seen. We’ll review the October data around this time next month. 


Thor: Ragnarok, a joyous, trashy, retro-nostalgic comedy, is the best of the Marvel films

Chris Hemsworth as Thor: he plays the part of the hunky God with disarming humour. Marvel Entertainment, Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Pictures

Thor: Ragnarok – the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe – is the best of the Marvel films. The third in the Thor series, directed by New Zealand wunderkind Taika Waititi, its narrative follows the battle between Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the brawny god of thunder, and his sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), goddess of death.

Hela makes a push to claim the throne of the kingdom of Asgard; she wants to use this power to conquer the rest of the universe, which, she believes, rightfully belongs to the Asgardians. Thor, assisted by a diverse group of allies, including his shifty brother and occasional enemy Loki (Tom Hiddleston), undergoes various trials and tribulations, before coming up against his evil sister in a final epic battle, waged over the fate of the cosmos.

Though the story does connect with and extend elements from the earlier Thor films, Thor: Ragnarok feels like a different beast entirely, and I can understand why diehard Marvel fans (I’m not one) might be disappointed.

From left, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson and Tom Hiddleston.
Marvel Entertainment, Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Pictures

Whereas the earlier Thor films featured numerous pompous, posturing monologues about heroism, virtue, and fate, the spirit of Waititi’s film is diametrically opposite to this. It offers a joyous kaleidoscope of colour and swirling psychedelic imagery, underscored by a crisp, retro-synth soundtrack. The flamboyantly designed action sequences, including one where the Hulk battles a giant wolf, are frequently punctuated by moments of genuinely hilarious dialogue.

Hemsworth is in his element as the hunky God, appropriately shirtless for at least one scene, albeit a short one. He plays the part with a disarming humour, as though sending up his public persona as Hollywood heartthrob, mimbo of the moment. Jeff Goldblum’s performance as Grandmaster, the blue-eye-liner wearing DJ and megalomaniacal ruler of the planet Sakaar (basically an intergalactic waste dump), is comically delirious. Mark Ruffalo is equally a pleasure to watch as Bruce Banner (aka the Incredible Hulk), even if his stint in the film in human form feels short.

Jeff Goldblum as Grandmaster: comically delicious.
Marvel Entertainment, Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Pictures

I will be eternally suspicious of Cate Blanchett playing a super-villain after her painfully hammy turn as Irina Spalko in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), but she is surprisingly restrained, here, as the malevolent Goddess, keeping the character grounded with her superb physical presence.

Cate Blanchett as Hela is surprisingly restrained.
Marvel Entertainment, Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Pictures

None of the actors offer poor performances – an incredible feat in itself, given how much of the film would have been shot in front of green screen. Tessa Thompson is appealing as a Valkyrie warrior, Hiddleston is fine reprising his role as Loki, and Anthony Hopkins as Odin, playing the sage, greybeard type he seems destined to repeat for the rest of his career, thankfully, only appears in a couple of scenes. Perhaps Idris Elba is wasted. As Heimdall, a warrior-guide on Asgard, Elba has a thankless, inconspicuous part for an actor of his stature and magnetism.

Idris Elba as Heimdall has a thankless part.
Marvel Entertainment, Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Pictures

In contrast to Blade Runner 2049, the other mega blockbuster recently released, the cast and crew here look like they’re having fun. This is, after all, one of the primary motivations for these ritual stagings we call cinema – and it lends an infectious vitality to material that could otherwise seem tawdry and trite, demanding that viewers, too, participate in the party.

The brilliance of the film, indeed, resides in its audiovisual qualities. Its look is magnificent, especially the segment on Sakaar, and the brilliant synth score by Mark Mothersbaugh is alternately spritely and hypnotic, a perfect homage to the scores of the electro-infused, smoky-neon-lit VHS fare upon which the film’s makers clearly grew up.

The look of the film is magnificent.
Marvel Entertainment, Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Pictures

Astonishingly, Thor: Ragnarok does not shy away from a thoughtful, though conventional, depiction of what are probably the two biggest political crises of our time. In the depiction of the planet Sakaar, the film cleverly situates problems of waste management within the broader ecological discourse of global warming – isn’t it the ultimate dream of the big polluters to have another planet on which to dump Earth’s waste?

And it has a few things to say on the ways in which forced migration and asylum seekers act upon, test and strengthen the tenacity of identity, culture and kinship.

The whole thing is perhaps a little opportunistic in its trashy, post-Stranger Things retro-nostalgia trip. And perhaps this is more evidence of the cynicism of Hollywood producers, willing to modify their output to fit whatever is “trending”. But it is just so well done that I challenge any viewer who came of age as a cinema-goer in the 1980s not to embrace it. This is like the live-action Masters of the Universe film that never got made (including teleportation design that recalls the saturated prismatic colours of MOTU).

In addition, this is one of the best comedies I’ve seen recently – it is a comedy in superhero guise – but its humour is far from the sentimental, saccharine gags of other films from Marvel, like Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) or The Avengers (2012).

The well-conceived situational humour of Eric Pearson’s sharply written screenplay is brought to life by brilliant comedic performances from the actors, including Waititi himself, who plays Korg, a Kiwi-bro made of rock. His first line to Thor is: “I’m made of rock – you don’t need to be afraid, unless you’re made of scissors.”

Taika Waititi as a Kiwi bro made of rock.
Marvel Entertainment, Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Pictures

Thor: Ragnarok is one of the best films I’ve seen this year – which is something I never thought I’d say about a Marvel film. We can put this down, I suspect, largely to the direction of Waititi, a master of low-key humour, who shot to fame with his second feature film, Boy (2010) and followed it up with New Zealand hits What We Do in the Shadows (2014) and Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016). If this one is anything to go by, Waititi will be making Hollywood films for a long time to come.

The Conversation

Ari Mattes does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.


Friday essay: toxic beauty, then and now

Beauty is still understood as a process of ongoing work and maintenance. Shutterstock

Throughout history, humans have been willing to try almost any method or product to improve their physical appearance. In response, enterprising businesses and beauty moguls have conspired to sell us almost anything — from water to poison — in the guise of cosmetic treatments. While many cosmetic products have eventually proven to have little efficacy, a significant number have also caused physical harm and even death.

Cosmetics and cosmetic surgery are now subject to more stringent regulation than in the 19th century, when lead-based powders and face creams containing poisons were not uncommon. However, even today there are significant serious side-effects and potential dangers from cosmetic procedures, in particular.

For example, it was recently reported that cosmetic injections, such as platelet-rich plasma injections and facial fillers, are leading to a significant number of patients suffering from chronic, and potentially disfiguring, bacterial infections. While these kinds of non-invasive procedures are common, with over $1 billion spent annually on cosmetic jabs in Australia alone, research suggests that almost one-fifth of patients could suffer from such complications.

Of course, even when the greatest medical care is taken, there are still potential questions about the health risks of utilising Botox (Botulinum Toxin Type A) to combat or stave off facial wrinkles. While a large number of people, primarily women, have embraced Botox and believe it to be safe, in 2009 the US Food and Drug Administration added a warning noting that Botox “may spread from the area of injection to produce symptoms of botulism”, such as muscle weakness and breathing difficulty.

Further reading: Safety before profits: why cosmetic surgery is ripe for regulation

Even the most common beauty products still have potential risks associated with them. Consider lipstick, which is placed directly on the thin skin of the lips, readily ingested throughout wear, and reapplied multiple times throughout the day. Manufacturers are not required to list lead as an ingredient in lipsticks as it is regarded as a contaminant, but most contain lead, and some colours in much higher concentrations. An FDA test of 400 lipsticks conducted in 2011 found that every one contained lead. Nevertheless, the FDA advises that up to 10 parts per million of lead is an acceptable level.

In her book Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present, Alison Matthews David explains that lead was a popular ingredient in cosmetics for centuries “because it made colours even and opaque and created a desirable ‘whiteness’ that bespoke both freedom from hard outdoor labour and racial purity”.

In the 1860s, the American face lotion Laird’s “Bloom of Youth or liquid pearl” promised to whiten skin, helping “ladies afflicted with tan, freckles, Rough or Discolored Skin”. The skin lightener, however, contained such a significant amount of lead that it caused “wrist drop”, or radial nerve palsy, in a number of women.

One woman’s hand had become “wasted to a skeleton”, while a St Louis housewife is recorded as dying of lead poisoning after extensive long-term usage of Laird’s and a home-made preparation containing “white flake and glycerine”.

An ad for Laird’s bloom of youth, or liquid pearl for preserving and beautifying the complexion and skin, circa 1863.
Wikimedia images

In her book, Matthews David tells how she bought a vintage container of the American face powder “Tetlow’s Swan Down” that dates from the 1870s. It had been marketed as harmless and claimed to use whitening zinc oxide powder to replace once common toxic products such as lead, arsenic and bismuth. She had the powder tested with modern methods and found that it contained “a significant amount of lead”, which could be inhaled as dust during application.

Further reading: High amount of toxic metals in some cosmetics

A dark history

The serious regulation of patent medicines and cosmetics did not occur until the 20th century. This lack of government oversight meant that manufacturers could bottle and sell almost anything without having to verify their claims, subject their products to the rudimentary testing that was available, or clearly label the ingredients.

The key way in which American and British consumers made their decisions about products was based on the claims made and reputations built in extensive magazine advertising, which became prolific in the late 19th century. The period also saw branded cosmetics rise to prominence, with long-established and well-advertised brands, such as Pears’ Soap, providing one of the few indicators of likely quality and safety. Most cosmetic advertising emphasised the purity and healthfulness of products to distance them from well-known examples of harmful creams, powders, and dyes.

“Celebrated American skin specialist” Anna Ruppert (Shelton) provides a ready example of the spurious nature of some cosmetic advertising and the reality of dangerous tonics marketed as “natural” and therefore healthful in this era. Throughout 1891 and 1892, numerous advertisements appeared in British women’s magazines, including high-quality publications such as The Queen, for lectures to be held in London by a purported American beauty expert.

The ads mentioned Ruppert’s book on “natural beauty”, as well as promoting various products including a skin tonic. Her signature tonic was originally marketed as “Face Bleach” in the United States, tapping into the demand for lighter skin not only from white women, but also African American women. The tonic is described in one Queen advertisement as harmless and invisible: “It is not a cosmetic as it does not show on the face after application”.

However, the reality was that Ruppert’s product was dangerous. After a chemical analysis, the British Medical Journal revealed in 1893 that the skin tonic included the harmful ingredient “corrosive sublimate (bichloride of mercury)”, and it was implicated in the mercury poisoning of a “Mrs K”. As Caroline Rance discovered, that same year, Ruppert was prosecuted for infringing the Irish Pharmacy Act and her reputation was badly tarnished as a result.

Promotional material for Anna Ruppert.
Author provided

Cosmetics originated in homemade preparations, with long traditions of women concocting their own skin remedies. However, the advice and recipes given in beauty manuals were no guarantee of safety. One British “Treatise of the Toilet and Cosmetic Arts” entitled The Practice of Perfumery from 1870 included a recipe for one of the first depilatory creams, poudre subtile. The ingredients call for half an ounce of “sulpheret of arsenic”, although the author does warn that the preparation is “dangerous” and that “utmost caution” should be used.

Warnings such as this one indicate that the harmful effects of certain cosmetic products were well known. Another manual, Beauty: How to Get it and How to Keep It, from 1885 advised readers to avoid hair dyes because they “are sometimes injurious to the health; those that contain lead or mercury are especially so, and have been known to cause serious illness.” This fear of harmful dyes is reflected in the many magazine advertisements of the period for “hair restorers” that promise to return grey hair to its original shade without the use of “dyes”.

Dangerous home-spun beautifying techniques were also the subject of warnings. For instance, Toilet Hints, or, How to Preserve Beauty, and How to Acquire It from 1883 strongly advised women not to toy with the use of Belladonna berries to dilate their pupils. The use of an extract from the berries could cause blurred vision or even permanent blindness with prolonged use. This beauty guide offered up another, less dangerous, method for adding a spark to the eyes:

If your eyes look dull, drink a glass of champagne rather than touch belladonna.

A gendered culture

Disgraced skin specialist Anna Ruppert wrote in her A Book of Beauty in 1892 that a woman could never neglect her appearance, as even “[t]he most noble beauty, if unattended, will soon lose its charm”. Her comment has several important resonances with beauty culture today.

First, it is still primarily women who seek out cosmetics and cosmetic procedures. Ruppert’s advice to the Victorian woman was that maintaining her looks was vital to maintain a happy marriage. Our modern, postfeminist view is that women now make the “choice” to follow beauty and fashion norms.

Second, beauty is still understood as a process of ongoing work and maintenance. Procedures like Botox can be used pre-emptively to ward off wrinkles and sagging, but it requires continuous usage over time to maintain its effects.

Third, and most importantly, the gendering of cosmetic use means that women are most affected by dangerous products and procedures. As Matthews David points out, cosmetics and dyes continue to be less stringently regulated than products like shampoo and deodorant, which fall under the category of “personal care”.

Further reading: Health risks beneath the painted beauty in America’s nail salons

Several centuries of lax attitudes toward the composition of cosmetics and now non-invasive cosmetic procedures add up to not only a collection of macabre or grotesque stories.

From lead-filled Bloom of Youth to cosmetic fillers being delivered under questionable conditions, the history of dangerous cosmetics shows us the harms that women have suffered to meet expectations of what is beautiful.

The Conversation

Michelle Smith has previously received funding from the Australian Research Council.


This Digital Greenhouse Just Sprouted Up in Central Tokyo

Twenty years ago you could walk through Tokyo and stumble across small plots of farmland. And a small stand would sell fresh vegetables that had just been harvested. Those urban farms have virtually disappeared. But now, in one of the most unlikely spots, a farm encapsulated by a digital, technicolor greenhouse, has sprouted up, and […]