You Won't Believe What Beauty Products Used To Look Like

Some beauty products aced it the first time around. Take, for example, the humble eyelash curler. It hasn't changed much, if at all, since being patented in 1931. And while compact and even self-heating versions have come to market, time and time again, these bells and whistles fall short of the original. The same could be said of bobby pins, body-oil blends — even boar-bristle hair brushes.
Then, there are the products that look like torture devices are hardly recognizable in their early renditions. From face serums to razors to mascara, sometimes we wonder why anyone bothered with these difficult-to-use products and tools back in the day.
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And hair? That's where things get really bizarre. Basically, any device that requires heat has come a long way. To wit: Early curling irons looked like cattle prods — and were just as dangerous. And the bizarre way that women dried their hair back in 1900 will leave you scratching your head.
Ahead, a look back at how common beauty tools and products have evolved over the years. It's likely that you'll be grateful for today's modern innovations.
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Then: Eyelash darkener

Great Lash, in all its iconic glory, may seem like the first drugstore mascara in existence, but there's far more to the story. Before Maybelline filled its pink-and-green tubes with mascara, it sold "eyelash darkener," a pressed formula applied to lashes with a mini brush reminiscent of a toothbrush. The darkener was launched in 1917, and it wasn't until the 1930s that the nickname "mascara" became official. It was sold for about 10 cents — roughly the equivalent of $2 today.
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Now: Mascara

The evolution of mascara had a slow start. A brief history: Cake mascara was the standard from the 1910s to the 1930s, then cream, and then that trusty tube (finally) hit the shelves in the '60s. Since then, advances have taken off, with more and more formulas offering improved volume, length, and waterproof technology every year.

Still on top of the game? Maybelline's drugstore offerings.

Maybelline Volum' Express the Falsies Mascara, $6.99, available at Ulta Beauty.
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Photo: SSPL/ Getty Images.
Then: Stoneware hairdryers

We could devote an entire story to the ways people have dried their locks over the centuries, but this might very well be the strangest. These Thermicon glazed stoneware hairdryers are from the U.K., dating from 1880 to 1900.

How, exactly, do they work? Heed the inscribed instructions: "Fill it with boiling water and it dries the hair after washing in a few minutes." So it's a hot-water bottle for your 'do? Okay.
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Now: The blowdryer

Even the thickest hair dries quickly and effectively with a blast from a top modern blowdryer. This T3 option is an editor favorite, and the perfect example of how far things have come. It's light, quiet, and dries hair incredibly fast. Plus, it has a cool-shot button for more effective styling, and ions to help smooth the strands as you go.

T3 Featherweight 2 Dryer, $200, available at Net-A-Porter.
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Then: Disposable sponges

Disposable sponges, in either latex or non-latex varieties, are still available just about everywhere. But maybe it's time to shelve them...for good. Environmental reasons aside, they just don't work as well as their successors. Plus, what a pain in the ass it is to have to buy a new pack every single month.
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Now: The makeup-artist blending sponge

Nothing beats the squishy genius of an egg-shaped sponge, especially when it comes to buffing foundation into seamless perfection. We've waxed poetic about one of our favorites, the Beautyblender, but there are also tons of other options to choose from. Target has a version for $5.99, and Ulta Beauty has one for $4.99 — just make sure you pick up a cleanser, too!

Beautyblender The Original Beautyblender, $20, available at Sephora.
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Photo: Courtesy of TIGHAR.
Then: Snake oil Freckle ointment

The desire to fade uneven pigmentation isn't a new thing — people have been obsessed with even complexions forever — but the ways in which it was once marketed may surprise you.

Enter Dr. Berry's Freckle Ointment, which promised to "positively cure freckles, tan, and all blemishes and discolorations of the skin," and rang in at $1.25 in the early 1900s. The ingredient list is a bit of a mystery (that seems safe, no?), and sure, it's somewhat offensive and way anachronistic, since freckles are awesome, but a piece of skin-care history nevertheless.

In fact, the formula made news recently: A bottle of it was found on a remote island in the Pacific, leading scientists and historians to believe it had belonged to none other than Amelia Earhart. (It was well-documented that she disliked her freckles.)
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Now: Corrective serums

There's no shortage of clinically proven serums today, all promising to brighten and even skin with top-notch active ingredients. Having trouble choosing one? These 11 options are dermatologist-recommended.

Kiehl's Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution, $49.50, available at Kiehl's.
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Then: The Milady-Décolletée

Hair-removal trends have come and gone — the ancient Egyptians were said to remove every hair on their bodies (yes, their heads too), with tweezers, pumice stones (ouch), and beeswax. But it wasn't until the early 1900s that the first safety razor was created just for women. Based on our research, it was Gillette's Milady-Décolletée in 1915 (seen here) that set the precedent for women's razors. (We can't imagine that case being waterproof...)
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Now: Razors with all the bells and whistles

It's hard to keep up with the latest razor innovations today. Five blades, build-on shave gel, a swivel head — it may all seem a little elaborate for a simple shave. That is, until you consider what women used to shave with. In fact, can you even remember the last time you cut yourself shaving? We'd guess the results would be a bit less precise with the older versions.

Gillette Venus Swirl, $12.99, available at Target.
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Photo: Getty Images.
Then: Medical tweezers

Even things as simple as tweezers have advanced. Instead of medical tweezers to remove errant hairs — which, let's admit, were never very good at actually gripping anything — the beauty industry has found new and more effective tools...
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Now: Beauty tweezers

Namely, super-sharp (read: super-grippy), slanted or pointed, tweezers, which a professional can easily sharpen (this is often done for free if you send them back to the manufacturer in a padded envelope). It's easy to take these handy tools for granted, but you'll remember how great they are if you ever revert to the pair hanging out in your first-aid kit.

Tweezerman Pink Perfection Petite Tweeze Set, $27, available at Sephora.
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Photo: SSPL/ Getty Images.
Then: Curling tongs

Downton Abbey devotees will recognize these. As early as the era of the Great Roman Empire, metal tongs like these were used to wave and curl hair on both the head and face (beard curls!). This handy set comes from 1891, and was cutting-edge for its day. (The traveling heating chamber meant you could curl in front of a mirror, not the stove or fire.)

It's a simple idea: The metal is heated, and then the hair is wrapped just like with a modern curling iron, albeit with a lot more practice required. Just try not to burn your forehead on this set.
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Now: The curling iron

Plug it in, pick your temp, curl your 'do. How things have changed...

Hot Tools Gold Curling Iron, $39.99, available at Ulta Beauty.
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Then: The highlighting cap

If you highlighted your hair at home in the '90s — or even at some salons — chances are, you're familiar with the frosting cap. It looks a bit like a bonnet, with tiny holes to pull random pieces of hair through that you would then bleach or color. We'd explain why this goes in the "then" column, but the lack of precision speaks for itself.
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Now: Countless hair-coloring techniques

Today, there are endless ways to color and bleach hair, most of which involve foils, plastic, or strips of cotton for a more exact and controlled result. Hell, people are even using Beautyblenders to dye hair now...
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Photo: Imagno/ Getty Images.
Then: Hood dryers

This early hood dryer was all the rage back in 1935. In fact, this image was taken at a hair fashion show in London, where the metal machine made its formal debut. There's something about all that heat and metal that just seems dangerous to us, but it did pave the way for more advanced models...
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Now: High-tech hood dryers

Today, heat can be delivered more effectively and evenly, thanks to rotating heaters like this one. It cuts down on noise, space, and the general uncomfortableness you feel when large hoods engulf your head.
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Photo: Getty Images.
Then: The washcloth

Remember when we talked about the effectiveness of the simple eyelash curler? The washcloth is a bit like that. While not as fancy as many other methods available today to slough off dead skin — most derms will agree that you should wash your cloth after using it to exfoliate — it's still an effective and gentle option. Just remember to massage, not scrub!
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Now: The electric brush

Oscillating brushes that clean and exfoliate make a simple washcloth look like...a simple washcloth. And none is more iconic than the Clarisonic — it's the brand that changed the market for good with its vibrating, motorized brushes.

Clarisonic Mia Fit, $189, available at Sephora.
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Photo: Bettmann/ Getty Images.
Then: Perfume stoppers

The idea of toting their perfumes around would probably make people of previous centuries turn up their noses, since delicate bottles like these were commonplace. A glass stopper prevented the scent from splashing out, but it wasn't until the atomizer was invented in the late 19th century (for medical purposes, then eventually adopted by the beauty industry) that perfumes became travel-friendly. These bottles are from right around the turn of the 20th century.
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Now: Travel-friendly scents

Creating and choosing a fragrance is still a delicate art, but thanks to new delivery methods and packaging, perfumes have gotten a lot easier to apply and transport. Purse sprays and solid perfumes make it a breeze, thanks to atomizers, rollerballs, and sturdy, leak-proof bottling.

Tom Ford Velvet Orchid Rollerball, $45, available at Sephora.
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Photo: Getty Images.
Then: Metal rollers

We don't have to explain why we're glad metal hair rollers have become relics. But, we will: Hot metal is damaging to hair, dangerous for the scalp, and in some cases, heavy and uncomfortable.
Back in the '50s, these were commonplace, but have since been replaced with Velcro, sponge, and our favorite version...
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Now: Hot rollers

...the hot roller. Sure, these may seem like a relic from the '80s, but they're back, people, and better than ever! Need convincing? Simply click right here.

Caruso Professional Ion Steam Hairsetter, $49.99, available at Ulta Beauty.
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Then: The day/night mirror

Children of the '80s and '90s will be familiar with the many mirrors that mimicked various types of light. You'd choose from day or night to help select the finish and proper intensity of your makeup, which felt groundbreaking at the time. Still effective? Sure, but there are also versions that make this one look a bit old-fashioned...
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Now: The tech-y mirror

It's pretty amazing what this new mirror can do (though it ain't cheap). In short, it harnesses the full range of colors found in natural light so you can perfect your look indoors. Plus, you can sync it to your phone to re-create light from anywhere using a photo you've taken in that location. Welcome to the future.

Simplehuman Wide View Sensor Mirror, $400, available at Simplehuman.
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Then: The straightening comb

The jury is out on who invented the straightening comb (also called a hot comb). Most say modern versions came from France — but it was Annie Malone and Madam C.J. Walker who first patented a version of the device in the States. Walker gave the comb more spacing between the bristles, a smart change that helped launch her career. In fact, she's widely hailed as the first female African-American millionaire in the U.S. That's what we call a trailblazer.
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Now: The flat iron

The hot comb still exists in many modern iterations — and is even more effective now than it was back in the day. But it's the flat iron that's in every hair pro's kit now. This iron from GHD is especially popular. Why? It heats in seconds and is less damaging to hair than other methods. (Not to mention the chic design.)

GHD Arctic Gold Platinum Gift Set, $249, available at Net-A-Porter.
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