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It's interesting to note that the definition of 'beauty' has changed over the ages and across cultures reflecting that perhaps the idea of what is beautiful today or in our society is a trend that will change as time goes on. Today, magazines and advertisements tell us that that beauty is a youthful, unlined face accompanied by large breasts with curvy (but not too large) hips to match.

In ancient China, a “lotus foot” measuring 4 inches was the epitome of ideal beauty. The lotus foot involved breaking the bones of the forefoot and folding them forward, then tying the misshapen appendage to prohibit growth. The practice caused severe pain, imbalance and falls. And osteoporosis eventually followed because women were unable to bear weight and move properly. Hip and knee osteoarthritis, chronic pain, and even joint replacement surgery were also experienced.

The ancient Romans, Egyptians and Persians considered sparkling eyes to be beautiful and the heavy metal antimony was used to make their eyes sparkle. A toxic chemical, antimony has side effects similar to arsenic - headache, dizziness, and depression. Larger doses may result in violent and frequent vomiting, leading to death in a few days.

During the Elizabethan era, women covered their skin with lead-based makeup to create a pure white foundation, fashionable at the time. This practice resulted in peripheral neuropathy, gout, anemia, chronic renal failure, and disfiguring scarring, which required the application of even more lead-based makeup. In fact, it's been recorded that the use of lead-based makeup resulted in the misshapen appearance of Queen Elizabeth I, who banished all mirrors from her castle due to her upset over her appearance.

During the 16th and 17th centuries in France, wealthy women used belladonna to dilate their pupils. While belladonna delivered an attractive doe-like appearance, side effects such as retinal damage, glaucoma, and blindness ensued. Vermilion rouge, a mixture of sulphur and mercury was used during the 18th century. The mercury component resulted in unfortunate side effects including loss of teeth, gingivitis and kidney and nervous system damage.

The Victorian era advocated modest, natural beauty, restrained and without makeup. Cosmetics were used sparingly – colored makeup being reserved for prostitutes and actresses, who wore it only on stage. Hygiene and health were emphasized and women were warned against the toxic qualities of lead-based cosmetics.

The Roaring Twenties symbolized the growing freedom of women as they started taking beauty cues from film stars. Heavy makeup came back into vogue – rouge and painted lips were very much in style. And in the 60s there was only one makeup look: dark eyes paired with pale lips (or, by the late ‘60s, no makeup at all).

Today, we covet unlined faces and toned physiques. Many of us embrace Botox, chemical peels, surgical procedures and anti aging creams in our quest for youth. In fact, it's been estimated that the average North American woman spends 19 minutes each day to treat and alter their face. What's important to remember is that cosmetic products are largely unregulated by the FDA, leaving manufacturers to make claims for their products, often with untested (and sometimes unsafe) ingredients. And that some cosmetic procedures are still quite new so we don’t know much about potential long term side effects.  

To me and most of the women I know, beauty is about more than how young you look. It's about a face showing kindness and experience; it's the way you treat others and the joy you exhibit for life. Despite the media's definition of beauty, we should all celebrate our individual beauty, no matter our age.

Sharmani Pillay is a Registered Pharmacist who specializes in anti aging skin care. She owns and operates an online skin store at [Link Removed] 

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