Cosmetics To Die For
By Elaine Saunders
The phrase fashion victim is a popular term of derision but today's women are only in danger of making fools of themselves in pursuit of this season's look. If we go back five hundred years women actually put their lives at risk to attain perfection.
As fashions change so do perceptions of beauty. In Elizabethan England women regarded pale skin as a sign of nobility, wealth and delicacy. The old portraits (and even Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth) have alabaster skins but the look was achieved at a price.
Skin whiteners were used extensively from the 1500's. Most common was ceruse, a combination of white lead powder and vinegar. It was applied in thick layers to the face, neck and bosom and never washed off and, apart from the smell, it had serious side effects. Lead is a neurotoxin that accumulates in the bones and tissues, attacking the central nervous system. Prolonged exposure causes damage to internal organs and the brain, and can give rise to anything from depression to heart failure.
Lead powder fell out of fashion because it made skin grey and shrivelled. Sadly the replacements were no less toxic. Alum and tin ash mixed with egg white were used, both of them caustic chemicals causing irritation to the skin, eyes and respiratory tract. Ingestion of potassium alum leads to nausea and gastric irritation and there have been recorded cases of fatal poisoning by just 30g.
Queen Elizabeth was the first royal fashion icon and her style was mimicked by those wealthy enough to afford the look. She plucked her hair-line back an inch to produce a high forehead and wore her hair a mass of red curls. A red hair dye was made with lead, sulphur and quicklime, again, extremely irritant to the eyes, skin and lungs. These chemicals are today used in industrial processes such as glass-making or photography where they are treated with extreme caution.
In contrast to pale skin, the eyes were heavily highlighted. Powdered antimony (kohl) darkened the lashes, repeated use causing blindness. Belladonna, a poison and a sedative, was dropped into the eye to dilate the pupils and make them sparkle. Its modern derivatives are restricted drugs and overdose can cause convulsions, delirium and unconsciousness.
The lips were reddened by a cosmetic called fucus red, more accurately known as red mercuric sulphide. Mercury is also a neurotoxin with exposure leading to personality changes, trembling and dementia. The Mad-Hatter in Alice in Wonderland was no work of fiction - mercury was used extensively in the hat-making industry in the 19th Century.
Mercury was also used as a facial peel and this is possibly the only cleansing the skin had. The common belief was that frequent washing opened the pores and allowed illness to enter the body. This combined with the ravages of smallpox lead to a blemished complexion. Spots, sores and freckles were treated with dubious preparations of lemon juice, mercury, honey and alum, and scars disguised with stuck-on black patches.
Hair fashions changed after the death of Elizabeth and elaborate, high styles became de rigueur by the 18th Century. These could take a whole day to arrange with lard used as a setting agent. A dusting of white lead powder counteracted the greasiness and the entire effect was so rancid the wearer was forced to sleep with her head in a cage to keep away rats.
Cosmetics use reached its peak in 18th Century Europe, with both sexes wearing heavy powders and paint. Add to this black teeth from a poor diet and inadequate dental treatment and the population must have presented a less than attractive picture.
The French Revolution put paid to the industry but France revived it by leading the way in the scientific manufacture of beauty aids in the early 1900's. Thereafter, it was sought to regulate the ingredients of products and they are now strictly controlled. No longer are women called upon to risk their lives in pursuit of beauty.
Come on Baby Light My Fire
Can a few burning herbs really
help a breech baby turn?
Elaine Saunders says yes.
Despite my doctor's reassurances, I knew there was something wrong with my second pregnancy. The baby had been frighteningly quiet throughout, and I'd been worried enough to ask for fetal monitoring at 32 weeks. I had also suffered pelvic pain severe enough to confine me to the house. So when my consultant told me at 37 weeks that my baby was breech, it was a strange relief.
An X-ray showed a large baby that I could not deliver naturally and I faced a cesarean section. When my consultant asked if I knew an acupuncturist, for a heart-stopping moment I thought he intended to use acupuncture during the cesarean instead of a conventional anesthetic. Instead, he said acupuncture might turn my baby and gave me the number of his personal practitioner.
When I called the acupuncturist, she explained that, in China, acupuncture corrects the majority of breech presentations but is administered much earlier in the pregnancy. She doubted our chances of success but I was prepared to try almost anything to avoid surgery.
At my first appointment she asked about my general health, looked at my tongue, but did not perform a physical examination. Instead, she led me into her treatment room, where the air was heavy with aromatic smoke. She painlessly inserted fine, four-inch needles into my lower legs: two at each ankle, three around each knee, one in each foot. She then rought out a bowl of dried herb and a box of matches. 'I thought you were going to set fire to me,' I joked. 'I am,' she replied.
After first rolling the herb, moxa, into small balls, she put it on the end of each needle and ignited it. She explained the heat would travel down into my meridians and this would stimulate fetal movement.
I was flat on my back, unable to see over the bulk of my pregnancy, with blue smoke rising from my legs---I couldn't help but laugh. But despite my skepticism and initial alarm, the aroma of the herb was soporific and I slept for 45 minutes.
After the treatment, I was given a cigar-shaped roll of moxa and told to hold the burning moxa under the ball of each foot for five minutes every evening. I was also told to kneel down with my forehead touching the floor and my bottom in the air, for 30 minutes three times a day. I was told that the movement helps to free the pelvis, allowing the baby more room to turn.
That night, my baby woke up and stretched. I felt the first proper movements of the pregnancy and within two days, my pelvic pain disappeared. From being unable to walk; I could play football with my son.
I had another treatment a few days later, and the baby's strong movements continued. A scan confirmed that not only was my baby now head-down, the head was four-fifths engaged. I don't know who was more delighted - me or my consultant!
Baby was quiet the following week, but on my first due date, I felt large movements again. My pelvic pain returned, and I didn't need a scan to tell me that the baby was breech again. My consultant was mystified and I resigned myself to surgery.
Over the next few days the baby's movements were very painful, almost violent, but there was still no turning sensation. When I went into labor at 41 weeks, I had no idea whether I was breech or normal. I arrived at the hospital in the early hours of the morning as the staff was changing shift. Every passing medic prodded and poked me but opinion was divided. I was scanned and ecstatic to discover that I had a baby lying exactly the way it should be – head down and engaged.
After all the difficulties of the previous weeks, I was rewarded with a relatively easy labour and the most beautiful little girl imaginable. I shall be eternally grateful to my brave consultant for recommending a treatment outside conventional medicine. One wonders why it is not prescribed as a matter of course.
Quick Facts About Moxibustion
is an alternative name for Artemisia Vulgaris or mugwort, a common weed.
How does moxibustion work?
Moxibustion is the traditional Chinese method of using warmth from burning herbs to stimulate the Zhiyin, or Bladder 67 point, thereby moving the Yang energy of the body. This is thought to increase fetal movement, which gives a greater chance of the malpresentation being corrected.
What does treatment with moxa involve?
A lit roll of moxa is allowed to smolder near the Zhiyin point for a few minutes before being transferred to the next. Treatment is recommended twice a day for five days – most babies turn in three.
How successful is it?
The British Medical Acupuncture Society’s journal gives a success rate of 84.6 per cent after 34 weeks while anecdotal evidence from China suggests a rate higher than 90 percent.
When should it be used?
Up to 28 weeks, babies turn spontaneously and from 28 to 34 weeks are most likely to adopt a head down presentation.
A word of warning...
Moxibustion is an inexpensive, simple, painless, non-invasive treatment that can be easily self administered. However, it should only be undertaken with the guidance of a trained acupuncture practitioner, and after you have discussed the matter with your obstetrician. Moxibustion may not be suitable for those with high blood pressure, multiple births or other existing medical conditions. It may also not be advisable to routinely administer the treatment after 36 weeks.
The above article is for interest only and must not be seen as a substitute for
proper medical treatment. Always consult your doctor for up to date advice
and guidance on any aspect of your pregnancy.
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