Beauty Secrets of Our Ancestors

This is an advertisement from the 1902 Sears Roebuck catalog. The ad promises that Dr. Rose’s French Arsenic Complexion Wafers “possesses the ‘Wizard’s Touch’ in producing, preserving and enhancing beauty of form and person in male and female by surely developing a transparency and pellucid clearness of complexion, shapely contour of form, brilliant eyes, soft and smooth skin, where by nature, the reverse exists.”

Note: I had to look up the word “pellucid.” It means:

translucently clear.
mountains reflected in the pellucid waters”
synonyms: translucent, transparent, clear, crystal clear, crystalline, glassy, limpid, unclouded, gin-clear
“the pellucid waters”

Very white skin was all the rage at the time, mostly amongst women. Prospective buyers of Dr. Rose’s French Arsenic Complexion Wafers were led to believe that regular use of the wafers would make even the ugliest person beautiful by clearing up any facial “disfigurements” and even softening angular features. And of course, the buyer was repeatedly assured that this particular dose of arsenic was completely safe.

In fact, the wafers apparently worked well but had one serious side effect: they often killed people.

Dr. Rose’s French Arsenic Complexion Wafers were just that: wafers containing arsenic that the user was told to eat. Sometimes the user simply fell ill. However, amongst the elderly or more frail users, the user sometimes died.

Sometimes the “good old days” weren’t all that good. Thank you Sears Roebuck.

In case you cannot read the wording in the above ad, here is the full text:

Every lady a possible buyer of this celebrated complexion preparation and beautifier. Regular size, also large size boxes, can be sold constantly at a very good profit.

PERFECTLY HARMLESS when used in accordance with our directions, it possesses the “Wizard’s Touch” in producing, preserving and enhancing beauty of form and person in male and female by surely developing a transparency and pellucid clearness of complexion, shapely contour of form, brilliant eyes, soft and smooth skin, where by nature the reverse exists.

THE GREAT TROUBLE HITHERTO has been how to make this beautifying principle safely available and at the same time avoid what is detrimental and injurious. Arsenical solutions have utterly failed, and until a recent discovery by a French physician and chemist, the internal administration of arsenic has been attended with more or less danger as well as disappointing results. In the direction for which they are intended their effect is simply magical, the most astounding transformation in personal appearance being brought about by their daily use. Even the coarsest and most repulsive skin and complexion, marred by freckles and other disfigurements, slowly changes into an unrivaled purity of texture, free from any spot or blemish whatever; the pinched features become agreeable, the form angular gradually transforms itself into the perfection of womanly grace and beauty. Used by men the favorable results are the same. All danger is averted in these complexion wafers, prepared by our experienced chemist, and the remedy taken in the manner directed on each box is absolutely innocuous, while the peculiar virtues of the remedy remain unimpaired and intact. Taken as directed the wafers will be found a positive, safe and magical specific for all sorts of skin troubles, unsightliness and imperfections, being in reality the only beautifier of the complexion, skin and form known. Guaranteed a sure cure for freckles, moth, pimples, vulgar redness, rough, yellow or muddy skin, and other facial disfigurements are permanently removed and a deliciously clear complexion and round up of angular forms assured.

LADIES, YOU CAN BE BEAUTIFUL. No matter who you are, what your disfigurements may be, you can make yourself as handsome as any lady in the land by the use of our French Arsenic Wafers. We recommend ordering one dozen large boxes and then carefully follow our directions.

No. 8R99 Our price, per dozen boxes, $3.30; per box of 50 treatments… 35¢
No. 8R100 Our price, per dozen boxes, $6.00; per box of 100 treatments, 67¢
If by mail, postage extra, per box, small, 3 cents; large, 3 cents.

Note: The word “moth” in the above ad probably is a typo error. It probably was supposed to read “moles.”



No way I would be using arsenic for anything. But were the users directed to eat the wafers? The advertisement seems to warn against internal administration, and talks about “in the direction for which they were intended…”
Maybe “wafers” weren’t just cookies in 1902? 50 in a box…? I’m having fun thinking of ladies rubbing the wafers on their skin. I hope that’s all they did with them.


I forwarded this article to my daughter who thought that your assessment of the term “moth” was a spelling error sent me this reply:
Moth patch – An older term for an area of skin affected by chloasma (mask of pregnancy), which has a range ofdiscolouration—from yellow to black—and which was fancifully likened to the surface of a moth.
Segen’s Medical Dictionary. © 2012 Farlex, Inc. All rights reserved.
I thought this would be of interest to you.


It makes me think of Botox …
“Botulinum toxin (BTX) is a neurotoxic protein produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum and related species.[1] It prevents the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine from axon endings at the neuromuscular junction and thus causes flaccid paralysis. Infection with the bacterium causes the disease botulism. The toxin is also used commercially in medicine, cosmetics and research.
“Botulinum is the most acutely lethal toxin known,…”


Think about 50 years from now when they read about some people eating Tide pods, making drugs out of Tide soap and drug users using Preparation H.


Pssssh… Eating arsenic works. My great grandma swore by Dr. Rose’s French Arsenic Complexion Wafers and she lived to the ripe old age of 27!


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