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Before Salons: Old-Timey Beauty Tricks



It was another long, boring ride on public transit, so I started counting day spas, salons, and beauty parlors on my way to work. I counted nineteen – and that’s not even counting the one for men. When I listened to the radio later, I was reminded of my count as I heard commercial after commercial for laser surgeries, hormone treatments, beauty prescriptions, and medical procedures that promised everything one could ever dream of for improving physical allure.

Did you know that, in the ’60s, as my mom reminds me all too often, beauty parlors were for old women who needed blue rinses? The rest of the female population depended on home remedies and word-of-mouth secrets to work their beauty magic. Some of them sound horrifying to us now, while others are still used or, if they aren’t, still can be if you don’t have the money to visit the spa or salon every week.

Juice-Can Rollers & Clothes Irons For Your Hair

Straight hair was very chic in back in the ’60s, so that generation became very adept at using what they already had. Juice cans were hoarded, washed, and used as oversized rollers. While normal rollers are commonly used to make curls, juice can rollers would remove all curls. Another surefire trick was to use a fabric softener, like Downey, as an after-shampoo treatment. Then, using iron on its lowest setting, you have a friend carefully iron your hair straight.

My mom stumbled upon a method that worked the best for her: getting the hair very wet and, using the head like a giant roller, wrapping the hair smoothly and evenly around it, securing it with huge bobby pins. Then she’d wait for her hair to dry completely, and down came bone-straight hair. This worked the best, she said but required a girl to be hidden for most of the day or sleep uncomfortably through the night.

And then overnight, curls came back into style, but electric curlers were still in the planning stages. Wearing rollers or pin curls in your hair all day was considered (and is) totally old-fashioned and ugly. My mom employed another ancient trick: wearing ringlet curls or even rags to curl wet hair all night as she slept. In the morning, she’d simply bend over, throw her hair down over her face, and brushed it out to get the desired look.

Sugar, Salt, & Oatmeal For Your Face

Facial beauty was also a challenge when there wasn’t much magic a girl could buy at a store. The beauty books tended to recommend kitchen products for keeping your skin clear.

For cleansing grains to scrub away blackheads and blemishes, a wet salt paste was used. A facial mask could consist of separated and beaten eggs, honey and lemon, or oatmeal. A trick of using sugar instead of soap was actually very effective for softening the skin if you could stand it. Instead of moisturizer, a wet towel was left on the face for fifteen minutes, then petroleum jelly was slathered over the hydrated face before bed.

Other Homespun Beauty Resources

There seems to have been a homemade fix for everything back then.

  • Black, full eyelashes were all the rage, so Q-tips were frayed and the fuzz was rubbed on wet mascara to give substance and bulk. Or, as a last resort, lashes could be powdered in between mascara coats.
  • Before lip liners were in stores, the lips were lined with a brown eyebrow pencil, and baby oil was used for lip gloss.
  • Suntan lotion was made by combining a lot of vegetable oil mixed with a bit of iodine and then when you sunburned, you could apply a tomato juice paste (no thanks).
  • A bathtub was filled with warm water and dry milk powder instead of bath oil or softeners.
  • A bottle of crushed aspirin could be applied to banish dandruff.
  • Wrapping masking tape under and around the breasts could have the effect of a push-up bra.
  • Scotch tape could be used to extend fingernail length.

We really have come a long way in the beauty game (both a blessing and a curse). For a steep price, you can look any way you want. But some of these ideas might be as effective (and cheaper!) than what we have available today. I personally would much rather splurge rather than wear juice cans in my hair, but earlier generations must have done something right for so many of the world’s most beautiful women to have lived then – and they did it without all the day spas and salons.