Strangest Hygiene Practices From The Middle Ages
Strangest Hygiene Practices From The Middle Ages

Strangest Hygiene Practices From The Middle Ages

Shannon Quinn - December 6, 2020

Strangest Hygiene Practices From The Middle Ages
Antonio del Pollaiuolo Profile Portrait of a Young Lady. Credit: Colgate University

4. Women Dyed Their Hair For Fashion, And to Hide the Grey

Even back in the middle ages, women dyed their hair to hide the grey. Some women also experienced hair loss, and they were treated with a variety of tonics. When a woman needed to color her hair brown, she could make dye out of fruit, the bark of a tree, and leaves. However, blonde or yellow hair was considered to be more popular. Women kept a mixture of honey and white on their head overnight. Then, they added a mixture of calendine roots, olive-madder, oil of cumin seed, box shavings and saffron. Another 24 hours later, she was able to wash her hair, and it came out lighter. Just like today, blonde was one of the most popular hair colors. It would be fascinating to know just how well this medieval recipe did at coloring hair.

Strangest Hygiene Practices From The Middle Ages
Paintings from the middle ages never include women’s body hair. Credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

3. Women Were Discouraged From Having Body Hair

Just like today, beauty standards pressured women to remove all of their body hair. Women would puck with tweezers, but they also used dried cat waste to scrub off hair from the skin. A book from the 11th Century called De Ornatu Mulierum says as follows; “In order permanently to remove hair. Take ants’ eggs, red orpiment, and gum of ivy, mix with vinegar, and rub the areas.” Priests from the Church were enraged by the vanity of all of this, saying that hair removal meant to entice men was a sin. However, most paintings from the time showed naked women without any body hair at all, even in her private areas. Just like today, this must have only been available to certain women, because stories from the time like Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, describe women’s pubic hair.

Strangest Hygiene Practices From The Middle Ages
Paintings of women showed just how large foreheads were back then. Credit: Bustle

2. Women Actually Wanted Big Foreheads

Throughout time and culture, the idea of the “perfect” woman’s body has changed dramatically. During the middle ages, the ideal woman had big hips, small perky breasts, and a large forehead. Since big foreheads were all the rage, women would actually pluck their foreheads in order to get a higher hairline. Sometimes, women would even remove their eyebrows to make their forehead look bigger. The goal was to make their face look perfectly oval shaped. As a woman with a high hairline myself, it’s nice to know that my natural features would have made me an ideal beauty back in medieval times. But in modern times, I wish I could hide it behind bangs.

Strangest Hygiene Practices From The Middle Ages
Pale skin was the ideal in the middle ages. Credit: Shutterstock

1. Skin Care Was of the Upmost Importance

The ideal woman in the middle ages had pale, smooth skin without any pock marks or blemishes. As we mentioned earlier in the list, nearly everyone washed their face with cold water at the end of the day. Some women used ointments made with animal fat in order to keep the skin soft and smooth. Even back then, people believed in the power of crystals and gemstones to heal. Women would lick amethyst and rub it over their pimples to make them go away.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

What Was Hygiene Like In A Medieval Castle? Melissa Sartore. Ranker. 2019

Scissors, or Sword? The Symbolism of a Medieval Haircut. Simon Coates. History Today. 1999

Black Death quarantine: how did we try to contain the most deadly disease in history? Helen Carr. History Extra.

11 Facts About Medieval Hygiene that Will make You Thankful for the Modern Bathroom. Cheryl Khan. Trade Wind Imports.

The (not so) stinky Middle Ages: why medieval people were cleaner than we think. Katherine Harvey. History Extra. 2020

Medieval Hairstyles. Medieval Chronicles. 2020

Medieval Feminine Hygiene. Rosalie’s Medieval Woman. 2020.

It Was Once Someone’s Job to Chat With the King While He Used the Toilet. Natalie Zarelli. Atlas Obscura. 2017.