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Vintage Beauty Trends That Are Funny Today, But Were Big Business At The Time

The health and beauty business is a runaway train of advertising, marketing, and product placement so dominant in society that we likely can’t imagine a world without it. By next year, the global cosmetics market, alone, is expected to surpass $800 billion annually.

Funny, though: way before the intersection of technology and modern medicinal healthcare, beauty gadgets were always big business. Perhaps people have always been eager to look and feel good, no matter the circumstance or period in history.

The early 20th century remains as one of the starkest and most insanely bizarre periods for these such vintage beauty contraptions. Industrialization meant more access to raw goods and manufacturing than ever before, and plenty of wide-eyed entrepreneurs stepped up to add their technology to the budding marketplace of ideas.

The Walton Belt Vibrator, for instance, gained popularity in the 1930s and then again in the 1950s as a way to literally vibrate fat away.

“It is this speeded up motion of your tissues…3,200 times a minute…that aids in fast, effective, spot reduction…that actually helps trim down the size of your measurements wherever it embarrasses you most,” a 1958 ad for the product claimed.

Time Life Pictures/Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

The Slendo Massager was yet another method to shake off some fat…and part with hard-earned cash. Unlike the Walton Vibrating Belt, however, the massager was a little more painful — coiled springs rolled over your hips, thighs, and stomach fat with enough pressure to “smooth” out your imperfections.

“Girls, it seems after you helped win the war, you still have another battle on your hands: legs and things…the Battle of the Bulges,” the WWII era ad cleverly read.

Mirrorpix/Getty Images

Portable saunas also became popular during the first half of the 20th century, though the sauna was really just a bag of hot air. One such product, the Reduc-o-matic, was practically nothing more than a large cloth bag that left only hands, neck, and head protruding while an air pump pushed hot air into it.

And if we’re discussing shaky, outdated beauty trends, we have to touch on the popularity of electric hair heaters. In the 1920s, women could wear a Medusa-esque contraption with about a dozen tubes fit with live wires in order to permanently “wave” their otherwise straight hair. Did the machine actually work? Who knows, but we do know it gained popularity, amassing over 10,000 units sold during the decade.

Henry Miller News Picture Service/FPG/Getty Images

Keep scrolling for some other vintage health and beauty pictures

A woman receives a facial from a machine using cotton pads over her eyes. 1950. Getty Images.
Bavarian actress Inge Marschall demonstrates the use of a shower-hood invented in Germany to protect hair and makeup from getting wet. Feb. 12, 1970. Munich, Germany. Getty Images.
A patient wears a flu mask during the flu epidemic that followed World War I. It was their main line of defense against the sickness. Feb. 27, 1919. Getty Images.
An American woman reads a book while “working out.” New York, NY. 1947. Getty Images.

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