Big doe-like eyes have been a common beauty trend throughout history. Even today, makeup and cosmetic contact lenses are used to give the appearance of a bright and round eye. Luckily, this look can be safely accomplished today with very little effort. This was not always the case though and many Victorian ladies found themselves using eye drops containing a rather poisonous ingredient.

Belladonna Drops:

 The special eye drops that were used to give the appearance of big eyes contained atropa belladonna which is extracted from the plant commonly known as deadly nightshade (masterson). All parts of the plant are poisonous and just brief contact with the skin can cause an uncomfortable rash. These eye drops work by blocking receptors in the muscle of the eye that restrict the pupil, causing the pupil to remain dilated. Although the effects are temporary, prolonged use of such a product could result in permanent damage including blurriness of vision and trouble focusing. Belladonna is still present in special eye drops today which are used by eye doctors to dilate a patient’s pupils. Overexposure to nightshade can cause severe complications to the body’s nervous system and can bring about digestive trouble, increased heart-rate, memory-loss, coma, and death.

Belladonna, although poisonous, is actually an important plant with an interesting medical past. Midwives used it to help ease labor pains, it was utilized as a pre-anesthetic agent to cause drowsiness, and served as a remedy for whooping cough, scarlet fever, intestinal cramps, diarrhea, and asthma (DiSilvestro). This ingredient can be found in numerous medications used in the present-day. The chemical, atropine, can help regulate a patient’s heart-rate, dilate pupils for exams and eye surgeries, and relax muscles (“Belladonna”). Scopolamine has the ability to reduce stomach acid, motion sickness, irritable-bowel syndrome, parkinsons, and serves as an antidote to nerve gas used in chemical warfare (“Belladonna”). The eye drops used by the Victorians were unregulated and not employed under the supervision of a medical professional. Skip the poison-laced eye drops and just add a little rouge instead.

Thanks for reading! Check out my post about paraffin wax injections HERE.

Until Next Time



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