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Modern fashion trends can be... weird.
I mean, skinny jeans can get a little uncomfortable, yes.
And maybe you have a friend who spends more time waxing his mustache and trimming his
beard than he does actually bathing himself.
But your fashion choices probably won’t kill, burn, or poison you.
However, people haven't always been so lucky.
Historically, some pretty dangerous clothing, cosmetics, and accessories have come in vogue,
endangering their wearers and makers alike.
It turns out there are just some things that you really don’t want to put on or in your
body… even if everyone else is doing it.
Let’s start in the 1700s, when skirts were huge, cool guys wore wigs, and the hottest
color in Europe was green.
Specifically, two special pigments known as Scheele’s Green and Emerald Green.
In 1775, Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele developed copper arsenate, an intense, yellow-green
pigment that was more brilliant and longer-lasting than any other green dye.
It was also a lot more toxic because it was made with arsenic.
German scientists soon improved on Scheele’s recipe by inventing an even more vivid green
dye -- copper acetoarsenite, commonly known as Emerald Green or Paris Green.
And society loved it. They used it to decorate everything from fake plants to ball gowns.
For fashionistas, the danger emerged when they’d sweat through their green gloves,
stockings, or socks, and transfer the toxins to their skin.
This caused chemical burns and open sores that absorbed even more of the poison.
A poisonous dust would also flake off of dyed objects, especially wallpapers or twirling
dresses as people danced at balls.
If you breathed in enough arsenic, the poisoning could cause vomiting, ulcers, nerve damage,
and eventually even death.
But arsenic pigments weren’t the only harmful ones. Some of the first synthetic dyes for
clothes and shoes could cause some pretty nasty health problems all on their own.
Aniline is a toxic organic compound that was first isolated from the indigo plant in the
When ingested, it interferes with blood cells’ ability to carry oxygen.
But in 1856, a chemistry student named William Henry Perkin was trying to use aniline to
create an antimalarial drug, when he accidentally created mauveine, a bright purple dye.
And soon, aniline dyes were all the rage. Their vibrant reds and deep blacks made natural
dyes look muted by comparison.
But I bet you can guess what happened next.
People who wore socks, gloves, and shirts colored with aniline, or shoes that had been
shined with an aniline-based polish, often suffered inflammatory skin reactions or headaches
and dizziness… because the dye was poisoning their blood.
Our next dangerous trend is more like a single horrible incident.
The culprit in this case was zinc chloride, which wasn’t used to dye fabrics, but it
was used in a coating that goes on wool to protect the fabric.
The compound had, and still has, lots of applications, because it’s both highly corrosive and highly
soluble in water.
But, one day, in December 1898, over 60 men were hired to clean the streets of Birmingham,
England after a snowstorm.
And they were all given new wool overcoats to keep them warm. Nice, right?
Well, most of the men ended up in the hospital, with large patches of destroyed skin around
their knees and wrists.
It turns out, their coats had been treated with an excess of zinc chloride, and when
they got wet from the snow, the toxin dripped onto their skin and caused serious chemical
Now, we’ve talked before about how asbestos has been misused over the ages.
But before anyone knew that asbestos equals dying, it was often worn for protection.
It can form lightweight fibers that can be woven into fabric, and it's famously flame
So, from ancient Rome until at least the early 1980s, lots of dangerous, fire-related jobs
involved wearing uniforms with some amount of asbestos in them.
This was especially true for firefighters.
But, asbestos fibers are incredibly dangerous for human health.
Even when they’re woven into clothing, asbestos fibers can break off into tiny pieces that
can enter the lungs.
When too many fibers build up in your lungs, they cause irritation, inflammation, and scarring,
hindering the ability to absorb oxygen and making it hard to breathe.
Asbestos is also a carcinogen. People who are exposed to large amounts of it tend to
develop an otherwise-rare lung cancer called mesothelioma.
So even though we were using it as protection, asbestos was doing tremendous damage to our
bodies all along.
Another fabric that proved to be more harmful than we expected is viscose rayon.
In the late 1800s, chemists were looking for an artificial substitute for natural silk,
which, as sexy as it is, is incredibly time-consuming and expensive to produce.
In 1905, a British company began making a new material: They started with a sticky solution
of dissolved wood pulp, which contains lots of the natural plant polymer cellulose.
They aged it, dumped in some chemicals, and eventually extracted fibers that looked and
felt a lot like silk.
We know those fibers today as rayon.
One of the key steps in making viscose rayon involved a compound called carbon disulfide,
which is -- as you might guess-- highly toxic!
The fabric was safe to wear, but factory workers suffered.
Prolonged exposure to carbon disulfide can damage the cardiovascular and nervous systems.
This was linked to behavioral and health problems among workers ranging from bouts of mania
to strokes.
But even with these hazards, the popularity of artificial silk kept booming, well into
the 1900s.
So you might know the Mad Hatter from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland -- kind of
crazy, drinks a lot of tea? Turns out, he might have some basis in reality.
The phrase “mad as a hatter” was actually used to describe industrial hat-makers in
the mid-1800s, who were poisoned by mercury just by doing their jobs.
Most hats were felted, or made from the fur of small animals.
And to make felt, hatters used a process called “carroting,” where they washed the pelts
in an orange solution containing mercury nitrate to separate the fur from the skin and shrink
it into a thin mat.
But the price they paid for dapper hats was mercury poisoning, which drastically harmed
hatters’ central nervous systems.
Mercurial disease, or Mad Hatter Disease, causes extreme emotional states plus physical
effects, like tremors and difficulty walking, speaking, and writing.
Since these hats didn’t poison the general public, the occupational hazards of being
a hatter persisted.
It took half a century or longer for countries to start banning the use of mercury in the
felt hat industry.
But what about cosmetics? One fashion trend that emerged in the 1500s was an obsession
with blindingly white skin.
In 16th and 17th-century England, women painted their faces with a whitening paste called
Venetian ceruse.
The pigment was made by mixing metallic lead with acetic acid -- also known as vinegar
-- in the presence of carbon dioxide to make lead carbonate, a powdery white lead.
This gave the illusion of a snow-white face, but over time, it would eat away at people’s
skin and caused scarring, headaches, nausea, muscle damage, baldness, and eventually early
In 1898, Marie and Pierre Curie famously discovered radium, in the form of radium chloride, by
extracting it from the radioactive mineral called uraninite, or pitchblende.
After a couple decades of work, in 1910, they were able to isolate radium as a pure metal.
And this discovery not only thrilled scientific researchers, but it also caused a wave of
“science-based” consumer goods to sweep the world.
We are talking... radium makeup!
For example, the London-based Radior in 1917 used radium in products like face creams,
soaps, powders, and blush.
In the 1930s, ladies in Paris could wear Tho-Radia brand cosmetics, made from both thorium chloride
and radium bromide -- apparently, the more radioactive elements, the better.
Thankfully, most of these products contained such low amounts of radium that they were
pretty much harmless -- although it’s possible that customers suffered health effects later
in life.
Instead, the most serious poisoning cases were in the factories where radium products
were made.
Especially in the “Radium Girls,” a group of about 4,000 factory workers in the United
States who painted watch faces with glowing paint and were pretty much bathed in radioactive
dust every day.
By the 1920s, they began to suffer from anemia, “radium jaw” and bone cancers.
Within about 20 years, largely because of their plight, radium-branded products had
all but disappeared from the market.
And people weren’t just putting toxins on their face for the sake of beauty. They also
put poison in their eyes to look more attractive.
The poison in question here is atropine, a compound derived from a poisonous plant called
Deadly Nightshade, or Atropa belladonna.
“Belladonna” means “beautiful lady” in Italian, and it stems from a dangerous
beauty practice.
In some ancient cultures, women were said to put drops of juice from Deadly Nightshade
berries in their eyes to dilate, or enlarge, their pupils for that striking doe-eyed look.
Atropine is a smooth muscle relaxant, and your irises are full of smooth muscles that
expand and contract to let in different amounts of light.
By adding atropine to your eye, you’re stopping your iris from being able to respond to light.
Putting lots of atropine in your eyes is a pretty horrible idea, because constantly dilated
eyes can expose your retinas to too much light, damaging the sensory tissues and affecting
your vision.
Plus, forcing your eye muscles into unnatural positions has been found to affect your internal
eye pressure and damage your optic nerve, which could lead to blindness.
Today, doctors still use atropine for its muscle relaxing and anesthetic effects, mainly
to dilate your pupils before eye exams.
They just use it in very small, controlled doses.
Finally, let’s go out with a bang with combustible fashion accessories!
Celluloid was the most successful early, synthetic plastic.
It was cheap, light, strong, easily molded to whatever shape you wanted.
So in the late 1800s and early 1900s, celluloid accessories were everywhere -- buttons, jewelry,
eyeglass frames, toys, and little hair combs that ladies would wear.
But, what people didn’t realize was that celluloid was manufactured using a compound
called cellulose nitrate.
Now, cellulose is that naturally-occurring plant polymer I mentioned earlier.
And when you expose cellulose, like in wood pulp or cotton, to nitric acid, it forms cellulose
nitrate -- which is highly flammable.
So flammable that it’s also called guncotton because of its tendency to … explode.
So with the rise in popularity of celluloid accessories came a wave of newspaper articles
about combs combusting in people’s hair, setting their whole body on fire, just from
the heat from a curling iron or a nearby electric lamp.
There were even reports of entire stores burning down because they stored their celluloid stuff
too close to windows and mirrors on hot summer days.
So, in comparison, those skinny jeans and mustache waxes don’t seem so bad now, do
All told, it’s much safer to commit a fashion faux-pas than have your skin burned or your
hair catch on fire, all because of a trend.
Thanks for watching this SciShow List Show, and thanks especially to all of our patrons
on Patreon who make this show possible. If you want to help us make videos like this,
just go to patreon.com/scishow­. And don’t forget to go to youtube.com/scishow and subscribe!
When you look at a plant, your first thought probably is not "That thing's gonna kill me!"
But in some cases, that thing is gonna kill you. Sure, plants can be pretty or delicious,
but they also evolved with all kinds of compounds inside...


10 Dangerous Fashion Trends

1221 タグ追加 保存
g2 2016 年 11 月 17 日 に公開
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