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Cosmetic Horror
I scream, you scream, we all scream from face cream.

"It's a form of violence, really, the way we look at women, and how we expect them to look and be — for what sake? Not health, not survival, not enjoyment of life but just so you could look pretty. I'm constantly telling girls all the time, 'everything's airbrushed, everything's retouched. None of us look like that."

Women (and some men) put in a great deal of work and effort to constantly show their beautiful visages and bodies to the world.

Seeing the behind the scenes process of becoming so beautiful — for men — is a terror right up there with running into your average masked slasher killer.

The Cucumber Facial. Hair up in curlers. Girdles and corsets. Being Covered in Mud. Wrap treatments that turn one into a Bandage Mummy. Legs and/or armpits unshaved. Any man catching any woman in this pre-glamorous condition will be rooted to the spot, or run screaming. Occasionally, it is this horrifying for other women.

This also includes seeing women without their makeup and other glamour acoutrements: wigs, false eyelashes, etc.

Then there's the Truth in Television beauty rituals which can be really be horrifying in a non-comedic manner and can be, but aren't as often, Played for Drama:

  • Painful: Tweezing, threading, sugaring, waxing, razoring, shaving. Piercing of the ears (and other body parts).
  • Dangerous: Chemical skin and hair treatments. Relaxers. Some diets. Botox which is actually injecting botulism toxin into the skin. Skin lightening/bleaching. Tanning. The Brazilian Blowout, which contains formaldehyde.
  • Deadly: Some chemical treatments. Surgeries like the lap band.

The one undergoing the beauty treatments is almost Always Female, though when a man is in such a state, it's Played for Laughs. The Double Standard says it is unmanly to want/need such treatments to look good.

Compare Women's Mysteries and Wondrous Ladies Room for other female-only tropes that confuse and bewilder primitive males. Related to Cosmetic Catastrophe, where the results of the beauty treatment are terrifying. See Uncanny Valley Makeup for when cosmetics are applied in what is meant to be a normal manner but comes out being scary anyway.

While the Cucumber Facial is portrayed as scary to look at with the cream covering the face and vegetable matter over the eyes, facials are in the main quite harmless, and often beneficial when done properly. Done improperly, they can remove layers of skin.

Both the comedic and real versions of the trope tend toward Unfortunate Implications since they support the idea that women must do these rituals to be beautiful enough, and aren't thin enough/light enough/pretty enough as they are. They also reinforce that women have to go after a goal for a type of beauty that is pretty much not realistically attainable, and definitely not for all body types. They also reinforce that a woman's beauty regimen should never be something her partner sees. He should only see her once the cosmetic magic has happened, double reinforcing the "not beautiful as you are".

The salon version of these treatments is usually more of a Women's Mysteries trope and usually part of a montage before She Cleans Up Nicely. The home version is almost always played for laughs, and more often than not goes horribly wrong — especially if hair dye is involved.

Lastly, although the trope is called Cosmetic Horror, it can and does include beauty treatments beyond the cosmetic (from corsets on outward) that induce horror when seen as part of the treatment, or just from what they do to the wearer.

Has nothing to do with Cosmic Horror Story. See also Uncanny Valley Makeup.


Anime and Manga
  • Rare male example in Black Butler: Cole, Ciel's sabotaging "classmate" (Ciel infiltrated a private school for a mission) is an extremely pretty boy... after a very extensive makeup routine.

  • A Swiffer Sweeper commercial featured this. A woman was in the bathroom giving herself a facial. Her two children look in, see her wearing the facial mask, and run away screaming.

Films — Animated
  • The Emperor's New Groove: As seen above, Yzma is scary when awake and with her beauty stuff in place, but her with her Cucumber Facial face on is even worse.
  • The Rescuers has a scene where Madame Medusa removes her makeup. Beneath her lipstick she has no lips at all, no eyelashes under her fake ones and generally looks like a hideous gargoyle. It's terrifying.
  • Darla Dimple wears a goopily dripping mud mask during one of her songs in Cats Don't Dance

Films — Live-Action
  • Brazil has women dying and liquefying from the beauty treatments.
  • Jim Carrey as The Mask surprises his landlord while she is in this state, eliciting a scream of mock horror from him — and a real one from her (made funnier by the fact that both of them have green masks on).
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Elizabeth Swann's corset is laced so tightly that she cannot breathe. As a result, she passes out and falls into the sea. Jack dives in to rescue her, and slices the corset open so she can breathe — an action which is misinterpreted by those around him as Jack having perverse intentions toward the unconscious Elizabeth.
  • Played with in The Princess Diaries. Mia is subjected to an enforced makeover to take her from the awkward geeky girl she is to looking more "appropriate" to the role of Princess of Genovia.
  • Spoofed in Tank Girl. Tank and Jet at Liquid Silver get explicit robot instructions for their beauty regime including removing "all unsightly body hair". The hologram says at the end that if they followed all directions correctly, "you should appear as so" — but Tank and Jet have their own counterculture idea of beauty, so they look nothing like the hologram.
    • Shortly thereafter, Tank Girl uses scraping off the makeup of the owner with a razor as a threat against those watching. The woman's makeup is drastically overdone. "This might take a really long time," quips Tank Girl.
  • FBI agent Grace Hart of Miss Congeniality, who doesn't even own a hairbrush, needs to be made over to pass for a beauty pageant contestant. So she's taken to a warehouse, strapped down, and subjected to a barrage of bewildering beauty treatments, including bikini wax. The results are impressive.
  • Catwoman (the Halle Berry vehicle having little connection to the comics) had cosmetics that required constant use otherwise they would damage the skin of the wearer in a horrific manner.

  • Rachel Morgan was grossed out by her own leg and armpit hair in The Hollows series.
  • Frequently mentioned in the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series, with Georgia's oft-bizarre beauty rituals freaking out the rest of her family. Even when they don't go horribly wrong.
  • One short story mocking the Call of Cthulhu rpg featured a group of incompetent investigators exploring an old house, unwittingly murdering the inhabitants (taking a janitor's drunk gibberish for Black Speech, a Bandage Mummy for a real mummy, etc.) The climax was the meeting of the owner of the house, an old fat woman in Cucumber Facial and hair curlers - which caused them to shoot her in a panic.
  • The Lady's Dressing Room by Jonathan Swift.

Live-Action TV
  • On The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, the Almighty Janitor describes having seen one of the women of the Tipton hotel's staff "in her hair net" as frightening.
    • In addition, the twins Zack and Cody mistook their own mother for a zombie seeing her in the midst of her mask-and-curlers.
  • Doctor Who: Cassandra has taken this trope so far that there is nothing left but her face, (stretched over a frame to continue to simulate the illusion of youth) and the intelligence behind it, demanding, "Moisturize me!"
  • That '70s Show, Kelso sees Jackie without her make-up done and is promptly horrified.
  • An episode of Absolutely Fabulous has Patsy get a facial peel to stop the tabloids from overestimating (or so she insists) her age. This results in her looking like a burn victim, and Edina's mother faints upon seeing her.
    • The show also mocks these sorts of procedures regularly. A facelift is described by the surgeon performing it as "We'll just grab her by the back of the head, shake her up and down a bit, and cut off the slack". Saffron suggests getting one done by doing a bungee jump with the elastic tied to the back of your head. And at one point Patsy is looking at a picture of a celebrity and says "One more facelift and she'll have a beard."
  • Wizards of Waverly Place:
    Alex's mom: Want to go for makeovers?
    Alex: You mean the place where snooty girls fake smile at us while they pluck our eyebrows until we scream and then say "you'd be so pretty if you took care of your skin"? Pass.
  • Pair Of Kings Girls run a spa that does the ususal facials and seaweed wraps, but also steals life force, youthening themselves and aging their victims.

  • Possibly what is happening in the music video for Calvin Harris' "Acceptable in the 80s", which seems to show scientists extracting hair products from the bodies of animals.

Real Life
  • Vogue magazine used to warn its readers to never let the man in their life see them in curlers and facial mask.
  • There is a persistent, urban legend that Raquel Welch had a rib removed to maintain her slim figure.
  • And then there are corsets and bodices. The popular expression for the relief of removing such a garment is "bodicegasm".
  • This article from Cracked magazine describes the dangers of wearing Crinolines, Fontanges and corsets, foot binding, and starched collars.
  • Liposuction.
  • Britney Spears has showed before and after the retouching of photos of her to show that her appearance is literally unattainable without technological assistance.
  • Actor Tom Hanks lost drastic amounts of weight for his roles in:
    • Philadelphia in which he played an AIDS victim in the advanced stages of the illness.
    • Cast Away wherein he portrayed a man surviving essentially on what he could pick or catch.
  • That's nothing. How about Christian Bale in Cheshire Cat Grin The Machinist?
  • BOTOX. Yeah, it's diluted, but it's a diluted form of the single most poisonous substance known to man. How poisonous? 4 kilograms is more than enough to kill all of humanity, assuming it was distributed equally.

Web Comics
  • This Promises Promises webcomic.
  • In The Adventuresof Gyno Star, the villain's electroshock torture collar is sold as a fantastic depilatory device for removing unwanted body hair. Despite the fact that it's extremely painful, it sells like hotcakes.
  • In Imy, the titular character uses the Cucumber Facial as an intentional way to freak out and terrorize a neighbor kid.

Western Animation
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender subverts and plays with the trope. Katara and Toph are in a spa getting mud baths and facials. It's not considered horrifying until Toph uses earthbending to animate hers and freak out the spa employees.
  • Dexter's Laboratory: in Dexter's Mom's case, coffee is her beauty ritual. She goes from all saggy and pathetic looking to made up and perfect on drinking her first cup.
  • The Jetsons: Jane Jetson and one of her friends both have visiphone masks for when they haven't done their full beauty ritual yet. Jane's friend sneezes hers off, and shows how terrible she looks first thing in the morning.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In episode one, "Mare In The Moon", Twilight Sparkle is subjected to some really uncomfortable corsetry in Rarity's boutique. She is barely able to speak at one point from how tight the corset is.
    • In "Over A Barrel", Rarity, coming out of the dark in her Cucumber Facial and fussing at the other ponies is enough to make them all scream and put out their candle.
      • When it's revealed Rarity wears false eyelashes in "Mmmystery on the Friendship Express", she freaks out and breaks down in tears.
  • Lampshaded in an episode of Phineas and Ferb: Candace is a devoted user of Flawless Girl cosmetics, whose CEO unabashedly works the angle of teen girls having low self esteem to help sell her makeup. Candace figures it out and walks, though.
    • Also lampshaded in "Isabella and the Temple of Sap". Professor Poofenplotz is eager to get more Stiff Beauty hairspray. It turns out not to have sold well to anybody but clowns and was discontinued. At the end, we discover why: it's pretty much polyurethane as hairspray, and the professor ends up a shellacked statue only able to talk through her teeth.
  • Tom and Jerry: There's a rare male example! In "Downhearted Duckling," Jerry puts curlers, a mud mask, and a corset (as pictured above) on a duckling who is suicidal due to being convinced he's ugly. The beauty regime trappings cause Tom to freak out and run away at the sight of him, making the duck's complex worse.
    • The Black maid character, Mammy Two Shoes, was often seen from the legs down with the lower parts of a girdle visible, for comedy's sake. The white lady of the house, however, was never seen less than perfect. However, in the more recent update of Tom and Jerry tales, Mrs. Two Shoes is white and chubby.
  • MAD has a short called "Celebrities Without Their Makeup" that implies no one is really as pretty as they appear, and that their true faces are either horrible or comedic.
    Adrian Brody knows when it's time for a little touch-up!
    [make up brush clears away and reveals the Spy vs. Spy face]
  • Batman: The Animated Series "Feat of Clay" — A has-been actor began using an experimental cosmetic cream to help him look good for roles. It ate away at his face, and when he tried to blow the whistle before it went on the market, Daggett's men fed him an overdose, turning him into Clayface.
  • In The Smurfs episode "Hats Off To Smurfs", Vanity undergoes a horrible cosmetic transformation by splashing water on his face after he started wearing a magic yellow hat that was created by Gargamel.

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