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Cosmetic Horror

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

Many 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 unshaven. 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 accoutrements: wigs, false eyelashes, etc.

Then there's the Truth in Television beauty rituals which can be really 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. Though this hasn't always been the case, nor is it the case in every culture. In fact, in some cultures and at some times in history: the exact opposite was true. Very old works or works modeled on very old works may therefore feature men in this role.

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. See also Plastic Bitch.

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.

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... Hopefully. See also Weight Loss Horror for instances in which attempts to look better can backfire horribly.


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  • A series of early 2000s Disney Channel commercials had children reacting to mundane situations with fantastic Imagine Spot. One is a young boy who sees his older sister in a mud mask as a green-skinned monster. Played with when Cutting Back to Reality, where the brother is happily letting his sister apply the same mask to him, as apparently looking weird and gross made him think it looked fun.
  • 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.
  • Played for Laughs in this McDonald's Bionicle Happy Meal commercial. Towards the end of the commercial a figure of “Monster” walks into the Boys room while they play with the Bionicle Toys. The two boys look at each other and yell “Attack” and shoot a plastic laser toward the “Monster”. We see the toy laser hit a pair of pink Bunny slippers, cut to the “Monster” being their older sister in a bathrobe with a Beauty mask on looking annoyed at her brothers.

    Anime & Manga 
  • An early Crayon Shin-chan manga sees the titular character getting spooked by Misae's cucumber mask late at night after watching a horror film. And earns himself a scolding for wetting himself.
  • 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.
  • The Junji Ito Kyoufu Manga Collection story "Flesh-Colored Horror" has a woman obsessed with beauty (a common theme in Junji Ito's work). This one, however, thinks that naked muscles are prettier and peels off her skin when at home.

    Comic Books 
  • In one three panel The Smurfs story, a Smurf is scared by Smurfette giving herself a beauty mask, complete with Cucumber Facial.

    Film — Animation 
  • Darla Dimple (a villainous Shirley Temple expy) wears a goopily dripping mud mask during the animal jam song in Cats Don't Dance
  • 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 (and also not wearing her wig) 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.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Brazil has women dying and liquefying from the beauty treatments.
  • Catwoman (2004) (the Halle Berry vehicle having little connection to the comics) has cosmetics that require constant use; otherwise, they damage the skin of the wearer in a horrific manner.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Invoked in Mrs. Doubtfire when Daniel, having removed his Mrs. Doubtfire face, smashes his face into a meringue to mimic a beauty treatment. The social worker visiting the home is startled at the resulting face mask.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Rachel Morgan is grossed out by her own leg and armpit hair in The Hollows series.
  • In the children's Jeremy James books, the young Jeremy James is in bed during a storm, where the wind is howling, and the curtains are flapping like ghosts chained to the wall. Suddenly a ghost, clad in white, and with a skull-like face enters the room, speaks to Jeremy James, and goes to the window, before leaving the room. Suddenly all is quiet, the curtains are still, and Jeremy James believes that this ghost had entered to collect the curtain ghosts. Jeremy James finds out in the morning that it was actually his mummy who had come in to close his window, in a white nightdress, with cream on her face, and her hair in curlers. Daddy commends Jeremy James for his bravery, and says that the sight of Mummy with cream and curlers frightens him.
  • The Lady's Dressing Room by Jonathan Swift. In the poem, Strephon sneaks into the dressing room of his lover Celia only to discover the evidence of the filth and body functions she must go through in order to look as beautiful as he has seen. By the time he realizes that she even averts Nobody Poops, he goes mad from the revelation and is unable to look at any woman without remembering how disgusting they are behind closed doors. The narrator pities him, saying that he'd be far better off if he appreciated all the work that the women put in to their appearances.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Absolutely Fabulous :
    • An episode 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."
  • Plastic surgery shows like Botched show the surgeons fixing the sometimes horrific results of poorly done plastic surgery or cosmetic procedures. One notable patient appeared in several episodes as the doctors tried to figure out how to remove the cement she'd had injected in her face.
  • In Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rebecca's pre-date routine is parodied with the "Sexy Getting Ready Song". Midway through the musical number, the rapper is so shocked by the various tools and blood splatter that he stops mid-verse.
    Rapper: "God, what....this is how you get ready? This is horrifying, like...some scary movie or something. Like some...nasty-ass patriarchal bullshit. You know what, I got to go apologize to some bitches, I'm forever changed after what I just seen."
  • Doctor Who: Lady Cassandra (from "The End of the World" and "New Earth") 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!"
  • In one episode of Firefly we see Shepherd Book with his usually carefully coiffed hair all loose in an Einstein-esque explosion. The unexpected sight causes River to recoil screaming.
  • Horrible Histories has a sketch about a lady of the Georgian era putting on her hair and makeup; the end result is ugly, albeit in a silly way, and most of the makeup is made from dangerous or disgusting stuff. (Among other things, she shaves off her real eyebrows and replaces them with mouse fur.)
  • In one I Love Lucy episode, Ricky gets tired of Lucy trying to matchmake a man and woman they know and tells the man the side of marriage that Lucy hasn't mentioned. Among other things, he snarks that apparently women have a different face than the one you married, and it must be awful because they cover it up with cold cream and never let you see it.
  • Pair of Kings: Girls run a spa that does the usual facials and seaweed wraps, but also steals life force, youthening themselves and aging their victims.
  • In the Scrubs Fairy Tale Episode "My Princess", Jordan's appearance in the story Cox is telling their son Jack as a stereotypical Wicked Witch is Match Cut to the real Jordan appearing at the bedroom door in a beauty mask. They both scream, she is not amused.
  • The Suite Life of Zack & 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.
  • That '70s Show, Kelso sees Jackie without her make-up done and is promptly horrified.
  • Tower Prep: In the "Book Report" episode, Ian encounters students that correspond with monsters from Classical Mythology. The student that corresponds to the hideous Medusa is a girl wearing a green facial mask and curlers in her hair.
    Ian: Have you ever seen a girl like that before? I mean, it was terrifying.
  • 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.

  • 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.

     Puppet Shows 
  • Both the backstage scenes in The Muppets (2015) and the "Lifesty(le)" segments in Muppets Now sometimes show Miss Piggy going through this. In one episode of The Muppets, she says that part of her beauty regime is waterboarding.
    Piggy: I tell my waterboardist everything.

    Video Game 
  • Luigi's Mansion 3: The penultimate boss fight against Helen Gravelly demonstrates that she looks awful without her make-up on, when she gets mad enough at Luigi foiling her schemes that it dissolves right off her face.

  • 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 
  • In the Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode 'Super Model', Master Shakes gets a series of horrendous cosmetic alterations through Meat Grinder Surgery, all of which he believe make him beautiful. He ends up having Frylock undo them all, but only because he finds out all the implants' fat came from his buttocks, which end up turning it concave. Afterward, he's still covered in scars and inexplicably has a human face sewn onto his back, which as usual are gone by the next episode
  • 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.
  • Batman: The Animated Series "Feat of Clay" — A has-been actor who was disfigured in an accident began using an experimental cosmetic cream to help him look good again for roles. The stuff turns out to be addictive (with painful physical withdrawal symptoms), 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.
  • 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.
  • In The Fairly OddParents!, "Fly Boy", at the end of a night in which the entire town has become convinced a horror movie monster is real, Mrs. Turner comes out of the bathroom, backlit, in the Cucumber Facial. Timmy and his father react as though she's worse than the Expy of The Fly (1958) they were watching.
  • 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.
  • 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!
    [makeup brush clears away and reveals the Spy vs. Spy face]
  • 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.
  • Phineas and Ferb:
    • Lampshaded in an episode: 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. In 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.
  • Recess: In the episode "Weekend at Muriel's," Miss Finster is babysitting nine-year-old Spinelli for the weekend. When Spinelli is getting ready for bed one night, she is horrified to see Miss Finster wearing a facial mask and hair curlers.
  • In The Smurfs (1981) 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.
  • Tom and Jerry:
    • There's a rare male example in "Downhearted Duckling". Jerry puts curlers, a mud mask, and a corset 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.
  • Total Drama Island: In "Hook, Line, and Screamer", the campers have to survive on an island with a psycho killer (actually Chef in disguise), but DJ is out of the game before having an encounter with Chef because he was terrified by Heather in a facial mask.

    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. Ditto Cher.
  • And then there are corsets and bodices. The popular expression for the relief of removing such a garment is "bodicegasm".
  • Liposuction.
  • Britney Spears has shown before and after the retouching of photos of her to show that her appearance is literally unattainable without technological assistance.
  • 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.
  • A South Korean woman decided to inject cooking oil as a beauty treatment. It didn't quite work as intended.
  • Lash Lure was an eyelash and eyebrow dye used by American women in the early 1930s. Because the main active ingredient, paraphenylenediamine (PPD), is an allergen, it caused some customers to develop severe allergic reactions that resulted in face ulcers. One woman even ended up dying from septicemia after a bad reaction to the product. Lash Lure was one of the many incidents that led to the passing of the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act.
  • Certain kinds of makeup during the Elizabethan era, particularly Shoddy Knockoff Products of cosmetics worn by the upper classes, contained lead and other heavy metals. Even the real stuff could be bad due to the limited technology of the period. They weren't able to grind crystals fine enough to keep them from digging into the wearer's skin. So even talcum powder, a common ingredient in foundation to this day, could be harmful. Also, some products contained things like arsenic and mercury. Then again, this makeup wasn't intended to be removed. Most people at the time had horrible skin: thanks to diseases like chicken pox, measles, and scarlet fever. They used makeup to cover up their unsightly scars as much as to actively make themselves look nicer.


Video Example(s):


Hellen Gravely

Hellen Gravely looks hideous without her makeup.

How well does it match the trope?

4.67 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / CosmeticHorror

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