The History of Women in Skincare

The History of Women in Skincare

For centuries, women have had to endure beauty standards set and enforced by men in our patriarchal societies. They’ve been conditioned to look good and please their boyfriends and husbands and to smile while doing it, whether they liked it or not. The beauty industry is one that has made men wealthy at the expense of women’s self-esteem, but there have been women throughout history who have made themselves wealthy (or, at least, marginally so) from selling beauty products as well. 

There were numerous products crowing the shelves even at the beginning of the 20th Century. Soaps, creams, bleaches, and more were snatched up by women wanting to look their best. But, they weren’t on the production end of things. Eventually, there would come enterprising women who knew what was best for their skin and they didn’t want what the men were selling. Take, for instance, Madame C.J. Walker, an African American woman who had searched high and low for skin and hair care products for people of her complexion and hair type. No such products existed at the time, so she would make her own. Through her business ventures, she would become America's first self-made millionaire.

Poland-born, Australia-raised Helena Rubenstein made a fortune selling her mother’s face cream. In time, she would open salons across Europe. Her creams were a hit with Hollywood stars, they couldn’t seem to get enough.

I happen to think that “Florence Nightingale Graham” is a fantastic name, but, apparently, Elizabeth Arden did not and so she changed it to suit herself. Working in chemists labs, she as much as she could of the profession. When she hired chemists of her own, she had them create a line of lotions and creams all of which launched her name into every boutique and salon. 

Image Source: Corbis Images

If it seems there’s a lot of mention of “chemicals” and “chemistry”, it’s because that’s what it took in those days to make successful skincare products. Estée Lauder was fortunate to have had an uncle who was a chemist and taught her what she needed to know about concocting her one special brand of skincare. Her first year of business was a smashing success, attracting the marketing team at Sak’s Fifth Avenue who would put in an $800.00 order for their store. 

Marlene Wallach is, I believe, on her way to becoming just as successful as these women were. She has all of the necessary elements in her business to make it happen. Gleem Beauty, in less than a year (and launched through a pandemic), has been making waves in the skincare industry. In time, someone will write an article very much like this one, and her name will be added to the list of successful women who have built their fortune in the skincare business. 

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