Skip Navigation Links and Jump to Page Content  The Library of Congress >> Researchers
Business Reference Services (Science, Technology, and Business Division)
  Home >> Guides >> BERA >>
   Issue 17/18, Summer/Fall 2010


      Print Resources       Internet Resources
                  LC Catalog Searches


Most people might think that cosmetics are a modern invention but in reality cosmetics have been used since ancient times. Often they were used in religious ceremonies - as seen in ancient Egypt - or as cultural identification. Egypt, because of its influence, had a direct impact on the practices and uses of cosmetics though the whole of the ancient world, particularly ancient Rome and ancient Greece. For several centuries Rome provided a unifying cultural influence for much of the known world, but as its influence waned, much of its civilization and practices withered away, including wide acceptability of cosmetics. At the same time that this unifying cultural influence began to die off, and the influence of other cultures began to increase, the aesthetics of beauty changed and the use of cosmetics became less prominent.

Notably, the spread of Christianity with its denunciations of pride and vanity coupled with a changing ideal of modesty also impacted the standards of beauty. While cosmetics did not totally fall out of favor, their use seems to have been greatly reduced and even marginalized, their use largely restricted to courtesans, actresses, the wealthy, and assorted "loose" women. Eventually, high born women in the Renaissance used them to whiten their faces into an ideal of pale perfection, covering freckles, thus distinguishing themselves from the sun-touched skin of more common women. As seen in many of her portraits, Queen Elizabeth herself had a large impact on the acceptance of cosmetics.

BERA - Business & Economics Research Advisor - A Quarterly Guide to Business & Economics Topics

Issue 17/18: Summer/Fall 2010
Updated December 2012

Guide to the Business of Beauty: Selected Information Resources

Table of Contents


assorted cosmetics and tools
Caption: (image) above:
Assorted cosmetics and tools.
    KaurJmeb, photographer.
From the Wikipedia Commons

As the concept of fashion grew and the hold of the Catholic church grew less, cosmetics moved a little closer to more common or accepted usage. However, it wasn't until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, despite the strictures of Victorian morality, that cosmetics and other beauty aids became generally accepted and not seen as risque. The Roaring Twenties and glamorous movie stars of the 1930's finally brought cosmetics into the mass merchandise market, where they were sold in department stores and other venues to all women. It was about this time that some of the best known brand names - many of which are still sold today - entered the picture, and the modern cosmetics industry was born.

One important change that has become more pronounced with the advent of the Internet and various social media channels like Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, are the burgeoning role of what has become the digital influencers. Influencers have become a large component of the advertising generally so big that, in 2017 Forbes even created a list of the top influencers External Link and included a category for Beauty. Digital influencers are those using the Internet's social media channels spending time and effort in their area of interest and built a loyal, and sometimes very large, following. This following is highly valued by corporations as a way to reach potential customers when other traditional sources may not. This has definitely been important in the cosmetics industry where specialist blogs can focus on nail polishes or YouTube videos of cosmetic tutorials and reviews. Some of these influencers are so successful with brand partnerships and even collaborations that they created their own lucrative full-time job. The arrival of these influencers has broadened the discussion in the cosmetics industry. Not only are there more beauty brands but what products are offered has also increased beyond the 4 or so shades of foundation and "acceptable" colors for nail polish. Many groups like African Americans, have found that they are not as limited in their choices.

A Few Names of Note

One of the earliest names in cosmetics in the mass market is Max Factor. Max Factor the company (now part of Proctor & Gamble) was founded in 1909 by Max Factor. Factor, who is linked with the "golden years" of Hollywood, worked with some of Hollywood's biggest leading ladies. He is credited with the invention or perfection of several commonly used cosmetics, many of which are still around today including lip gloss, waterproof make-up, and motion picture make-up.1

The company Estée Lauder was founded in 1946 by husband and wife Joseph and Estée Lauder (born Josephine Esther Mentzer). Estée or Esty as she was called, showed an early interest in the business of her chemist uncle - selling products like cold cream, lip rouge, and fragrances. After high school she devoted her time to selling the skin care products that her uncle developed.2 After a few years she set up a counter in a newly opened salon to sell her products.3 By 1948 she had gotten her first order to sell cosmetics in Saks Fifth Avenue which led to increased exposure and eventually national recognition.4 Estée Lauder cosmetics were sold primarily at department stores, and the company is still a major force in the cosmetics industry.

Charles Revson is known as a founder of Revlon. In his early career Revson sold nail enamel for a New Jersey company. This experience proved to him that the nail enamel business had a future. In March of 1932 he, along with his brother Joseph and a man named Charles Lachman, started Revlon (the "s" in Revson was replaced with an "l" from Lachman). The company founded all those years ago is still producing products that people recognize.5

Another innovator was Helena Rubinstein. She arrived in New York in 1915 after having established successful beauty salons in Paris, London and Melbourne. But it was in the United States where her name really became known.6 One of her early innovations was the concept of classifying women's skin into four groups - oily, dry, combination, and normal - and creating products for each. 7 She had a well known and none too subtle rivalry with Elizabeth Arden who considered New York City her territory. The company still operates today as part of L'Oreal, which purchased the Rubinstein company in 1988.

Elizabeth Arden (born Florence Nightingale Graham) was introduced to the beauty industry in nursing school when she became interested in the work of a biochemist she knew. His work on a cream for skin blemishes prompted her to see if she could create other skin creams.8 After deciding that nursing was not for her, she moved to New York and got a job in a beauty salon. She eventually developed her own products, marketing them under the name Elizabeth Arden, a name which she thought was less reminiscent of hospitals and medicine than her given name, Florence Nightingale.9 Her first store was opened in 1910 and marked the beginning of the company as well as its signature look with an attention-grabbing red door.10 During a trip to Paris during World War I, Elizabeth Arden discovered that French women were wearing skillfully applied mascara and eye shadow. She bought samples and took them back to New York, eventually incorporating color cosmetics in her product line. 11 The company weathered the Great Depression rather well, and the company she founded continues to operate.

Mary Kay was founded by Mary Kay Ash in 1963 as Beauty by Mary Kay. She started with a small store front but decided that women would rather purchase products in a relaxed home environment. Eventually, the company became well known for its direct sales model and the signature pink. Another company much like Mary Kay is Avon founded by David McConnell as the California Perfume Company in 1886. Originally, the company only sold perfumes with a staff of one full-time and a few part-time female sales agents who brought the products directly to women's homes. 12 In 1928 the company introduced the Avon line of cosmetics and toiletries, and eventually the Avon name became so popular that in 1939 McConnell's son and successor changed the company name to Avon.13 Avon is still selling products in much the same way they always did through direct sales.

Anyone familiar with the brands of cosmetics is familiar with Max Factor, Estée Lauder and the others mentioned above; however, there are two names that should also be mentioned for their impact on the cosmetics industry - specifically with the African American market. First is Annie T. Malone who made a fortune manufacturing and selling skin and hair care products and founded Poro College for teaching African American cosmetology. Second, is Madam C. J. Walker (born Sarah Breedlove). Madam C. J. Walker founded the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company with the launch of her first product, Madam Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower. This company was run by and catered to the beauty needs of African American women, and like Malone's company, utilized door-to-door sales quite effectively.

Top of Page Back to Top

Print Resources

Allen, Margaret. Selling Dreams : Inside the Beauty Business. New York : Simon and Schuster, c1981. 286p.
LC Call Number: HD9970.5.C672 A44
LC Catalog Record: 81001038

This book traces the development of the cosmetics and beauty industry in the 20th century. Attention is paid to a few of the more well known companies such as Elizabeth Arden, Max Factor, Helena Rubinstein, Estée Lauder, and Mary Kay. Other areas of discussion are the health/safety aspect of cosmetics as well as the nature of selling and advertising cosmetics.

Angeloglou, Maggie A History of Make-up. New York. Macmillan [1970]. 143 p.
LC Call Number: GT2340 .A5 1970
LC Catalog Record: 74114232

An historical look at the development of make-up from the times of the Greek and Roman eras through the Medieval, Restoration, Regency, Victorian and Edwardian eras.

Ash, Mary Kay. Mary Kay. 1st ed. New York : Harper & Row, c1981. 206 p.
LC Call Number: HD9970.5.C674 M372 1981
LC Catalog Record: 81047219

Autobiography of Mary Kay interspersed with the history of the business she founded and reflections on her business philosophy.

Basten, Fred E. Max Factor : The Man Who Changed the Faces of the World. New York : Arcade Pub., c2008.
172 p.
LC Call Number: TP983.A66 F33 2008
LC Catalog Record: 2008006944
Table of Contents

Written for a general audience by a former employee of the firm in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the firm, the book covers the highlights of Factor's life and the cosmetics firm he established.

Bundles, A'Lelia Perry. On Her Own Ground : The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker. New York : Scribner, c2001. 415 p.
LC Call Number: HD9970.5.C672 W3533 2001
LC Catalog Record: 00057372
Table of Contents
Publisher's Description
Publisher-supplied Biographical Information
Sample Text

Biography of Madam C. J. Walker (born Sarah Breedlove) told by one of her descendants. Includes extensive endnotes and bibliography .

Fitoussi, MicheÌle. Helena Rubinstein : The Woman who Invented Beauty. Sydney South, N.S.W. : HarperCollins Publishers, 2012.
LC Call Number: HD9970.5.C672 R832 2012
LC Catalog Record: 2012358966

Hobkirk, Lori. Madam C. J. Walker.Chanhassen, MN : Child's World, c2001. 40 p.
LC Call Number: HD9970.5.C672 W3544 2000
LC Catalog Record: 99047008

Book on the life of Madam C. J. Walker geared for juvenile reading.

Jones, Geoffrey.  Beauty Imagined : A History of the Global Beauty Industry. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2010.
LC Call Number:  HD9970.5.C672 J66 2010
LC Catalog Record: 2009939945

"This book provides the first authoritative history of the global beauty industry from its emergence in the nineteenth century to the present day, exploring how today's global giants grew. It shows how successive generations of entrepreneurs built brands which shaped perceptions of beauty, and the business organizations needed to market them. They democratized access to beauty products, once the privilege of elites, but they also defined the gender and ethnic borders of beauty, and its association with a handful of cities, notably Paris and later New York. The result was a homogenization of beauty ideals throughout the world..." – From publisher's description.

Jones, Geoffrey., "Blonde and blue-eyed? Globalizing beauty, 1945 - 1980 " in Economic History Review. Volume 61, Issue 1, pp. 125-154, February 2008.
LC Call Number: HC10 .E4
LC Catalog Record: 29011002

This article examines the globalization of the beauty industry between 1945 and 1980. During this period the industry grew quickly. Firms employed marketing and marketing strategies to spread products and brands internationally, despite business, economic, and cultural obstacles to globalization that made the process difficult and complex. The globalization of toiletries proceeded faster than cosmetics, skin care, and hair care.

Kent, Jacqueline C. Business Builders in Cosmetics. Minneapolis : Oliver Press, c2004. 160 p.
LC Call Number: HD9970.5.C672 K46 2004
LC Catalog Record: 2002041033
Table of Contents

Short biographical sketches of Helena Rubinstein, Elizabeth Arden, David McConnell, Max Factor, Charles Revson, Estée Lauder, and Anita Roddick.

Klepacki, Laura Ann. Avon : Building the World's Premier Company for Women. Hoboken, N. J. : John Wiley & Sons, c2005. 264 p.
LC Call Number: HD9970.5.C674 A953 2005
LC Catalog Record: 2005282353
Publisher's Description
Publisher-supplied Biographical Information

This book not only provides an extensive picture of how Avon grew from a small business selling books door-to-door to one of the world's leading direct sales cosmetics companies but also a look into how the way the company has continued to thrive.

Lowry, Beverly. Her Dream of Dreams : The Rise and Triumph of Madam C. J. Walker. 1st ed. New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. 481 p.
LC Call Number: HD9970.5.C672 W3558 2003
LC Catalog Record: 2002027494
Publisher's Description
Publisher-supplied Biographical Information
Sample Text

Using the limited fragmented bits of evidence available, Lowry traces Madam Walker's life from her childhood in the plantation home where her parents had been slaves through her years as a Mississippi washerwoman to her rise as the first black woman millionaire living in a magnificent mansion on New York's Hudson river.

Peiss, Kathy. Hope in a Jar : The Making of America's Beauty Culture. 1st ed. New York : Metropolitan Books, 1998. 334 p.
LC Call Number: TT957 .P45 1998
LC Catalog Record: 97042706
Book Review External Link (H-Net)

A look at the history and a few of the entrepreneurial women like Madame C. J. Walker, Rubinstein, and Elizabeth Arden who were instrumental in the development of what is today a multi-billion dollar industry. This title also looks at the beauty culture in terms of the development of women as consumers and professionals.

Tungate, Mark. Branded Beauty: How Marketing Changed the Way We Look. Philadelphia, PA : Kogan Page, 2011.
LC Call Number:  HD9970.5.C672 T86 2011
LC Catalog Record: 2011021594

This book looks at the history and evolution of the beauty business with a specific focus on brands and how branding has changed. This book looks at marketing strategies and hones in on a few specific brands including Revlon, Estée Lauder, L’Oréal and Max Factor.

Weingarten, Rachel C. Hello Gorgeous! : Beauty Products in America, '40s-'60s. American ed. Portland, Or. : Collectors Press, c2006. 175 p.
LC Call Number: GT499 .W43 2006
LC Catalog Record: 2005032746
Table of Contents
Publisher's Description

Small book focusing on print advertising from the 1940's to the 1960's and 70's for various beauty products.

Wilkerson, J. L. Story of Pride, Power and Uplift : Annie T. Malone. Kansas City, MO : Acorn Books, c2003.
96 p.
LC Call Number: HD9970.5.C672 M358 2003
LC Catalog Record: 2002093845

Short biography of Annie T. Malone who was born in 1877 and founded Poro College in 1917 in St. Louis (later relocated to Chicago), to train African American women to work as sales agents for a black-owned line of beauty products. Written for a juvenile audience.

Woodhead, Lindy. War Paint : Madame Helena Rubinstein and Miss Elizabeth Arden : Their Lives, Their Times, Their Rivalry. Hoboken, N. J. : John Wiley & Sons, c2003. 492 p.
LC Call Number: HHD9970.5.C672 R838 2003
LC Catalog Record: 2003062034
Table of Contents
Publisher's Description
Publisher supplied biographical information

The lives and rivalry of two of the early pioneers of the cosmetics industry. Helena Rubinstein was born in Poland, Florence Nightingale Graham (later Elizabeth Arden - the name of her first shop) was born in Canada. Business contemporaries, both were self-made millionaires, and women in industry at a time when women had little power in the business world.

Top of Page Back to Top

Internet Resources - Beauty Related Inventions External Link

Includes brief information on the history and/or "inventors" of various specific beauty items from the bobby pin to lipstick and deodorants.

Madam C. J. Walker External Link

Information on Madam C. J. Walker for students and teachers, along with a timeline of her life.

National Park Service - Two American Entrepreneurs: Madam C. J. Walker and J. C. Penney

Includes information on Madam C. J. Walker designed for students and teachers.

Library of Congress Catalog Searches

Additional works on the history of the cosmetics industry in The Library of Congress may be identified by searching the Online Catalog under appropriate Library of Congress subject headings. Choose the topics you wish to search from the following list of Library of Congress subject headings to link directly to the Catalog and automatically execute a search for the subject selected. Please be aware that during periods of heavy use you may encounter delays in accessing the catalog. Please check the other sections of this guide for catalog searches which relate to topics covered by those sections. For assistance in locating other subject headings which relate to this industry, please consult a reference librarian.

 1. Basten, Fred. Mac Factor : The Man Who changed the Faces of the World.. New York : Arcade Pub., c2008., p. 71, pp. 107-120.

 2.Kent, Jacqueline C. Business Builders in Cosmetics. Minneapolis : Oliver Press, pp 114-115, Hereafter cited as Kent.

 3. Kent, pp. 116-117

 4. Kent, p. 121

 5. Kent, pp. 97-98

 6. Kent, p. 41

 7. Kent, p. 45

 8. Kent, p. 61

 9. "Elizabeth Arden Co. History" in External Link as viewed on July 25, 2010, from the International Directory of Company Histories, licensed from The Gale Group, Inc.

 10. Kent, p. 63

 11. Kent, p. 66

 12. Kent, p. 30

 13. Kent, pp. 33-34

Last updated: 02/05/2018

Top of Page Top of Page
  Home >> Guides >> BERA >>
   Issue 17/18, Summer/Fall 2010
  The Library of Congress >> Researchers
  February 5, 2018
Legal | External Link Disclaimer

Contact Us:  
Ask a Librarian