Women, Beauty, and Brands That Built Today

A look at three women entrepreneurs who changed the way we look at personal care.

For many centuries beauty products were seen as taboo. Women disdained looking as if they were wearing too much makeup or any product at all. Some subtle solutions include the Ancient Greeks using ground-up berries and lead powder, and the Victorians’ affinity for pinching their cheeks and biting their lips in order to add color to their faces. Not only were cosmetics viewed as controversial, but the women who built some of the very first beauty brands were seen as such too.  

Helena Rubinstein: There are no ugly women, just lazy ones.

As the eldest of eight daughters, Helena Rubinstein was destined to be a self-starter. Released in 1902, Rubinstein’s face creams received overwhelming attention, leading to the successful opening of her first salon in Sydney, Australia. Not long after, she went on to open additional salons in popular cities such as London (1908), Paris (1912), and New York (1915). Rubinstein offered the first systemized series of skin care regimens, requiring the use of multiple beauty products, which were presented to customers based on their concerns. In 1958, Rubinstein invented the game-changing waterproof mascara as well as the first “tube and wand” automatic mascara. Along with further advancing the beauty industry, she established her own nonprofit foundation, which would fund the arts and colleges, particularly benefitting women and children.

Elizabeth Arden: To be beautiful and natural is the birthright of every woman.

Elizabeth Arden opened her first cosmetics salon in 1910, in New York City. In a short five years, her innovative products were being sold internationally. She introduced eye makeup to American women, coined the term “makeover,” and developed the first travel-size options for beauty products. Arden supplied 15,000 protesting American suffragettes with her iconic red lipstick, and developed another shade to match women’s World War II nurses uniforms. Many of her iconic products, such as the eight-hour cream, are still wildly popular today.

Madam C.J. Walker: Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.

Madam C.J. Walker was born on a plantation in Louisiana, on which her parents were enslaved, in 1867. After she and her daughter moved to Denver, she began working at a pharmacy. It was there that she learned about chemistry and healing scalp ailments, which helped her to formulate her own “Walker Method” hair care products, including pomade and hot combs. Walker soon moved to New York where she expanded her line of hair care for African-American women and opened the Lelia College of Beauty Culture. She hired door-to-door salespeople to promote her products, providing career opportunities for upwards of 25,000 women. Not only was she the first black woman to become a self-made millionaire, she also funded many scholarships for black students and donated to the YMCA and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

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