History of Skin Care Part 20: The War Years, 1940-1949
Skin Care During Wartime
Although most people were used to scrimping and saving by the beginning of the 1940’s, the war still came as a shock. Only a few decades after World War I, men were sent overseas once more and women were once again left to hold down the fort, help with the war effort and cultivate their independence. While the war effort was hard on the entire country, however, it was particularly hard on the skin care industry. Factories and manufacturing plants of all types were being turned over to munitions and supplies companies. Raw materials such as oils and chemicals were also being diverted to the war effort. Many of the top European skin care manufacturers were dealing with nightly raids, bombings and even occupation. With few shipments coming in from Europe and few American supplies available, beauty products were subject to the same war rationing as other luxuries such as food, clothing and household objects. Even the beauty magazines began to question their priorities when a Vogue magazine writer wrote an article asking whether it was patriotic for women to think about their appearance in the midst of a war.
In spite of the high demand and limited supply of skin care products, women did not simply forget about their skin. In fact, women were encouraged to look their best even while on the job. It was mandatory for all armament companies to provide free lipstick in the dressing rooms for their female employees. It was believed that this would motivate the women to work harder and that it would ultimately increase productivity.
War and the Independent Woman
Many women continued to make their own cold creams and facial tonics as they had during the Great Depression. With imported French beauty creams in short supply, it only made sense. Nevertheless, the new independence gained by women as a byproduct of the war started to spill over into anti aging and skin care treatments. While old stand-byes such as cold cream and Palmolive soap were still being sold, many products were made and marketed for practicality instead of luxury. Many women now had full time jobs outside of the home or had become single mothers overnight. Their skin care products reflected their new reality. The condition of the hands suddenly became very important. Dish soaps started to advertise gentleness and lotions promised to keep hard working hands soft and youthful, even after a day spent at the munitions factory. Instead of ads for glamour products, the magazines were filled with toothpaste promotions, dandruff shampoos and bar soaps appropriate for the whole family.
Makeup styles also started to become increasingly practical. A natural, fresh-faced look was popular with prominent lashes and full, bright lips. A base of cream makeup was applied to the face and set with a layer of loose powder. Subtle blush was used to accent the cheek bones and give the face a dramatic, angular appearance. Eyebrows were left full, but were shaped into a peaked or arched design. Petroleum jelly was sometimes used for a sleeker look. Eye shadow and liner were used sparingly and were always in neutral shades such as black, brown and gray. Mascara, on the other hand, was applied in multiple thick layers to recreate the sultry gaze of the current Hollywood starlets. The lips were also exaggerated with thick, bright lipstick that was often applied outside of the lip line to give the mouth a fuller, more dramatic appearance.
Although most of the world’s creative energy was being put toward the war, the decade saw a number of advances in skin care and beauty products. Hairspray made its first appearance in 1948, making it much easier for women to construct the elaborate curls and up-dos they preferred. 1948 was also a great year for lipstick design. While the substance had been sold in push-up tubes since 1915, a new tube with a retractable turning mechanism was introduced for the first time. This mechanism is the same one found in almost every lipstick tube available today. The lip liner pen also made its first appearance in the same year, marking the beginning of an innovative trend that would carry through to the end of the century.