History of Skincare Part 19: The Great Depression, 1930-1939
Everything changed suddenly in 1929 when the stock market crashed. Many of the rich became poor overnight and many of the poor became destitute. While shocks were felt across the Western world, America got the brunt of the Depression. Tent and shack cities rose up in urban centers, bread lines stretched for blocks and many people were forced to leave their homes in search of work. Even those who had secure employment, were forced to tighten their belts. Money was scarce and times were uncertain, causing people to be very careful with what they had. Public extravagance quickly fell out of fashion, even among the rich. Displays of wealth were seen as gaudy in light of the mass poverty that had struck the nation. Nevertheless, skin care continued to be at the top of many people’s minds. In fact, by 1930, the cosmetic industry was the fourth largest industry in the country.
While many women had to adjust their beauty routines, they still strove to achieve the looks made popular by their favorite movie stars. Glamour was still in, although it was much more muted than it had been in the 1920’s. Thick cream “glow” makeup was popular, as was eyeliner, lipstick and rouge. While eye makeup was still applied thickly, however, it was toned down from the over-the-top “vamp” eyes of the previous decade. Instead of dramatic bee-stung lips, movie stars and ordinary women alike preferred a simple wash of color across the mouth. In fact, lipstick now came in a multitude of softer pinks as well as the vibrant reds that had been so loved in the twenties. While Max Factor was still the favorite of Hollywood starlets, women now had a number of manufacturers to choose from such as Lancôme, Elizabeth Arden and Revlon.
Making Skincare Products in the Depression
In order to boost failing sales, manufacturers came out with a steady stream of updates for their beauty products. Blush was available in both cream and powder form. Lipstick came in an increasingly wide array of colors. Elsa Schiaparelli was the first to release luminous lipstick near the beginning of the decade. She named her signature light pink, “Schiap”, after herself. By the end of the decade, women could buy their lipstick and nail varnish in matching shades. Inexpensive soaps and cold creams continued to be top sellers as well, with Palmolive and Ivory leading the lathery pack.
In spite of the low cost of basic soaps and cleansers, many women chose to save money by making their own skin care treatments and anti aging products. Fashion magazines often printed recipes for cold creams and tonics that could be made from household ingredients. A basic cold cream, for example, might contain ingredients such as beeswax, mineral oil, water and borax. Skin tonic recipes varied greatly and could contain anything from milk and lemon juice to sugar and witch-hazel. Tonics were intended to open up the pores and enliven the skin. Most featured astringent or acidic ingredients as well as an essential oil that served as a scent or perfume.
The Daily Skin Care Regimen
Although multi-step skin care would not be marketed and sold until the 1960’s, most women followed a beauty routine each day that required a number of different products. Whether rich or poor, most women used cold cream to clean their faces. Although soap was widely used, it was considered too harsh for the delicate skin of the face and was generally reserved for cleaning the rest of the body. Cold cream was made with an oil base and it could clean away dirt and grime without drying the skin. Women would apply a thin layer of the cream and then wipe it away with a soft cloth.
Cleansing could be followed by applying a number of stimulants, tonics and complexion creams. Complexion creams were often used as anti aging masks and usually had a high fat or oil content. It was thought that once the fat was absorbed by the skin, it would fill out wrinkles, resulting in a smooth, youthful complexion. Only once their skin was thoroughly cleaned, enlivened, moisturized and treated would women apply the thick cream that would form the base of their makeup.