History of Skin Care, Part 20: The War Years, 1940-1949

Skin care during the war

Although most people were used to skimping and saving in the early 1940s, the war was still a shock. Only a few decades after World War I, the men were sent abroad once again and the women once again stayed to hold the fort, help with the war effort, and cultivate their independence. While the war effort was tough on the entire country, it was nevertheless particularly tough on the skin care industry. Factories and manufacturing plants of all kinds were being handed over to munitions and supply companies. Raw materials like oils and chemicals were also being diverted to the war effort. Many of the major European manufacturers of skin care products faced night raids, bombings and even occupation. With few shipments 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 items. Even beauty magazines began to question her priorities when a Vogue writer wrote an article asking if it was patriotic for women to think about their appearance in the middle of a war.

Despite 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 at work. It was mandatory for all arms companies to provide free lipstick in the locker room for their female employees. This was believed to motivate women to work harder and ultimately increase productivity.

War and the independent woman

Many women continued to make their own cold creams and facial toners as they had during the Great Depression. With imported French beauty creams in short supply, it only made sense. However, the new independence won by women as a by-product of the war began to spread to anti-aging and skin care treatments. While traditional products such as Palmolive soap and cold cream were still being sold, many products were manufactured and marketed for practicality rather than luxury. Many women now had full-time jobs outside the home or had become single mothers overnight. Your skin care products reflect your new reality. The state of the hands suddenly became very important. Dishwashing soaps began to advertise mildness, and lotions promised to keep working hands soft and young, even after a day at the munitions factory. Instead of ads for glamorous products, magazines were filled with promotions for toothpaste, dandruff shampoos and bar soaps suitable for the whole family.

Makeup styles also began to be more and more practical. A fresh and natural face look was popular with prominent lashes and full, glossy lips. A cream foundation was applied to her face and set with a layer of loose powder. A subtle blush was used to accentuate the cheekbones and give the face a dramatic, angular appearance. The eyebrows were left full but formed into a pointed or arched design. Vaseline was sometimes used to achieve a more elegant appearance. Eyeshadow and eyeliner were used sparingly and were always in neutral shades like black, brown, and gray. Mascara, on the other hand, was applied in multiple thick layers to recreate the sultry gaze of today’s Hollywood stars. The lips were also exaggerated with thick, glossy lipstick that was often applied outside the lip line to give the mouth a fuller and more dramatic appearance.

New advances

Although most of the world’s creative energy went to war, the decade saw a number of advances in skincare and beauty products. Hairspray made its first appearance in 1948, which made it much easier for women to build the elaborate and updo curls that they preferred. 1948 was also a great year for lipstick design. While the substance has been sold in push-up tubes since 1915, a new tube with a retractable twist mechanism was first introduced. This mechanism is the same as found in almost every tube of lipstick available today. The lip liner pencil also made its first appearance in the same year, ushering in an innovative trend that would last until the end of the century.

Written by Jill Knowles

September 7, 2020
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