WASHINGTON — In retracing the U.S. beauty business over the last 100 years, it appears a series of seemingly random events somehow led to the development of a $20 billion industry.
Could anyone have predicted in 1904, when Max Factor left his post as a theatrical face painter and wig maker in the court of Russia, that he would build a U.S. fortune in cosmetics that would be fought over and then sold to Procter & Gamble?
It seems far-fetched to think that Avon, with sales of $4 billion and a door-to-door operation in 100 countries, got its start in 1886 when founder David McConnell thought he could peddle more books if he offered a bonus gift of perfume.
Consider the inauspicious beginnings of Vaseline, a “miracle jelly” that Robert Augustus Chesebrough developed in 1859 after hearing stories about a petroleum residue with curative powers for burns and abrasions. He first sold the salve from the back of a wagon in Brooklyn. Now, the product is a staple of Chesebrough-Pond’s.
One can’t overlook Graham Gordon Wulff, a South African chemist who invented Oil of Olay, which was initially used during World War II as a skin treatment to prevent dehydration of burn wounds on British Royal Air Force pilots.
And where would Revlon be today if Charles and Joseph Revson didn’t make the daring move of putting colors into dull Depression-era nail enamel? In fact, Charles Revson could arguably be given credit for the first at-the-counter demonstration. He came up with the concept of coordinating lip and nail color, or “matching lips and fingertips.”
It seems the U.S. cosmetic industry was spawned by a disparate group of pioneers, but once it got a foothold in medicine cabinets and vanities, the business of beautifying ballooned.
By 1900, the number of companies making perfume and toiletries had grown to 262, from 67 in 1880. The expansion continued steadily until the early 1970s, when a modern-day boom occurred.
According to Susan Babinsky, vice president of consumer products at Kline & Co., Fairfield, N.J., fragrances had a volume of $3 billion in the U.S. last year, up from $600 million in 1973. During the same period hair care product sales increased to $4.5 billion, up from $700 million; color cosmetic sales increased to $3.5 billion from $500 million, and skin care to $3.5 billion from $550 million.
Shadowing almost every successful industry is an association, and at an early age the beauty industry realized it needed to have a unified voice, particularly when taking on government.
Since the turn of the century, lawmakers have sized up beauty as a likely source of tax revenues. In response, the Manufacturing Perfumers’ Association — the predecessor to the Cosmetics Toiletry and Fragrance Association — was formed in 1894.
Bowles Colgate II, president of Colgate & Company, whose family company was by then already 88 years old, became the trade group’s first president.
The association had an impact in its first 10 years, taking credit for removal of a 20-percent tax on pomade, increasing tariffs on imported perfume and decreasing the War Revenue Stamp Tax to 2.5 cents per dollar of retail value from 4 cents, according to CTFA archives.
By then, the industry was picking up steam. Women were hooked on the idea of glamour, thanks in large part to the budding Hollywood film industry.
One of the first to pick up on the trend was Elizabeth Arden. She was working as a bookkeeper for Squibb Pharmaceutical Company in 1910 when she launched her first facial treatment salon on Fifth Avenue. Her empire helped to set the groundwork for today’s prestige retail cosmetics business.
Six years later, Max Factor launched an eyeshadow and eyebrow pencil for commercial use. That proved so successful that the next year, he introduced his “Make-Up Blender,” to be applied to the neck, shoulders and arms, a cosmetic intended to achieve that era’s natural look. This was also the first time makeup purportedly was used as a noun.
In 1915, T.L. Williams got the idea from his oldest sister, Mabel, to make a product to darken eyelashes, which he launched in 1917 with the brand name Maybelline. An eyebrow pencil, copied from markers used by doctors to outline where to make surgical incisions, followed.
Maybelline’s real boost came in 1932 when its affordable cosmetics were sold in variety stores — the first attempt at mass-marketing beauty.
As the industry was making strides in these early years, Congress finally found a way to hit beauty’s pocketbook. With the onset of World War I, lawmakers imposed a 20 percent tariff on 90 percent of the raw materials used in perfumes and toiletries.
The Manufacturing Perfumers’ Association, which by then had been renamed the American Manufacturers of Toilet Articles, experienced its first real legislative loss.
Nevertheless, the war brought unprecedented prosperity to the cosmetics industry, as European fashion swept across the Atlantic. Following WWII, even greater demand for quality cosmetics with a European touch hit the fashion-conscious U.S. Tapping into that market were Joseph and EstÄe Lauder, who launched their cosmetic line in 1946 with four skin care products.
As the industry has grown through the years, so has the plethora of state and federal regulations, starting in 1934 when Congressional hearings focused on claims by a young woman who said she was blinded by an eyelash dye called “Lash Lure.
In 1936, Congress passed the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act prohibiting misbranded and adulterated cosmetics. The law has been augmented through the years, further defining the legal characteristics of cosmetics.
Since the Sixties, the industry, Congress, the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission have squared off numerous times. Every issue in question has been tracked by the CTFA, which was given its current name in 1971 and now has 240 active members and 260 associate members.
One of the more notable FDA vs. cosmetics industry battles occurred in the mid-Eighties when the agency forced several companies to change packaging and advertising it viewed as making drug-type claims for anti-aging products.
The CTFA is sure to be in the thick of things through this decade, as well.