How Did Makeup Ads Go From Style to Science?

When did makeup ads become less about beauty and more about science? And is that science even legitimate? Or is it just another ploy by the $445 billion cosmetics industry to get you to buy more products? This week Danielle digs into the history of makeup advertising to find out.


Written and Hosted by: Danielle Bainbridge
Produced by: Complexly for PBS Digital Studios

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Origin of Everything is a show about the undertold histories and cultural dialogues that make up our collective story. From the food we eat, to the trivia and fun facts we can’t seem to get out of our heads, to the social issues we can’t stop debating, everything around us has a history. Origin of Everything is here to explore it all. We like to think that no topic is too small or too challenging to get started!

Works Cited Compiled:

“Advertising for Natural Beauty Products: The Shift in Cosmetic Industry” Mara-Georgia Lixandru
“Deception in cosmetics advertising: Examining cosmetics advertising claims in fashion magazine ads” Jie G. Fowler, Timothy H. Reisenwitz & Les Carlson.
“A Case Study of L’Oreal/Maybelline Advertising in the United States and China” (master’s thesis) Qi Ma.
“A History of Sunscreen” Chacon et al.

“Photoprotection Part II. Sunscreen: Development, efficacy, and controversies” Rebecca Jansen, MD,a Uli Osterwalder, MS,b Steven Q. Wang, MD,c Mark Burnett, MD,c and Henry W. Lim, MDa Detroit, Michigan; Monheim, Germany; and New York, New York

Angeloglou, Maggie. A History of Make-up. London: The Macmillan Company, 1970.
Heil, Scott and Terrance W. Peck, eds. The Encyclopedia of American Industry, 2nd ed.Detroit: Gale Research, 1998.
Peiss, Kathy Lee. Hope In a Jar: The Making of America's beauty culture. New York: Metropolitan Books, 1998.
Robinson, Julian. The Quest for Human Beauty: An Illustrated History. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1998.

Brun, Jean-Pierre. "The Production of Perfumes in Antiquity: The Cases of Delos and Paestum." American Journal of Archaeology104, no. 2 (2000): 277-308. doi:10.2307/507452.

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30 comments

  1. Fantastic, as always Danielle. I have the feeling it’s there but would love you to research it – how much advertising goes into modern warfare? “Wag the Dog” and all that.

  2. I did want to be a chemist just cuz I wanted to make makeup. Eventually I just stuck to arts (fashion, art history, graphic design)

  3. Another great video, Doctor Danielle! It occurs to me that the sciency approach may have been impacted by the bad press in the late 20th century related to animal testing/cruelty. Possibly suppressing the boasting of science a bit?

  4. On this subject, the ‘how bacon become iconic american breakfast’ thanks to ads showing Doctors is also really interesting, we can see ads from 1906 with “The Doctor said : ‘Bacon'”, but it is Edward Bernays, one of the creator of the public relation concept, who really push the concept, which was later replicated on cigarettes commercials too (“More doctors smoke Camel than any other cigarettes”). As the most influencial advertiser from the 20 century (even Goebells was inspired by him), his most famous achievement is the Torch of Liberty campaign, which leads to women rights to smoke in public. He was also during in WWI at the commission which created the Uncle Sam ‘I want you in the US army’ famous propaganda poster.

  5. If you’re using cosmetics to attract a long-term mate: you’re doing it wrong. Either do it for yourself or don’t do it at all.

    1. I agree. When getting to know someone make sure they see you with out makeup. If they don’t think you look just as good either way then don’t bother dating them.

  6. Well now the beauty industry throws out words such as *Green* *Clean* *Organic* *Natural* *Without nasty Chemicals* so yea the manipulations did indeed turn 180°, it hasn’t stopped fooling people!

  7. Please turn the captions on. Your other videos are educational and entertaining. I’d like to enjoy this one too 😀

  8. I realize it’s been done to death, but I’d love to see your take on the whole “video games promote violence” issue. Mainly how the phenomenon has varied over the years, and what the actual reasons are behind the moral panic.

  9. Rubinstein’s biggest rival, Elizabeth Arden, also used so-called beauty science to market her products. The rivalry was so intense that at times each would steal the others lab technicians in order find the others formulas. Essentially, customers were buying the products from both firms. Although, under different names and different packaging.

  10. Nice ! I still prefer my pricey Channel lipstick over maybeline
    And i get a much better result using my Christophe Robin hair products than Suave … SOME products do actually have better quality ingredients while other products such as Cera Ve cream which is fairly cheap have the same results , if not better, than those fancy brands ….Its all about the ingredients not the marketing adds

  11. According to some fashion historians the white skin trend wasn’t about being too rich to be in the sun but about nationalism. It might be especially the case in England where traits associated with the Spanish like olive skin were undesirable

    1. Selene Fernandez fair but that doesn’t apply to the white painted faces favored in East Asia for centuries even before the European influence. However, racial division definitely was a factor in “keeping your kids out of the sun” in the 18th and 19th centuries.

    2. +Adrianna Z It might be more about racism than class but tbh I know very little about Asian cultures you might be right.

  12. This is surely one of the most underrated channels on YouTube. Keep up the good work! I think it’d be cool if you did a video on the origins of stocks and bonds, and also the use of gold in today’s markets. Thanks!

  13. Your rooms decorations are so cool, and you are stunning and have great style and I just had this video recommended by YouTube. Subscribed!

    The video was such an eye opener, woah!

  14. One thing though! Even in Elizabethan era of beauty, they definitely were aware of the deadly ingredients in their makeup, especially those in elite society. Queen Elizabeth was obsessed with pale skin and even had a ton of symptoms directly correlated with her powder, she simply didn’t care. She knew she was DYING from lead poisoning and she wanted to die in a full face of powder. You have to remember that being royal during her time, before her time, and even centuries after her time, royalty was seen more than an earthly authority, the monarchy were seen as human manifestations of gods. Simply admitting to the public that she had lead poisoning was like admitting her humanity. In this sense her appearance and her regency was a much higher priority than her health, and therefore she knowingly neglected it. (Side Rant!) Actually, she didn’t just neglect it, she continuously made it worse. Think of the powder causing breakouts, rashes, sores, and scars on the face. That isn’t the most difficult to diagnose. If your messing up your face, the first thing you assume would cause it would be… whatever you are putting on your face! Then instead of stopping, she goes on, putting on more powder because now she have to hide all of that from not only society at large but from friends, family, and servants, because if anyone saw any weakness, it wouldn’t be good.

    It’s similar to people of color who bleach their skin in order to appear lighter (which is still practiced today in many parts of the world) despite endless examples and personal experiences that project consistently otherwise. It relates to even the notion of getting plastic surgery despite the well known health risks and well publicized botched-surgeries. Whatever is seen as beautiful, whatever is seen as desirable, will be attempted despite science and sensible thinking. Which is something not even one of the greatest queens of England can resist. The rest of the video was good!

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