Take a peek into Jennifer’s medicine cabinet as she shares her three favorite old-time beauty products: items that have been around for decades, even centuries.
If you’d prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to find the episode transcript.
“The Christmas Robe” is one of the stories included in Songbird and Other Stories
Episode 9 Transcript:
Today’s topic is vintage cosmetics. Specifically, I’m going to tell you about three old-fashioned beauty products that Grandma and Great-Grandma might have used, and that I still use just about every day.
This topic came up because I’ve recently finished writing a novel about the rise of a fictional cosmetics tycoon in the 20th century. The working title is Moondrop Miracle. Moondrop Miracle the name of a skin tonic that my main character from very humble beginnings expands into an international cosmetics empire. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but in doing research for this novel I investigated a lot of beauty products and their histories. I thought you might like to hear about three of my longtime favorites that have a storied past.
But first, here’s what’s going on in my writing life. The novel that I just mentioned, Moondrop Miracle, is currently with my agent and making the rounds of publishers. I’ve yet to hear any feedback on that. Hopefully there will be some nibbles soon. I made progress this week on the 1930s Hollywood novel–still writing the first draft of that one. Starting April 8 through the 17th, You’re the Cream in My Coffee will be included in a promotion of Inspirational Historical Romance books through BookSweeps. If you enter that contest, you’ll have a chance win a set of over 20 inspirational historical romance e-books, and even a brand new new eReader. I’ll put the link in the show notes and you can check out that contest.
And now, on to today’s topic. Before I begin, I need to remind you that this show is for entertainment purposes only. I’m not dermatologist or a medical professional of any kind, and this information should not be taken as medical advice. Take what works and leave the rest. Also, I am not paid to endorse any of these products. I’m only telling you about them because I like them and have used them with good results.
Okay, let’s start with Pond’s Cold Cream. I use this every single day. Every evening I smooth it all over my face, and I wipe it off with a warm, wet washcloth. Some people tissue it off, but I prefer a washcloth. I should also state that you do need a washcloth or tissue or abrasive of some kind. It won’t just rinse off with water.
I looked into Ponds and learned that it was invented in 1846 by an American pharmacist, Theron T. Pond. He discovered that extract of witch hazel could heal small cuts. This was called “Pond’s Extract.” A company was formed, and by 1910 both “Pond’s Vanishing Cream” and “Pond’s Cold Cream” were created. The cold cream was for cleansing and the vanishing cream was for moisturizing, so-called because it vanished into the skin and was undetectable.
In the 1920s, Queen Marie of Romania toured the United States. Alert readers might remember that Queen Marie’s tour played a role in my story “The Christmas Robe.” Anyway, Queen Marie loved the Pond’s products so much that she gave them great publicity. In 1955 Pond’s merged with Chesebrough Manufacturing Company–I hope I’m pronouncing that correctly–which became Chesebrough-Ponds. And today it’s part of the international Unilever brand. Interestingly, while you don’t hear much about Pond’s these days in the U.S., it has a big market in Japan, India, and Thailand.
I don’t know if those of you watching the video or looking at a photograph me can tell, but I have rosacea, which is a hereditary skin condition that makes the skin appear quite ruddy and red. I find Pond’s Cold Cream soothing and comforting to my skin. I don’t know if it’s actually reduced the rosacea breakouts, but it certainly hasn’t hurt, and I love the way it feels on irritated skin. It also removes makeup very well and my skin feels soft and smooth. So that’s my little unpaid endorsement for Pond’s Cold Cream.
The second product I love is old-fashioned cake mascara. I remember my mother using cake mascara from Maybelline that came in a little red case. Mine is made by Besame Cosmetics in California. I’ll put a link in the show notes. What’s great about cake mascara is, not only is it vintage, which right there makes it cool in my book, but it can be used as both mascara and eyeliner. I use this little stiff brush, dampen it, run it over the cake, and apply it to my lashes. Or I use this eyeliner brush, dampen it, run it over the cake, and use it as eyeliner. I like that it goes on very subtly, more subtly than most eyeliners I’ve tried. You can add more coats to build it up if you want. I’ve also heard it can be used to darken eyebrows, although I haven’t tried it for that yet. Cake mascara is more expensive than some tube mascaras, but if it’s three products in one, that’s a bargain. It’s also paraben-free and cruelty-free and good for sensitive eyes, and has a longer shelf life than tube mascara.
I’ve saved the best story for last. The third old-fashioned product I like very much is Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap. The story behind this soap is really interesting. In 1929 a third-generation German-Jewish soapmaker named Emmanuel Heilbronner immigrated to the U.S. Sadly, his parents remained in Germany and perished in the Holocaust. He dropped the “heil” from the name, “Heilbronner,” because of its association with Hitler. He was also not a medical doctor, but a spiritualist. He developed his own spiritual ideology, sort of a unitarian-humanist philosophy about unifying Spaceship Earth. One day he was preaching about his philosophy at the University of Chicago and was arrested for speaking without a permit. Somehow, this incident led to his being incarcerated in the Elgin Mental Hospital in Illinois. Interestingly, I used to drive past that facility almost every day on my way to work when I lived in Illinois, but I never realized its connection to the soap I like so much. Anyway, after his stint at Elgin, he founded his soap company and printed various writings about his faith on labels of his products. Today Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps is a for-profit company run by some of Emmanuel’s descendents. I love the smell of this soap, minty but not overpowering. It’s full of good-for-you things like coconut oil, olive oil, jojoba oil, peppermint oil, and sea salt, and it’s certified fair trade. It’s something I feel good about using, and, I must admit, I find its history fascinating. It’s amazing what you can find out about ordinary, everyday things if you just scratch the surface a little.
So there you have it. Three old-fashioned products that I still use today. Do you have any oldies-but-goodies in your medicine cabinet that you would swear by? Drop me at email at email@example.com.
Today’s Grace Note is VICTORIA magazine. If you appreciate the grace and elegance of earlier eras, you must take a look. I’ve been reading this magazine since the 1990s, and it’s one of the few that I still insist on subscribing to in the print edition. It’s filled with the most gorgeous photography, home interiors, flowers, profiles of women running colorful, creative businesses, and great travel features. They tour castles and formal gardens and all the things that are dear to my vintage-loving heart, and maybe yours too. In an age of minimalism when so many fashionable trend seem cold, hard-edged, and gray, Victoria offers a breath of color and light. I’ll provide a link in the show notes, which you’ll find at sparklingvintagelife.com/podcast under Episode Nine. You can also leave a comment. You can sign up for my newsletter there as well. As always, I’d love it if you’d subscribe and leave a review at iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.
And I’ll be back next week with another topic in A Sparkling Vintage Life.
If there’s one cosmetic I hate to leave the house without, it’s mascara. Unadorned, my pale lashes cause people to ask if I’m feeling a bit peaked, to use an antique euphemism for you look like death warmed over.
Today on M-day I’m lumping “mascara” and “Maybelline” together because, for many years, the two words were synonymous. According to The Maybelline Story, a book written by Sharrie Williams (grandniece of Maybelline’s founder), in 1915 Tom Lyle Williams developed a compound to help his sister, Mabel, who had singed her eyebrows and eyelashes in a kitchen accident. Tom observed how she mixed coal dust with Vaseline petroleum jelly to darken the remaining hairs. Armed with a rudimentary chemistry set, Tom worked https://www.amazon.com/Maybelline-Spirited-Family-Dynasty-Behind-ebook/dp/B008RDGIVCout a more suitable substitute. Ultimately the final product–not yet called mascara but simply “Maybelline,” as in “Wait here while I put on my Maybelline”–was manufactured by the Parke-Davis Laboratories in Michigan. Tom Lyle (always the two names together) named his company after Mabel, the product’s inspiration, who was employed at the company, along with several other family members.
While some sources credit Frenchman Edouard Rimmel, a perfumer, with the inventing the product. Rimmel’s mascara also was a mixture of coal dust and Vaseline, Maybelline surely did invent the cake mascara, which consisted of a solid cake of mascara in a tin, accompanied by a tiny applicator brush. (Today Besame Cosmetics makes an up-to-date version of cake mascara, which is surprisingly versatile as an eye liner and brow darkener as well. I’ve been using it with excellent results.) Revlon, a company founded by Charles Revson, later invented the wand-type mascara in a tube we’re familiar with today.
One of the obstacles the Williams family had to overcome in the World War I years was the negative reaction to eye makeup, which at the time was associated with theater people and prostitutes, not “nice” ladies. The company helped change attitudes by hiring wholesome-looking models and film stars in their advertising. In the 1920s, the public warmed to eye makeup as the flapper darkened her brows and lashes. And mascara has been with us ever since. Great Lash, Maybelline’s want mascara in the iconic pink-and-green tube, has been a bestseller since it’s introduction in the Sixties.
I was surprised to learn that Maybelline was headquartered in Chicago for decades. Chances are my fictional characters Marjorie and Dot would have “put on their Maybelline” in the 1920s! In 1967 Maybelline was sold to L’Oreal and today is known as “Maybelline New York.”