The 7 Vintage Ads That Defined Our Daily Beauty Routines Using Brilliant Marketing

We women love our beauty regimens. Some of us spend hours meticulously creating nail art, sculpting our eyebrows like they were Michelangelo’s David, or browsing the beauty aisle for hours to find the perfect shade of red lipstick — I’m still on the hunt for that last one. Our pursuit of beauty takes a more painful turn when you consider the many routines that cause general discomfort or hurt like the dickens. Two words: Bikini Wax.

If someone were to ask us why we do such things to ourselves in the name of the pretty, most of us would have trouble coming up with an answer. Comments like I love how it makes me feel, it is a matter of hygiene, or it makes me look more presentable would definitely come to mind, but a clear origin of certain habits is not apparent.

The somewhat unnerving fact is that much of what modern society views as tradition or the norm, including beauty routines, were actually cooked up by Marketing Team A to help Company X sell a new product. Santa Claus, toilet paper rolls, and engagement rings were all the creations of Mad Men-esque types looking to make a buck, but now are an integral part of our American culture.

The beauty industry is in the top 10 list of offenders when it comes to marketing hooey and here are seven beauty products we all partake in that started as marketing schemes. I totally fell for it.

1. Fresh Breath Love

If you have ever tried original Listerine you will know it tastes horrid, like make-your-taste-buds-cry bad. In the late 1920s, the Listerine people brought in a few ad execs to sell this death water and through a well-organized “educational campaign” alerted the public to a serious mouth problem called halitosis. That's right: Halitosis isn't a real thing. To get women on board, they drew the connection between halitosis, bad breath, and not getting a date for the dance, which sadly worked almost immediately.

2. Deodorant Use

Sweating is a part of homo sapien life and was a non-issue for most people going into the 20th century. In 1919, ad agency J. Walter Thompson went about convincing all of humanity that sweat was shameful and that everyone, especially women, should avoid sweating at all costs because it created embarrassing armhole odor. As a result of the campaign, deodorant client Ordono's sales went through the roof.

3. Shaving Underarm Hair & Legs

If I could rid myself of one beauty routine, it would be this one. Ever since the 1920s, there has been an all-out assault on body hair that still prevails to this day.

4. Frequent Shampooing

Until the 1930s, shampoo was a localized product created by pharmacists and drug store owners and considered a luxury by most. Not until 1936 and the introduction of the Breck Girls campaign by the Breck Shampoo company did shampooing become a ritualistic practice across the country. Hair envy began that same year.

5. More Eyelashes

Full luxurious eyelashes were seen as the look of the working girl — Julia Roberts not Melanie Griffith — in the late 1800s. The stigma was eradicated by Maybelline founder T.L. Williams who needed to get his new product called mascara in the hands of American women. He used film actresses to make big lashes glamorous and take the full lash look from brothel to mainstream.

6. Kleenex Tissues As Makeup Remover

Kleenex tissues were created by Kimberly-Clark a paper manufacturer in the early 1920s from another failed product line. To unload the new product, the company positioned the disposable tissues as an accompaniment to the popular cold cream makeup remover and a replacement for the unsightly towel hanging on women’s vanity mirrors.

7. Noxzema Girl = Face Wash Gold

The face wash industry was already in full swing by the '90s, but the teen anti-acne segment had not been fully realized until the Noxzema Girl hit the TV. Regular face wash was, scientifically, fine, but we wanted to have her teen dream life, so adolescent girls ran to the store to buy “that face wash with the commercial with the girl and the curly hair.” Now, teen face wash has its own drugstore aisle.