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Chemical Reaction: When Looking Back is Looking Forward

By: Steve Herman
Posted: April 2, 2008, from the April 2008 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Rubinstein began her business with Kraków Cream, made using a secret recipe by a local chemist, Dr. Jacob Lykusky—who may or may not have been a real person. It contained, as its magic ingredient, the bark of an evergreen tree from the Carpathian forests outside Kraków. The pine bark in fact contains flavonoids, which are potent water-soluble antioxidants that help repair connective tissue and boost the immune system. Thus, we have a perfectly reasonable “cosmeceutical,” provided to Rubinstein’s customers a century ago.

During her passage from Europe to Australia in 1896, Rubinstein stopped in India—where she discovered fragrant mixes, the water lily, kohl and ayurvedic massage (her affection for honey and mint treatment was a known ayurvedic remedy, and water lily would remain a favorite through her career). Her Valaze Cream, originally a cold cream and barrier cream, soon expanded into a range of products. Claims included the removal of freckles, and this was, perhaps, due to the presence of hydrogen peroxide or citric acid. Valaze cream also contained essential oils of rose, orange, lily and lavender. These allowedfor healing claims, as well as a pleasing smell, and Rubinstein—as well as Arden—always sought to fulfill the promise of youth with a pleasant scent.

The natural and green movement has pushed our industry into every forest and pond looking for exotic actives, and we tend to think of this as a new venture. However, serving this “trend” was among Rubinstein’s early efforts. In 1900–1901, she worked in Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia, near sub-tropical forests rich in plant ingredients. Many materials were used for their healing properties by the Aboriginal tribes.

World War I was a turning point for many social and economic forces that paved the way for the modern cosmetic industry. After the war, American soldiers brought back perfume from Paris—Coty perfumes. It was the foundation for Coty to create the first European cosmetic company to conquer the American market. This change, along with evolving cultural standards and the advent of more liberal wardrobes, fostered a growth in advertising and publicity directed at female consumers.

In 1915, Vogue was packed with beauty product ads. Arden, her own copywriter, and Rubinstein battled in public with their advertising. Rubinstein modestly claimed to be “the greatest living beauty exponent,” while her rival had “given her life to the study of the subject in America, Paris, London and Berlin.”