The Rise of the Cosmetic Industry

Photo of author
Written By David Jay
A future med student, I write to learn.

Consisting of widely known brands, such as L’Oréal, Estée Lauder, or Unilever, the cosmetic industry is one of the world’s most influential markets. In 2022, Grand View Research stated that the industry had exceeded $262 billion; moreover, the market is expected to have a 4.2% annual growth rate between 2023 and 2030. The revenue of the cosmetic industry in 2022 was $11.75 billion.

Throughout the 21st century, the advent of social media and new technologies has changed how beauty companies connect with their customers. Moreover, the success of the cosmetic market is the product of new advertising strategies, various methods of distribution, and ever-changing trends. These tactics have shaped the public perception of makeup in favor of the corporations, resulting in a massive increase in revenue between 2010 and 2020.

Ancient History

Egyptian art depicting the use of cosmetics during ancient times (Source: Love to Know)

The existence of tattoos can be traced back and incorporated into every civilization before 5,000 B.C. Ever since ancient Egypt, there was makeup produced to enhance the appearance of both ordinary citizens and pharaohs to protect their skin against the sun. The use of makeup became a staple for prostitutes and wealthy women in the Roman Empire. Geisha, Japanese performing artists, apply powder to their faces and back to enhance their appearance on stage. Various types of cosmetics and their application methods emerged as civilizations fluctuated their standards of beauty.

According to the Smithsonian Museum, cosmetics were often worn by members of the upper class in the 18th century, but their popularity dropped after the American Civil War. This is due to the rising Victorian ideals of purity, modesty, and natural beauty in American society; cosmetics were “immodest.” While many perceive makeup to be socially unacceptable, some women secretly prepared beauty commodities of their own relying on advice from their families, friends, and women’s magazines. Many of said products were required to be “natural,” to not be easily detectable.

Pioneering Beauty

Victorian era cosmetics 

Before the 1800s, the lack of lighting technology and access to reflective devices restricted the demand for cosmetic products as many people applied homemade makeup. However, there had been a steady growth in the industry as people began to prioritize their “visual self-awareness” during the late 19th century. Additionally, more female citizens were able to gain employment due to the progression of women’s rights. There was a rise in cosmetic entrepreneurs in the 1880s as demands for beauty commodities began soaring. 

Some businesses, typically women-owned, utilized a business model where staff distributed goods to customers. As a result, there was a rise in the employment of women and their wealth. Further, the same women would purchase more cosmetic goods, thus injecting more funds into the economy. California Perfume Company later rebranded as Avon, came up with the strategy to increase sales and spread awareness. 

Leaflets of cosmetics containing toxic components during the 18th century (Source: Global Founders London)

Many companies in the era, such as Rimmel or Guerlain, created a trend for makeup with mass advertisements (e.g. newspapers, magazines, billboards, etc.) and their big selection of products. All of these tactics used by companies spread the industry across the Western world throughout the 19th century. 

The rise in the beauty industry brought safety regulations, new products, and trends. It was discovered that homemade cosmetics often contain toxic components, deterring customers from producing their own products. The industry has produced a variety of  Companies that also imposed advertising showcasing their latest commodities in billboards, newspapers, and women’s magazines. Soon, the demand for cosmetic goods skyrocketed in North America, then Europe.

Becoming the Beauty Standard

The public opinion of cosmetics remained sour as it was often associated with cabarets and nightlife. Department stores didn’t sell beauty commodities due to their unpopularity, but theatrical stores do due to their application in acting. Enameling, the application of paint onto one’s face, became popularized as paler skin is often associated with wealthiness despite the dangerous materials used. Other kinds of common beauty products in the era were Vassaline, toilet water, and deodorant.

Fashion of the 1920s (Source: Hancock Historical Museum)

On the contrary, the 1920s and 1930s saw a massive revolution in the cosmetic industry due to the growing film industry, especially Hollywood. The fashion of glamorous actors and actresses became a sensation among the general populace. Additionally, the rise in ballet paved the way for cosmetics’ popularity as it was connected with beauty and grace. Women were able to wear any kind of makeup, even dramatic ones, freely almost without judgment. The expanding ethnic diversity in the United States also inspired companies to develop more products with “exotic” aspects.

Technological aspects and rapidly changing fashion led to the breakthrough of new cosmetics during the 20th century. Eugène Schueller, the founder of L’Oreal, launched the world’s first modern synthetic hair dye in 1907, then commercialized sunscreen in 1936. Moreover, there was a brief boom in cosmetic surgeries, especially face-lifting, since the First World War, which allowed more room for growth for cosmetic surgeries.

Numerous cosmetic companies emerged from the boom, resulting in fierce competition. To combat this, many businesses have resorted to wholesale bargaining with male-owned department stores. By the end of the 1930s, only a selection of cosmetic companies controlled 40% of the industry, releasing numerous commodities under different brands.


The Second World War dwindled the supply of petroleum and alcohol, one of the core components of cosmetics, resulting in a shortage of cosmetic products. However, the demand for makeup skyrocketed as the majority of women gained financial independence. The era’s fashion emphasizes femininity evidently from the bold colors used in lipsticks, rouge, and nail polish.

WWII Recruitment poster containing an image of a female soldier with makeup (Source: Smithsonian Museum)

The use of cosmetics became commonplace, even governmental media utilized them to inspire American nationalism. War-related media often reflected that American women’s duties were to support the war efforts and maintain their feminine identity through cosmetics; some posters contain female soldiers wearing makeup. It was said that cosmetics, especially lipsticks, became part of America’s national identity, and even the Office of Price Administration (OPA) revoked rationing for cosmetic products.

According to the History Channel, the growing consumer demand and governmental conservation measures resulted in a massive economic boom after the war ended in 1945. Furthermore, the introduction of new manufacturing techniques aided in the production of goods, increasing efficiency and stocks of numerous products; factories resumed normal production. Cosmetic developers acknowledged that the heightening demand will result in an economic boom, so there were more products released during WWII.

Cosmetic advertisements in the 1950s (Source: Lipstick and Curls)
Cosmetic advertisements in the 1950s (Source: Lipstick and Curls)

80% – 90% of the female American population wore cosmetics after the war due to economic booms, induced demand, and new products. During the later 1950s, female teenagers wore makeup to stay in touch with current trends, prompting companies to make advertisements specifically for younger audiences. In return, cosmetics became accessible for most youths across the US, increasing their sales.

Cosmetics became a subject of debate as companies lack the awareness of African Americans, only producing white-centric cosmetics. Additionally, counter-culture caused many consumers to reject products outright due to personal beliefs. To resolve this, major firms created subsidies for catering to dark-toned customers, and they hired African Americans as salespeople. However, the “ethnic” market remained minor with only 2.3% of total sales in 1977.

The feminist movement during the 60s and 70s resulted in a decline in the profit of the industry as wearing makeup became controversial again; many activists viewed beauty products as “instruments of torture” and dispose of cosmetics. During the 20-year period, sales dropped due to women’s rejection of the necessity of cosmetics.

After the second wave of feminism, there had been a surge in “natural” cosmetics which also don’t contain harmful chemicals. The rise in cosmetics-related technologies, such as high-shear mixers, allowed the creation of new types of cosmetics and improved the quality of existing ones. Notable products in the 1980s were blush-ons, contours, and eye shadows.

Digitalization of the Industry

Sephora, a major cosmetic company, has its own website on the internet.

The turn of the millennium brought the World Wide Web, a major digital information system, allowing the creation of commercial websites. Every kind of industry, including cosmetics, was drastically improved with easy access to the internet as they can offer products and services nonstop, establish their branding, and digitally advertise it. The cosmetic industry was one of the most influential sectors in the advent of the Internet. 

Many corporations turned to web-based outlets as they cut out business expenses, such as location costs, salaries, or utilities. Furthermore, there has been a rise in customers using E-commerce as it is convenient, cheap, and abundant in variety. According to Inveon, approximately 25.4% of total revenue will account for online purchases in the near future.  

Beauty companies created brand images that their clients can accept to lower the massive competition. Marketing activities, e-commerce tactics, and increasing site accessibility are crucial to increase sales, fight competitors, and build a positive reputation of their own in the online world. 

A billboard containing an advertisement for Kylie-brand cosmetics

Marketing activities allow potential customers to know a brand’s presence in the online sphere. It allows the company to attract a desired pool of audience with many kinds of advertisements. Traditional media of advertisements, such as newspapers, magazines, or televisions, can be relatively inexpensive depending on the media’s popularity; however, they can be inefficient in attracting customers due to low traffic. On the other hand, online promotions have skyrocketed during the 2010s as traffic heightens, making it very effective for companies. Its versatility and popularity allow it to be applied to nearly every website and networking platform, such as Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. However, it is often expensive to run them on sites with high traffic and it can backfire if the promotions become frequent.

A way to increase the potential of sales online is to employ e-commerce strategies to clients as they increase the number of sales and keep them “loyal” to the company. There are ten main tactics used by companies to reach the brand’s target demographic according to Devrix.

  • Increasing search usability because it enables users to find what they want quicker
  • Provide good media of products and their descriptions to entice them
  • Personalize the homepage of users to create a user-centric experience
  • Prioritize consistent and distinctive content to provide more value to customers
  • Improve the shopping cart functionality to keep users buying more products
  • Build an email list to further advertise products
  • Utilize social media to one’s advantage as there is a huge traffic
  • Establish landing pages to create an identity for the company
  • Create promotional tactics to increase sales
  • Allow content generated by users to popularize products and the brand itself

Customers are more likely to purchase a product if it is easy to locate, therefore companies should focus on increasing product accessibility to them. Online marketing allows corporations to analyze valuable data from consumers to help them adapt to the internet; they can create social media accounts on popular sites to advertise and build their presence. Additionally, creating a seamless omnichannel experience allows consumers to access sites from any device or browser.

The Future

The future of cosmetics is still uncertain due to emerging fashions that come and go, but it is still plausible for some trends to occur within the industry and its audience, namely technological advances, environmental sustainability, personalization, and advertisements. 

Dior pioneered virtual reality technology to the cosmetic industry. (Source: LinkedIn)

As the digital era progresses, there will be research regarding methods of production in the cosmetic industry, unlocking new kinds of components included in the products. Citing Patsnap, there is an incentive in the research of cosmetic products with biologically active material and non-allergen components, which provide customers with allergies to use cosmetics, increasing sales. Additionally, more modes of media, such as virtual reality or augmented reality, can be heavily utilized in product testing. 

Brands began turning to eco-friendly products and packaging to appeal to increasingly conscious consumers. With an increasing trend on this, companies will center their priority to create products that maximize users’ satisfaction and minimize ecological damage. Moreover, they may extend it to manufacturing, packaging, or shipping.

Personalization became a major selling point to companies during the 2010s when AI became increasingly popular. Machine learning allows algorithms to analyze users’ purchases and searches to recommend relevant products and introduce new trends, thereby creating a sense of individuality for consumers. Establishments can also use AI to understand current trends, audiences, and popularity of products to further improve their branding.

James Charles, a popular internet celebrity, collaborated with Morphe.

Advertisements will evolve throughout the technological era by ingenious means. Social media has become a major source of promotions for many cosmetic companies due to the high amount of traffic; it also allows companies to interact and stay current with their consumer base. Sometimes, brands sponsor famous content creators to review their products to reach out to more customers. However, brands begin to diversify between organic and sponsored content to both maintain public reputation and perception.

By David Jay

Receive the latest articles in your inbox

Want more brain stimulating stories about Business & Tech?

Join to receive new insights on the latest trends