1930s-makeup history

A Brief History of 1930’s Makeup

Concise illustrated history and tutorials of 1930s Makeup styles and cosmetics from the 1930’s golden age of Hollywood glamour.

By the beginning of the decade the 1930s woman’s makeup look was becoming much more refined. To some extent much more Hollywood influenced. Eyebrows were pencil thin and lips had lost their cupids bow, and filled the mouth again.


Magazines like Photoplay featured regular beauty guides of the ‘stars’ and makeup gurus like Max Factor – who personally worked with some of the biggest stars of the period, became household names.

Max Factor gives a Makeup Masterclass Tutorial in 1935

Max Factor at work in 1935

Just look at the early talkies of the 1930’s and the beautiful women who graced the screen like Myrna Loy, Greta Garbo, Mae West, Jean Harlow, Constance Bennett and of course the unforgettable Carole Lombard.


They all have a certain ‘look’ and one clear thing they all shared was the pencil thin eyebrow. The heavy kohl eye-shadows of the 1920’s vamp made way for newer and lighter shades. Cream eye-shadows began to appear from the big cosmetic names like Max factor who also launched the decade with his Lip Gloss and later in 1937 – Pancake water soluble makeup. Helena Rubinstein launched the first commercial water-proof mascara in 1939.

Lipstick sales went through the roof and there wasn’t a magazine on a stall that didn’t have a pouting face staring back – advertising the lipsticks of names like Coty, Tangee, and Max Factor.

The British Daily Mail reported “in 1931 that 1,500 lipsticks were being sold to women for every 1 being sold in 1921!” Mascara was now in every girls makeup kit – a cake or bar with a brush to apply [ liquid mascara did not appear until Helena Rubinstein brought out Mascaramatic in the 1950’s].

1930s Makeup Tutorials

Learn the early 1930’s makeup look with this rare and wonderfully illustrated tutorial book from 1932. Written by Virginia Vincent it is a valuable tool to perfecting the Hollywood makeup styles of the likes of Jean Harlow. There’s a section for every hair color and age.

1930s makeup tutorials

1930s Makeup Tutorial – 8 Steps to a Hollywood Face

1930s makeup look
The complete 1930’s makeup look. Heart shaped face. Pencil thin eyebrows. Lots of cake mascara. Full red lips and plenty of rouge

A smart face, was now as important as a smart frock to a woman in the 1930’s. Follow this 8 step routine to achieve the perfect 1930’s makeup look to go with your 1930’s dress.

3 Step Daily Beauty Routine

3 step skincare routine - Constance Bennett
Apply cleanser. Wipe off with astringent. Finish with vanishing cream moisturizer

Want to know how those Hollywood leading ladies had such immaculate faces?
They used the tried and trusted 3 step skincare routine. Cleanse, tone, and moisturize.

The leading skincare brand of the 1930’s and 1940’s was Ponds Cream.
If you want to be authentic, we recommend using Ponds cleanser, witch hazel astringent to tone, and Ponds vanishing cream moisturizer.

This was process was religiously followed by women, and was the first step in the 1930’s makeup process. Watch Constance Bennett’s 1930’s skincare routine  ( complete with attending maid).

Pan Cake Foundation

max factor pan cake foundation in the 1930s
The matte effect is achieved with pan cake foundation, seen here being applied by its inventor Max Factor.

Hollywood makeup artist Max Factor used his famous pan-cake makeup on many actresses. Though the product only finally became commercially available in 1937, it is the best foundation to use for a 1930’s face. Apply with a brush. It gives your skin a matte finish. This was essential for women appearing on film.

1930’s Eyebrows

1930s eyebrows
Pluck thin the eyebrows with tweezers. Apply a pencil thin line to beyond the natural brow end. Brush in with toothbrush or similar

Pluck away your eyebrows, as demonstrated. Then with an eyebrow pencil, you draw a long ‘pencil thin’ arch, beyond where your brow would normally end.

1930’s Eye-shadow

1930s eye shadow
Apply with finger and finish with Vaseline for a glossy Hollywood effect.

Whatever shadow you wish, but always apply with the tip of your finger. Finish with a rub of Vaseline. This was a trick used by many Hollywood stars like Marlene Dietrich. This leaves a lovely sheen.

1930’s Cake Mascara

1930s mascara
Use cake mascara and apply with a brush.

This was applied from a pot, or tray, with a brush. Some women swear that this is a much more effective way to apply mascara, but it isn’t obligatory.

1930’s Rouge Tips

1930s heart shape face - rouge
Use your rouge to achieve a heart shape face. If your face is narrow, apply some on the ears to add width

Hollywood’s favorite face contour in the 1930’s was a heart shaped face. So even if you had the perfect oval, you would use your rouge to add some width to it. The old trick was to add rouge to the ear. Cream rouge was better for the ear, or lip rouge that matched your normal face rouge.

1930’s Lipstick Tricks

1930s makeup - lipstick tricks
Wide lips: Outline within natural lips. Two shades of lip rouge, heavier on upper, lighter on the lower lip. Thin lips: Outline outside the natural lip line. Lighter shade on upper lip, heavier shade on lower lip

Lips moved away from the cupids bow of the 1920’s, with a return to a more natural line.
For too wide lips, there were two tricks popular in the 1930’s.
Curve the lipstick below the lip line. Then use two shades. The heavier on the upper lips, the lighter on the lower.
For thin lips, you simply applied the opposite with the shades, as well as moving the lip line beyond your natural line.

1930’s Nails

1930s nails makeup tips
Lengthen and feminize small fingers with a moon manicure

Unless you have long fingers, the most common manicure method was to allow for a small amount of white to show at both the tip and bottom. This helps elongate your fingers. It makes them look more feminine. It is called the moon manicure. If you do have long fingers, it’s best to color the full nail and trim them.

You can get the full illustrated 1932 makeup book by Virginia Vincent at Vintage Makeup Guides.

1930’s Makeup Style Products

Our recommended brand is Besame Cosmetics. Their 1931 Carmine Red lipstick, perfectly evoke the era. Beautifully presented in their trademark gold lipstick tubes.


You’ll love the reproduction cake mascara too from Besame Cosmetics. It comes in a collectible tin, with a brush and instructions.

1920s cake mascara - Besame Cosmetics

1930’s makeup for your type

Adopted from theatrical makeup sticks, the eyeliner pencil to some extent took over from the heavy kohl look of the 1920’s. Now women began to contour the eye, tracing a triangle effect from the tear duct out to and beyond the natural edge of the eye – thus widening an adding further feminine emphasis to the face.

The lips lost the rosebud effect of the previous decade and adopted a thinner line, but now with a host of color palettes to choose from. Popular lipstick colors included dark reds, maroons and raspberry tones.

1930s Makeup Look Summary


Hollywood  influenced a more refined and glamorous look, with pale ivory foundations. Eye-shadows now had expanded to a palette of colors – in particular, alluring pinks and shimmering greens.

Marlene Dietrich---1930's-makeup-look
Marlene Dietrich—1930’s-makeup-look
  • Eyes – blues, greens, pinks, purples applied lightly and in pear shapes beyond the natural eye.
  • Eyebrows – plucked out of existence and redrawn in pencil thin lines – arched more attractively upwards.
  • Lips – the cupids bow was replaced by thinner horizontal lines with upper lips enlarged and fuller. Popular colors are carmine, raspberry reds and maroon.
  • Lashes – mascara moved to the lower lashes only which lifted eyes out.
  • Rouge -The triangle was the new look and contouring faces was in vogue.
  • Nails – the moon manicure remains and nail and lip colors sold to match.

In our popular YouTube video A Vintage 1930s Makeup & Skincare Guide, Hollywood star Constance Bennett showcases her daily beauty routine.She says this about lipstick.
” I’d like to say this about lipstick – for years I’ve bought every one I’ve ever heard about,but I either ate them all up with my food, or left them on the cheeks of my son when I kissed him good night or good morning. Never did any part stay on me – most discouraging.”

It wasn’t until 1949 when Hazel Bishop produced the first stay on lip rouge that this problem was solved. The overall look for a 1930s face was of a pinkish hue, but the tanned look was gradually coming in and foundations fro skin which helped give that sun-kissed look of California were now much sought after – especially in the cold dark winters! Powders were becoming more popular now that women needed their ‘face’ to remain glamorous throughout the day ( though never more popular than later in the 1950s). A quick pat in the powder room at her place of work was now a necessary part of a woman’s daily routine.

Notable cosmetic brands founded in the 1930s included Payot (1930), Alexandra de Markoff (1930), Almay (1930), Boots No7 (1935), Gala of London (1938).

© 29/05/2013 – Stevie McGlinchey – Glamourdaze.com

Further Reading:
A Short History of 20th Century Cosmetics
History of Makeup – 1900 to 1919.
A History of Makeup – 1920s
History of makeup – 1940s
A History of makeup – 1950s
History of makeup – 1960s

Concise Illustrated History of Fashion – 1900 to 1919
A Concise Illustrated History of Fashion – 1920 to 1929
Concise Illustrated History of Fashion – 1940 to 1949


Further Reading still:
1930’s Fashion Sourcebook – Charlotte Fiell and Emmanuelle Dirix.
1930’s Makeup revisited – Glamourdaze.
Ready for My Close-up – College makeup of the 1930s.
The 1930’s Makeup Look – downloadable guides.

Patent Images – via Google Patents
Plus – the excellent – Collecting Vintage Compacts
(patent by Gordon – 2158901.)

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