Beauty Secret from the Periodicals Collection

Much like today, advertisements about maintaining an attractive appearance were a staple of early twentieth-century women’s magazines. This week we bring you a selection of beauty-related ads from our Periodicals Collections.


This ad for Othine which appeared in a July 1929 issue of the Delineator states that the product will free you from the shame of having freckles by removing “these homely spots.” Because darker or tanned skin was considered less desirable than fair skin, during the early twentieth century there were countless products promising to lighten skin and fade blemishes, freckles, and liver spots. Unfortunately, many of these products, like other cosmetics of the era, contained harmful amounts of mercury.

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Sometimes ads for personal hygiene and beauty products reflected the changing ideas about gender and femininity, as is the case with this ad from a May 1930 issue of the Delineator. “Can a girl Smoke and still be Lovely?” The answer, of course, is yes — with the help of the right toothpaste.

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Scanning our old periodicals, you’re likely to find ads for a familiar product with an unfamiliar angle. Listerine was originally created in 1879 as a surgical antiseptic, and over the years has been marketed in many different ways for a variety of purposes. This ad, from an October 1929 issue of McCalls, touts the product’s ability to “close pores…tighten sagging muscles” and keep skin youthful.

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Even ads for foods and household items sometimes centered on femininity and attractiveness, suggesting that a woman’s appearance was the result of not just proper hygiene or a beauty routine, but all aspects of her life. According to this ad from the February 1930 issue of the Delineator, if a look in the mirror reveals sallow skin, dark circles, and dull eyes, chances are it’s because you’re not eating Post’s Bran Flakes: “the pleasant way to build a background for beauty.”

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Again, we’ve saved our favorite for last. This ad for Wrigley’s Doublemint gum published in the February 1930 issue of the Delineator claims that, thanks to chewing gum, “the enchanting women of ancient Aztec civilization probably had the most exquisite teeth and youthful  loveliness of mouth of all the women who ever lived” and therefore “chewing Wrigley’s for beautiful lips is but making use of an old Beauty Secret.” When Wrigley’s began including packages of chewing gum with their baking powder in the early 1890s, the free gift proved to be so successful that the company phased out their primary product and shifted their focus to gum soon after.

About the author

Andrea Degener is the Visual Materials Processing Archivist in the department of Special Collections at Washington University Libraries.