Yardley may be innocuous today but it’s the oldest registered beauty brand in the world. In fact, records show that even though the company was officially founded in 1770, its story actually began in the 1600s, when King Charles I granted a young man the concession to supply all the soap for the City of London.
Sadly, the particulars were lost in the Great Fire of 1666. Only one detail remained: the key ingredient in Yardley London’s soaps was lavender, known for its soothing properties. Till today, there is a special species of lavender – Lavandula augustifolia – that is exclusively grown for Yardley London in the South of England. No wonder the brand continues to enjoy royal patronage, with Kate Middleton being the latest purveyor.
Bonus fact: In 1971, Yardley sponsored the British Racing Motors team in the Formula 1 Grand Prix. In 1972 the company moved on to McLaren, which it sponsored till 1974.
Pears Soap, 1807
Founded by Andrew Pears in 1789 as a barber’s studio in SoHo, London, Pears was originally reserved for a very exclusive set of peers and nobles. In 1807 (that’s almost 210 years back, people!) came the world’s first transparent soap bar, which was initially billed as an ‘English Complexion Soap’, due to its ultra-gentle formula comprising of glycerin and other natural products. It took three months to make (still does!) and won the prize for soap at the Great Exhibition in 1851.
Thayers Original Witch Hazel, 1847
Thayers has been a household name ever since Dr. Henry Thayer created his proprietary witch hazel extract. What set it apart from a slew of businesses that were capitalising on the multifarious benefits of this shrub was that Thayer’s extract was made from non-distilled witch hazel, thereby maintaining the highest quality of therapeutic tannins. Till today, more than 150 years later, few facial toners can compete with the skin boosting properties of this non-alcoholic astringent.
Bourjois Little Round Pot Blush, 1863
In 1863, Parisian actor Joseph-Albert Ponsin created the world’s first powder blush based on a complex recipe: carefully combine a measured amount of of powder, water and mother-of-pearl, mix delicately, pour into rounded moulds and put in the oven to bake. Now, 150 years later, the little round pot of Bourjois blusher has gone beyond stage makeup to become one of the brand’s bestselling lines. And for collectors who just can’t resist those original iconic Little Round Pots, Bourjois regularly launches limited edition vintage series.
Penhaligon’s Hammam Bouquet, 1872
As a brand that has not one but four of its original blends on the shelves more than a century later, it’s not a surprise that Penhaligon’s has received a number of royal warrants over the years. The perfumery was founded by William Henry Penhaligon, a Cornish barber who moved to London and set up shop on Jermyn Street in the late 1860s. His first fragrance was Hammam Bouquet, inspired by the heady aromas emanating from the Turkish bath next door.
Hammam Bouquet remains a customer favourite till date, along with Blenheim Bouquet (crafted in 1902 as a bespoke fragrance for the Duke of Malborough), English Fern and Douro (both 1911). Happily for lovers of history, even William Penhaligon’s bottle design remains largely unchanged, with the flash of ribbon taking us back down memory lane to the England of Queen Victoria.
Would you believe that oil wells can be fashionable? In the hands of Robert Chesebrough, that’s a resounding yes. Cheseborough founded Vaseline when he was prospecting for oil at Titusville, Pennsylvania. The observation that oil rig workers used “rod wax” – the drill residue – to heal cuts and minor burns caught the chemist’s imagination. He then spent the better part of a decade refining the rod wax to the clear, white petroleum jelly that became Vaseline. The name came from a combination of the German wasser (water) and Greek oleon (oil).
However, drugstore owners were unimpressed and so Cheseborough took to the road, advertising the wares himself. The modus operandi? He would inflict wounds on his own body and spread Vaseline on the affected areas to show its efficacy (don’t try this at home!).
Soon, Vaseline was selling at the rate of a jar a minute and Queen Victoria knighted Chesebrough in 1883, telling the inventor that she used it every single day!
Bonus fact: Cheseborough ate a spoonful of Vaseline every day. Though I seriously wouldn’t recommend this, the inventor lived to be 96 years old.
Another bonus fact: In 1886, Manufacture and Builder reported: “French bakers are making large use of vaseline in cake and other pastry. Its advantage over lard or butter lies in the fact that, however stale the pastry may be, it will not become rancid.”
Developed by Missouri chemist Joseph Lawrence as a surgical antiseptic, Listerine was named after Baron Joseph Lister, a pioneer of antiseptic surgery. Over the years, this combination of menthol, thymol (thyme), eucalyptol (eucalyptus) and methyl salicylate (wintergreen) has been used for purposes ranging from gonorrhoea and bathing surgical wounds to treating sore throats, soothing insect bites and cleaning the floor.
However, Listerine truly hit its stride in 1895, when it caught the attention of dentists. In fact, the word ‘halitosis’ (Latin for ‘bad breath’) was coined by Listerine staff and this became the first over the counter mouthwash to be sold without a prescription. At one point, they were even manufacturing Listerine cigarettes!
Today, the 138-year-old liquid remains the oldest product in the Johnson & Johnson portfolio.
Ivory Soap, 1879
When chemist James Gamble, of Procter & Gamble, whipped extra air into a batch of Ivory soap bars, he not only created the world’s first floating soap (advantage: it wouldn’t get lost while bathing!) but also one that was 99.44% pure. Going strong for 138 years now, Ivory soap also has another well documented use: the soap flakes have been a staple to create “snow” for Christmas trees since the 1920s.
Bonus fact: The name ‘Ivory’ was adopted by Harley Procter after he heard the 45th Psalm at a Bible reading.
WTF fact: Researchers asked children to do a soap taste test in 1994 and Ivory soap tasted the least disgusting. Ummm… !!??
Smith’s Rosebud Salve, 1892
Invented by Dr. GF Smith as an all-purpose salve to help with issues such as chapped lips, razor burn, haemorrhoids and diaper rash, Smith’s Rosebud Salve is still one of the most multipurpose products out there. I personally use it for everything from dry skin to makeup (every single makeup artist backstage will tell you it makes for the best highlighter!).
And while the salve now comes in more efficient tubes as well, nothing can drag me away from the cool, vintage, pharmacy-type tins. Little wonder that 3,500 tins of Smith’s Rosebud Salve continue to be sold somewhere in the world every day!
Shiseido Eudermine, 1897
Established in 1872 by Arinobu Fukuhar in Ginza, Tokyo, Shiseido was not only Japan’s first “western style” pharmacy, it was also the one that launched ice cream in the country. The Shiseido Ice Cream Parlour branched off in 1928 and is still in business today.
The brand’s first beauty product – a softening lotion called Eudermine – was launched in 1897. This lotion can still be found on the Shiseido counters 120 years later and in the original packaging style if you look hard enough.
Another cult product – the Shiseido Rainbow Face Powder – is being launched as a limited edition just in time for its centenary. This was one of the world’s first color correcting and mood lighting face powders!
Pond’s Cold Cream, 1907