A Century of Cosmetics: Is the End Near?by Jeffrey Tucker
May. 19, 2012
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The organization Campaign for Safe Cosmetics doesn't just want you to be able to have new choices about the makeup or other products you buy. It wants the FDA to be able to ban and recall products. It will decide for you what is and isn't safe.
And it is prevailing against the industry itself, which has no interest whatsoever in selling unsafe products, but precisely the opposite. The industry is already ridiculously overregulated, and new regulations could come into effect this summer.
What's the excuse? The usual nonsense about safety and security and health. There is a crowd of lobbyists backed by regulators who seem to believe that all of modernity is corrupting and horrible and must be reversed until we are living in the most-primitive state of being, sans makeup, of course!
In other words, cosmetics are going the way of everything else. The quality of the product will be depleted by regulations, just as with indoor plumbing, electricity, cars, light bulbs, soaps and gas-powered tools. Entrepreneurship will be hindered and truncated. Innovation will stop. In a few years, you will wonder: Whatever happened to makeup and deodorant and hair spray that actually works? Prepare: The end is near!
Already, I've heard many women complain that cosmetics today are far worse than they were 10 years ago. The colors don't behave they way they should, and color is mainly what the FDA currently controls. I don't doubt that whatever problems exist are due to government regulations. Whenever you see consumer products that decline in quality to the point that you have to pay vastly more for something of good quality, or that high quality suddenly becomes completely unavailable, you will find the hand of government if you look hard enough.
I can't read about this subject without feeling a sense of pride for the life and work (and sadness for the great legacy) of Maksymilian Faktorowicz, who lived from 1872-1938. He was a Polish Jew who lived in Russia under the czars. He started working for a pharmacist at the age of 8, and as he got older, he inhabited the world of wigs designed for the opera in Moscow. At the age of 22, he obtained what amounted to a royal appointment. He was in charge of wigs and cosmetics for the Imperial Russian Grand Opera.
But by 1904, political unrest was making life more than a bit scary for Russian Jews, and he began looking to the United States as a place to settle. In these times before passports and visas, it was just a matter of catching a boat and moving in. So he did. He moved to St. Louis.
His big break came at the glorious pro-capitalist, pro-progress, pro-technology event: the World's Fair of 1904. There, Maksymilian Faktorowicz sold his fabulous cosmetics to great acclaim. All hail the practical arts!
He took the trade name you now recognize: Max Factor. He was a great American entrepreneur.
Following the World’s Fair, disaster struck, and his partner stole his stuff and his money and left him penniless. He went back into barbering and crawled his way back, eventually moving to Los Angeles. He opened a shop that distributed cosmetics for the theater.
But it was not enough that he merely distribute what already existed. Max was an entrepreneur above all else. And there was a new industry in town: the movies. The existing makeup withered terribly under the hot lights. He combined his background in pharmacy with his expertise in cosmetics and created a new form of makeup, a thin greasepaint in cream form in 12 different colors.
It was a smash hit. The stars loved it. Soon every emerging star was coming to Max Factor to provide the right look for the camera. And his products kept improving. Eventually, he had an incredible list of clients that included Mary Pickford, Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Judy Garland. He invented lip gloss, provided huge innovations in nail polish, came up with products specifically for color films and never stopped improving all his products.
His name appears in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But more than that, Max was the guy who mainstreamed the idea that every woman could look like a Hollywood starlet. As the song goes, "To be an actor, see Mr. Factor / He'll make your kisser look good!"
The term "makeup" that we use today is due to him as well. More broadly, when you consider the influence that Hollywood had on the world, he pretty well defined the 20th-century idea of beauty, both indirectly through his masterful work on the set and directly by marketing Max Factor products to consumers all over the world.
That's a pretty impressive contribution for a poor Polish-Jewish immigrant from Russia! And between his old-world position serving the court and the new position in capitalist America serving the American consumer, which do you suppose he preferred? He made his preference pretty obvious by immigrating and then by absolutely thriving in this land of the free. Free enterprise made this story possible.
Now, I can imagine some readers thinking: "Oh, this is all superficial and irrelevant. Why make this man out to be a hero?" Cosmetics have been part of the human experience since the dawn of time. And today they are an intimate part of the daily life of nearly every existing person on the planet. For women in particular, cosmetics are a crucial part of what makes for a quality life, which is one reason that they constitute a $20 billion industry globally every year.
Sadly, when you look at the regulations today, you can see that this huge and wonderfully innovative experience could never be repeated. Let's leave aside the point about immigration today, which is a tragedy in its own right. And let's leave aside child labor restrictions that would have prevented him from learning his craft early on.
Would Max have been able to try techniques and colors and solutions for the unique problems posed by the hot studio lights? If he had to obey government regulators, rather than his demanding consumers, would he have thrived as he did?
I seriously doubt it. Entrepreneurs need the freedom to try things. They need to have their experiments tested by the most-relevant party, namely the consumer. The standards of excellence have to be set by the people who are using the inventions and buying the products. Because America valued this freedom and opportunity, and linked up geniuses like Factor with the buying public, many generations of American capitalists rose through the social ranks to achieve riches, fame and greatness.
Today, it is different. The regulatory bureaus step between the innovative capitalist and the consumer, causing friction and communication struggles. This forces the entrepreneur to have divided loyalties: Does he serve the bureaucrat, or does he serve the consumer?
Somehow I can't even imagine Bette Davis taking a back seat to any regulator!
Rumor has it that the fate of cosmetics will be sealed by the summer, when the final power of the life and death of any cosmetic product will be handed over to the FDA. This is a terrible tragedy. I can predict the future. The new and improved makeup will not work. It is not supposed to work. It is supposed to please beauty-hating activists and power-mad bureaucrats.
Here we have another instance of government unraveling the achievements of civilization one product at a time. It is Max Factor's grave they are dancing on this time. And that fact alone should infuriate every red-blooded and rosy-cheeked American.
Jeffrey Tucker, publisher and executive editor of Laissez-Faire Books, is author of Bourbon for Breakfast: Living Outside the Statist Quo and It's a Jetsons World. You can write him directly here.