Too often, pride in one’s appearance is viewed as inherently anti-feminist. The use of make-up, the enjoyment of shopping, an interest in jewelry or the passion some women feel for hair and skin products – all of it is often regarded as frivolous. Shallow. A step backwards for a gender that has been held back for so long.

This simply isn’t the case, however.

First and foremost, we women should be free to celebrate our femininity or gender identity however we choose. On top of that, though, is the undeniable fact that the beauty industry is home to some of the most successful and powerful female entrepreneurs to date (such as Bobbi Brown, Jane Wurwand of Dermologica and Leslie Blodgett) and we wanted to take a moment to celebrate a few of the early pioneers.

Read on to learn a little more about three women who started empires that helped women embrace their individual beauty.


Madame CJ Walker
A bit about her: Walker began her professional life as a washer woman in a barbershop. Over time, the exposure to chemicals and fumes began to take its toll, causing her to experience hair loss. This occurrence inspired her to invent products that would help the health of her hair – inventions that would ultimately become the basis for her own line of hair care products. In addition to her work in the health and beauty industry, Walker also advised other black women on how they could develop their own businesses. At the time of her death, she was said to be the wealthiest African-American woman in the country, and one of the nation’s first female self-made millionaires.


Elizabeth Arden
A bit about her: Born Florence Nightingale Graham, Arden was a bookkeeper at a pharmaceuticals company who spent her free time learning about skin care. She then worked for a short time under a beauty culturist before coming into her own. Her focus on concepts such as beauty makeovers and the coordinating of eye, lip and cheek color helped further the idea of the use of makeup as ladylike since, prior to her innovations, makeup was frequently regarded as a beauty device implemented by “lower-class” women and prostitutes. Arden’s brand and methodologies ultimately gained an international acclaim that they continue to enjoy to this day.


Helena Rubinstein
A bit about her: Rubinstein’s beauty career began with a simple face cream and grew into an empire that reached from Australia – the Polish-born entrepreneur’s residence at the time of her company’s inception – to London, and many places in between. In addition to offering customers an array of cosmetics, skin care products and sun screens, she also started a foundation bearing her name that sought to help empower women and children. On the foundation’s website, she is quoted as saying that “[m]y fortune comes from women and should benefit them and their children, to better their quality of life.” Though it is no longer active, the Foundation contributed hundreds of millions to community- and education-oriented initiatives in New York, NY.

In addition to these three trail-blazers, we have featured several women whose beauty products have improved the lives of their clients, including Beth Meah of Miorae Naturals LLC, Funlayo Alabi of SheaRadiance and Lisa M. Price of Carol’s Daughter Holdings LLC.

Have you started a business in the cosmetic or beauty industry? Tell us in a 1,000 Stories submission.

Related: A Safe Haven for Women: The Beauty of the Hair Salon
Related: Turning Camel Milk Into Cosmetics