Beauty Standards Throughout The Decades: The 1990s

By Simone Sydel··  9 min read
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Beauty Standards Throughout The Decades: The 1990s beauty

Oh, the '90s. The era of drugstore beauty brands, brown matte lips, and a general lack of respect for the natural eyebrow shape.

The ‘90s were not only a decade of iconic makeup looks and beauty trends but also a defining time for culture, television, music, and the beauty industry as we know it.

Many popular trends stem from this era, and in this article, we will discuss (almost) all of them. So, from a matte face and smudgy eye makeup to Winona Ryder's pixie cut and Alicia Silverstone's sky-blue nail polish, here are the most popular beauty standards of the 1990s.

The Culture in the 1990s

The 1990s brought awe-inspiring movies like we’d never seen before. Titanic became one of the most successful movies ever, with worldwide sales of over $1.8 billion. Jurassic Park was another '90s movie that pulled similar numbers during its epic run. Cult classics like Pulp Fiction, Se7en, 12 Monkeys, and Natural Born Killers are movies that every one of us has seen at least once (but probably more) in our lives.

pulp fiction

While violence in the '90s movies went way over the top, so did the special effects. For the first time, computer animation started to look realistic, and movies like Toy Story and A Bug’s Life promised to change the way we watch animated movies forever.

Sitcoms maintained their popularity during the '90s, and one of the things that made the shows so great was their ability to tackle social issues in a single episode. '90s sitcoms were filled with pure energy, and some of the most popular shows included Full House, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and, of course, Friends.

fresh prince

The decade also witnessed the birth of so many great, timeless songs by so many great artists. You could say that there was some sort of a rebirth of creativity and inspiration, especially in the early to mid-'90s. Some of the most popular music genres included alternative, ska-punk, fusion, rap-rock, hip-hop, and pop. Even electronic music came to the forefront and became ultra-popular. Basically, the music in this decade got very interesting and became the basis for what most music sounds like today.

Good Skincare Was the New Fad

Skincare only continued to become more popular and important in the '90s, and most people had some sort of a skincare routine, even if that only consisted of using soap and a drugstore moisturizer.

Estheticians and dermatologists were frequently interviewed for magazine beauty articles, and the general realization that good skincare was key emerged.

Retinol, alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), and scrubs became ultra-popular due to their immediate and visible brightening effect on the skin. Astringents also became conventional acne treatments, and publications like Vogue often featured dermatologists who recommended their use to anyone dealing with oily, acne-prone skin and enlarged pores.

By 1996, skincare companies were turning their attention toward enzymes and vitamins. Enzymes provide a slightly different exfoliating action than AHAs by dissolving the dead cells quickly and therefore eliminating the need for a higher concentration of AHAs. Alongside enzymes, antioxidants vitamin C and E also gained popularity in the '90s and became popular treatments for hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone.

But with the good comes the bad, and sadly the '90s were not immune to the rise of the tanning craze, but this time it was in the form of tanning booths instead of tanning sunbeds. Sadly, due to the overuse of tanning booths, we’re now seeing an increase in skin cancer because damage always takes time to show. According to Dr. Darrell S. Rigel, a New York-based dermatologist, teenage girls who used tanning beds in the 1990s are behind the sharp increase in melanoma cases in the 21st century.

But on the positive side, this obsession with looking tan forced the market to create better self-tanning products and more versatile bronzers. The self-tanning lotion Jergens Natural Glow was created in the '90s, and it’s still a popular product today.

DIY skincare was also super popular in the '90s, and it consisted of using green tea, rose water, and chamomile tea to calm and nourish the skin.

The most popular skincare brands and products of the decade were Elizabeth Arden, Dove White Beauty Bar, Neutrogena Foaming Face Wash, Olay All Day Moisturizer, Bioré Pore Strips, and St. Ives Apricot Scrub.

Thin Eyebrows, Matte Foundation, and Lined Lips Were Queen

In the early '90s, matte makeup was the it-thing. Glowy looks were also respected, especially when your face would get sweaty and oily during a night of partying, but matte was definitely the standard.

Tinted moisturizer also started to become popular in the late '90s, finally giving an option to women who wanted some coverage but not a full face of heavy-duty foundation.

Since matte looks were the standard, the use of powders was still all the rage, much like in the '80s, and blush still wasn't getting much love in the decade. Sparingly dusting pinky or peachy powder blush on your cheeks and a touch to the center of the nose was about it.

The grunge scene had a huge impact on makeup, particularly in the early '90s, as the decade was all about dark, thick, smudgy eyeliner rimming the eyes and in the waterline.

Early '90s eyeshadows were primarily warm matte browns, but the mid to late '90s brought along a shimmery white and opalescent shadow trend that was particularly popular with teens and young women.

Matte brown, brick, and wine-colored lipsticks were in during the early '90s, and a lip liner (usually darker than the lipstick shade) was a must. Things shifted by the late ‘90s, and frostier lipsticks and lip glosses became all the rage.

Thin eyebrows were also one of the most iconic and unforgettable details of the '90s. Brows got thicker and more stylized in the late ‘90s but were still on the thin side, at least compared to the '50s, '60s, '80s, and today.

Popular makeup brands throughout the '90s included Covergirl, Max Factor, Clarins, Lancôme, L'Oréal, and Maybelline.

Nail Trends Were All Over the Place

Deep, sultry nail polish shades such as oxblood, plum, black, maroon, and cocoa nails were most coveted in the '90s. These colors are still ultra-popular, but nowadays you'll mostly see these hues categorized within a fall or winter nail color palette.

Another, more vibrant nail trend from the '90s is definitely metallic and frosty hues alongside beautiful and girly pastels, which was the sole responsibility of Hard Candy, a brand that paved the way for vibrant and colorful nail polish.


Clueless actress Alicia Silverstone wore Hard Candy nail polish in the shade “Sky” around the world during a media tour for the iconic movie, and it was at that very instant that hysteria around the beautiful pastel shade was born.

When it comes to nail shapes, all sorts were trendy, including long square extensions, short and dainty oval or square shapes, long oval, and even poorly fitted press-ons.

Big Hair, Don't Care

After the "Big Hair Don't Care" craze from the '80s, the '90s were all about a more toned-down look.

New movements like grunge, hip hop, and the rave scene spread, and more than ever, hair became a way to express individuality. Men and women alike tried new styles that emphasized fun and originality, and through greater access to celebrities made possible by television and the internet, actors, singers, and models became the standards of beauty and hair trends throughout the decade.

A common popular hairstyle was what Rachel from Friends wore, which is a haircut to your shoulders with lots of layers and highlights. Another popular hairstyle from the '90s is Britney Spear's beautiful blunt haircut that stops at the shoulders.

And of course, we can't forget the hairstyle known as bantu knots or Zulu knots, which became popular after singer Gwen Stefani and actress Halle Berry were seen sporting the look on multiple red carpets. The style involves sectioning off hair into diamond, triangle, or square shaped sections and then twisting the strands into small, tight knots all over the head.

For a more elegant look, women were opting for the Winona Ryder cut, or the pixie cut, which has been a popular hairstyle for decades and is continually re-done each new decade.

Last but not least, we have the classic Cher Horowitz hairstyle that looks good on any face shape and is perfect for anyone who doesn't enjoy spending much time on their hair.

Popular Fashion Pieces in the 1990s

Many trends from the late 1980s carried over to the early ’90s, including fluorescent colors on sweatpants, t-shirts, parachute pants, and jackets. The most popular clothing colors were blue, green, orange, pink, and yellow, often paired in patterns inspired by comic books and pop art.

Common looks for women were crop tops, babydoll dresses over leggings, black leather jackets with shoulder pads, and colored or embroidered jeans with slouch socks, Keds, or ballet flats.

By 1994, fashion took a turn to more polished form-fitting styles, and popular looks included tailored skirts and pantsuits, slip dresses, hot pants, and skirts in satin, metallic, sequin, and vinyl fabrics.

And of course, there was the ever-so-famous preppy look that was popularized from movie hits like Clueless. The modern preppy look entailed plaid skirts, sweaters, slip dresses, and knee-high boots.

Last but not least, we have the iconic grunge look that entered mainstream fashion in 1992 when grunge bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden rose to popularity.

This look included darker colored plaid flannel shirts, stonewashed or ripped jeans, Doc Martens, combat boots, Birkenstocks, and high-top sneakers. Movies like Singles and Reality Bites and the TV show My So-Called Life are good examples of grunge style.

Closing Thoughts

Whenever I think of the '90s, I think of thin eyebrows, mattified faces, dark lips, smudged eyes, skinny model bodies, and the movie classics we still enjoy to this day.

If you enjoyed this article, check out what the 1970s and the 1980s looked like!

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