Vintage Beauty And Skincare Products You Should Have On Your Vanity

I love beauty products as much as the next woman, but holy moly, there are just too many to choose from! Overwhelming doesn’t even begin to describe what it’s like to walk down the drugstore aisle to just buy some plain mascara when 80 different options are available.

By Nea Logan3 min read
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Granted, on one side of the coin, having more options has been a Godsend as brands expand their available shades and opt for cleaner formulas. But on the other side, some companies are merely reinventing the wheel. I mean, how many kinds of toner does there need to be?

To this, I pay homage to my Momma’s generation. While there were plenty of limitations worth noting, our moms and grandmothers truly embraced simple beauty and had the glow to show for it. As a little girl, I’d experiment with the items on Momma’s vanity, and she’d take the time to show me what each of these products did. And when I had a beauty emergency, she came to the rescue with her tried and true regimen that included the following vintage goodies found in every medicine cabinet, vanity, or bathroom counter way back when.

“Corn Silk” and Cornstarch-Based Products Were Not Unusual

Dorothy Dandridge at her vanity.

The latest TikTok challenge where women are “baking” their faces with cornstarch is nothing new. It’s actually adorable to see Gen Z influencers attempt one of the oldest beauty tricks in the book using this pantry staple. In fact, many women used products containing corn starch. Sally Hansen once produced a translucent pressed powder by the name “Cornsilk.” Unfortunately, this vintage staple is discontinued, but its legacy lives on through today’s TikTokers who are making their own concoctions.

Cornstarch is highly effective at absorbing moisture and mattifying makeup.

How it works: Cornsilk, or cornstarch, when applied with a makeup brush, is highly effective at absorbing moisture and mattifying makeup for a flawless, shine-free appearance. It’s great because it’s a talc-free alternative to your run-of-the-mill pressed powder. 

Why talc-free, you ask? There’s a lot of controversy surrounding talc-based products, including loose and compact makeup and baby powder. Talc — also called talcum powder — is indeed a natural mineral, but some research organizations have classified talc as “possibly carcinogenic to humans'' when used around the genital area, while others suggest that consistent inhalation can be harmful. In fact, several women have filed and won lawsuits for their claims attributing talcum powder to ovarian cancer. At least 1,200 more talc-related lawsuits are still pending. 

While there’s no universal consensus about whether talc is safe to use, cornstarch powders — as well as oat flour and tapioca starch powder — are known to be great alternatives to play it safe.

Those Squishy Vitamin E Ampoules Were Liquid Gold

Sophia Loren was famous for using olive oil (a natural source of Vitamin E) on her face.

I remember playing around Momma’s vanity and coming across these tiny, yellow, oval-shaped balls. Not knowing what they were for, I picked one up and squeezed it, and oil started spurting out. Of course, Momma got onto me about spilling Vitamin E on her mirrored vanity. It would be years before I’d learn what they were for. 

Vitamin E is a common ingredient found in beauty products today. This antioxidant helps maintain moisture and elasticity in the upper layers of skin while reducing UV damage. Women used to apply the oil directly to the skin, opening each ampoule and applying it to the face, neck, and undereye area every night. (The ampoules were designed to keep the oil fresh until use.) This was right after washing off makeup with her cold cream and one of those gold facial beauty bars.

About That Cold Cream…Makeup Is No Match for It

There has to be a million videos on YouTube about how to properly remove long-lasting foundation and waterproof mascara. But the answer happens to be tucked away somewhere in your grandmother’s bathroom closet. She didn’t use wipes or micellar water, but something called cold cream as part of a PM regimen that’s 2,000 years old. (How’s that for vintage?)

Cold cream is a whipped oil emulsion containing beeswax and/or oils that’s used to remove makeup. 

Essentially, cold cream is a whipped oil emulsion containing beeswax and/or oils that’s used to remove makeup. (Ever hear of Noxzema, the one in the blue jar?) It lends its name to the refreshingly cool feeling when it’s applied to the skin. What your mom or auntie probably loved about it was that it wasn’t stripping or drying to the face. And it was pretty effective, not to mention inexpensive. Compared to many of these fancy makeup removal products on the market, cold cream deserves some space on your vanity for the price.

Witch Hazel Is Still the MVP of Skincare

It fights zits. It evens out redness. It helps reduce puffiness. And the most beautiful women still reach for it. It’s good old-fashioned witch hazel, and I gravitate toward it whenever I feel like every toner on the market has failed.

Why is it called witch hazel? It’s the name of the plant used by Native American herbalists to treat skin maladies — from insect bites to acne and even poison ivy. This classic concoction is full of phytochemicals that have anti-inflammatory properties, making it a worthy backup to an existing routine or a solid staple to a beginner’s skincare regimen.

Witch hazel was used by Native American herbalists to treat skin maladies like insect bites and acne. 

Coal Tar Is Making a Comeback

This classic topical remedy is trying to make a comeback as soapmakers and even mainstream skincare lines bring this old medicine back to life. Coal tar has long since been used to treat psoriasis, sometimes at the recommendation of dermatologists. It’s known to break down excess keratin in the skin, resulting in softness and reduced flakes. In fact, some anti-dandruff products — like your uncle’s bottle of Neutrogena’s T/Gel Shampoo — contain coal tar as an active ingredient. 

Closing Thoughts

I’m forever grateful to live in an era of innovative beauty and skincare advancements. But there are just some things that didn’t need to change. Yes, I believe oil-based foundation and those harsh astringent pads have their place in the distant past. But our mothers and grandmothers left some gems for us — not just in their lessons but also in their lovely looks. Through their example, I’ve learned that it’s okay to love what you see in the mirror, and that much can be achieved through simple means. My hope is that we can all inherit their classic, everlasting beauty.

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