The Best Cult Beauty Products Throughout History
As vast and wonderful as the beauty world has become, one of the pitfalls of having so many products available to us on the global marketplace is that it becomes increasingly difficult to separate the good from the great, the great from the phenomenal. (It's not the worst problem to have, but it's also a little overwhelming!)
But while hive mind can be faulty at times, the general rule is that if a product has an avid, devoted fanbase—or better yet, has become a household name—it's probably pretty stellar. And there are those select few superstars that have managed to maintain this cult-classic status for years and years—which is pretty remarkable, considering the research, technology, and ingredients that have become so readily available since they first hit the market.
More remarkable still (and perhaps to further emphasise that point): Of all the standout items that we compiled here—some stemming more than 60 years back—only one is no longer available. One! They're all that good, and that beloved.
So take a look back with us at the beauty world's biggest fan favourites throughout the years. Your beauty history lesson begins below.
The 1950s: Hollywood Glamour Rules All
With icons like Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, and Marilyn Monroe in their heyday, it's only natural that women everywhere wanted a piece of Hollywood royalty—even if it was just the same color lipstick.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a makeup guru now who doesn't sing the praises of this emollient cream. A staple for such famous faces as screen siren Ingrid Bergman, the iconic Jane Birkin, and modern muse Karlie Kloss, it makes a great base for makeup and also provides the perfect dewy finish when dabbed on top.
Buy it now: Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré (£13)
Another red carpet powerhouse, Elizabeth Arden's Eight Hour Cream technically debuted in 1930, but Marilyn Monroe's love for the product sealed its popularity in the years that followed. Makeup artists today still swear by the stuff, mixing it with foundation to get that perfect, dewy finish.
Buy it now: Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream Skin Protectant (£12)
Revlon released a variety of scarlet lipstick shades throughout the '50s, and thanks to the vanity-ready gold tubes and celeb endorsers (including—you guessed it—Monroe), women clamored to collect them all. (Not much has changed.)
Buy it now: Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick (£8) in Fire & Ice
Launched in South Africa in 1949, Oil of Olay's signature formula quickly became a skincare staple across the globe—even though no one was really quite sure what it did. (That was purposeful marketing, since the founder of the brand wanted it to be perceived as a miracle "beauty fluid.") The brand has since dropped the "Oil of" and expanded to a decidedly more transparent collection of products.
Buy it now: Olay Classic Care Beauty Fluid Essential Moisture Nourishing Day Fluid (£7)
The 1960s: Soft Skin and Sky-High Hair
It was a makeup-heavy era (hello, Twiggy), but women in the '60s still knew that a done face requires a solid base. Fortunately for them, they now had their pick of Cetaphil, La Mer, and more.
True story: Clinique came about as the brainchild of a Vogue editor, Estee Lauder's daughter, Evelyn, and a dermatologist in 1968. Their simple-but-effective moisturizer was one of their first products, and it's safe to say its been a lasting success: A bottle is reportedly sold every 5 seconds. In 2013, the brand rolled out a new formulation, this one fortified with hyaluronic acid.
Buy it now: Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion + (£30)
Launched in 1947, the OG cleanser was a sleeper hit that started to gain popularity in the '60s, thanks to endorsements from dermatologists. (By the '80s, it was the fast-selling staple that it is today.)
Buy it now: Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser (£9)
It's hard to imagine a world where every beautiful celebrity didn't credit their agelessness to La Mer's luxurious formula, but this fountain of youth wasn't around before the 1960s.
Buy it now: La Mer Crème de la Mer Moisturizing Cream (£108)
A sculpted, gravity-defying coif was the trademark 'do of the decade, and women relied on Elnett to keep every hair in place. (They still do—though maybe not so heavy-handedly.)
Buy it now: L'Oreal Paris Elnett Satin Hairspray (£7)
The 1970s: Easygoing Glam
Farrah Fawcett's bronzed skin, sun-bleached locks, and signature toothy glam pretty much sums up beauty in the '70s, which was all about enhancing a healthy glow.
We doubt this looks familiar, but you might be surprised to learn that this was the first iteration of Benefit's Benetint. And the revelations don't stop there: The multi-tasking cheek and lip stain was actually first created for an exotic dancer.
Buy it now: Benefit Benetint (£25)
The bottle has changed, but that tell-tale color combo certainly hasn't: That's the first version of Great Lash mascara, launched in 1971. We don't need to tell you that the rest is history, because you probably have a tube sitting in your makeup bag, right?
Buy it now: Maybelline Great Lash Mascara (£5)
The 1980s: The Birth of Novelty Beauty
'90s kids might try to take the credit, but since we can trace the birth of the Sun-In and Dior Poison to the 1980s, we have to give the decade the credit it deserves. (Though to be fair, the roll-on glitter and body mists would come later.)
Ah, the era when blonde-seeking teens began to accidentally dye their hair orange. The rite of passage lives on.
Buy it now: Sun-In Hair Lightening Spray (£9)
This hypnotic blend, heady blend of coriander, tuberose, and opoponax remains a seductive option for date night.
Buy it now: Dior Poison (£60)
The 1990s: Smells Like Teen Spirit
Not the deodorant, though it certainly had its day—we're talking about the trips you most definitely took to your local Body Shop, dousing yourself in the latest and greatest fruit-inspired essence. It was also the era of Tommy Girl and Calvin Klein—thanks in part to their respective spokesmodels, Aaliyah and Kate Moss.
Makeup kits changed forever when this highlighting pen came on the scene in 1992. Touche Eclat's ability to oh-so-subtly sculpt bone structure, blur imperfections, and create a lit-from-within glow is still so impressive, a tube is sold every 10 seconds.
Buy it now: Yves Saint Laurent Touche Eclat (£25)
Remember back to the '90s you would have probably spent many a Saturday afternoon roaming around The Body Shop. You were either a Dewberry or White Musk devotee. Unfortunately for Dewberry fans it's no longer available, but White Musk is still going strong.
Buy it now: The Body Shop White Musk Eau de Toilette (£13)
The 2000s: Beauty Gets (Really) Good
They say hindsight is 20/20, and once we gloss over the celebutante style mishaps of the mid-aughts, it's very clear that it was quite an innovative time for hair, makeup, and skincare. From the Clarisonic to the Beautyblender to MAC's universally flattering Ruby Woo lipstick, everyone's routine got just a little bit easier during this decade.
It technically launched in 1999, but the universal appeal of Nars' Orgasm blush made it a staple of the next decade—and beyond. (The brand has since built a collection around the shade.)
Buy it now: Nars Blush (£23) in Orgasm
Our focus has always been on that rainbow of colors, but did you know that Juicy Tubes were the first-ever tube lipgloss when they hit the market in 2000?
Buy it now: Lancôme Juicy Tubes (£17)
Predating the contouring craze that would arrive a few years later, Bobbi Brown's Shimmer Brick made sculpting and bronzing more accessible than ever. (And it's just so pretty.)
Buy it now: Bobbi Brown Shimmer Brick (£33) in Bronze
Our foundation technique changed forever (for the so much better) when Rea Ann Silva introduced this smartly-shaped sponge in 2003.
Buy it now: Beautyblender Original (£16)
Countless competitors have tried to nab some of the glory, but the Clarisonic still remains king—and inspired the boon of at-home beauty devices.
Buy it now: Clarisonic Mia 1 Cleansing Brush (£99)
A long-lasting red that flatters all skin tones (and makes teeth look whiter, to boot) was obviously destined for stardom. Ruby Woo, we love you.
Buy it now: MAC Lipstick (£14) in Ruby Woo
This year marks Moroccanoil's 10th anniversary—though it's pretty hard to believe that this frizz-fighting game-changer has only been around for a decade, since it arguably put hair and body oils back on the beauty trend map. (Psst: Try using it on your skin.)
Buy it now: Moroccanoil Hair Treatment (£32)
The 2010s: The World Gets Smaller
Long gone are the days when beauty editors would fly home from Paris Fashion Week with suitcases full of Bioderma—the Internet has made it ridiculously easy to bring the best international products to your doorstep, no plane ticket needed. In turn, we're now scaling the globe for the Next Big Thing—and we've found plenty, from a beloved Swedish fragrance brand to the wild and wacky world of Korean beauty.
On the flipside, there's a simultaneous focus on all things niche and local, as there's plenty of appeal in supporting a small business and finding a killer product or brand before it hits the big time. (Many of them happen to be eco-friendly, too—one of the perks of small-batch beauty.) But the ultimate key to cult-dom in this day and age? Make the packaging Instagram-friendly.
We're not exaggerating when we say that editors used to hoard bottles of Bioderma after trips to Paris—the gentle, water-based cleanser is that good. Thanks to e-commerce, now we can all adopt the French pharmacy staple.
Buy it now: Bioderma Sensibio Micellar Cleansing Solution (£11)
Byredo has rolled out hit after hit since Ben Gorham founded the brand in Sweden in 2006. Featuring minimalist packaging, poetic names (like the wildly popular Gypsy Water), and distinctly beautiful, complex, and sometimes polarizing scents, the brand has yet to leave us feeling unimpressed. (Its avid fanbase would probably tend to agree.)
Buy it now: Byredo Gypsy Water (£88)
We're practicing a little foresight here, since this miracle serum only just arrived on the scene about a year ago. But its rise to success has been fast and furious—and the story behind it is both fascinating and the very essence of the artisanal beauty movement that's still in full force here in the U.S. (The short version: April Gargiulo, looking for a natural solution for her acne-prone skin, recruited some smart friends in the biz to help her concoct the ultimate botanical solution. In just a matter of months, she had beauty editors declaring her final formula "the face oil to end all face oils.")
Buy it now: Vintner's Daughter Active Botanical Serum (£150)
Do you swear by any of these products? What would you like to add to the list? Sound off below.