Make up in the 1940s

Nowadays we are so lucky, with a huge choice in make-up available in stores and there always being some kind of offer on the table, we never really have an excuse to not be looking our best. This was much harder during World War II, however despite the shortages in make-up available, women did not give up. Make-up helped women feel more feminine and positive about the world around them. Wartime propaganda encouraged women to make the most of themselves, no matter if they were working in a munitions factory, staying at home or in the services.

Factual TV channel Yesterday (Sky 537, Virgin 203, Freeview 12), and its six specially commissioned shows all about the spirit of 1940, is providing some hints and tips straight from the 1940s, such as what to do if you have run out of lipstick, your tights have a run in them or you are out of shampoo!

Where rationing through WWII made make-up (and fashion) shortages normal, more and more often people heard the slogan ‘make do and mend’, encouraging them to be more inventive with products they already had at home. Below are some great tips on ration book make-up from the 1940s. What do you do when you’ve run out of your essentials?

Red lipstick was seen as a symbol of patriotism during the time, not only did it make women feel more feminine, it made them feel like they were defying the difficult times that were happening around them. In the absence of actual lipstick, beetroot juice was the failsafe way of staining your lips in a realistic fashion.

Stockings were in high demand during WWII and a lot of women were befriending American GIs to get their hands on a pair of nylons. If that wasn’t possible, the best way of looking like they were wearing tights was using gravy browning completed with a line drawn in eyebrow pencil on the back of the leg, acting as the seam. In response to the shortages and the obvious need for women to be looking like they are wearing tights, Max Factor actually introduced stocking cream!

We thought self tan was a more recent invention, our research shows that this has actually been popular for a while, and during the 1940s women used tea bags to give their skin that bronzed look!

Shampoo was always in limited supply which resulted in people washing their hair with Lux flakes (washing powder) or in the absence of that, they simply used normal tap water. When looking back at pictures from the time, you can also see that hats, headscarves and turbans were very popular as this was always a great disguise for a bad hair day. When needing to do their roots or dye their hair, women had to then rely on vegetable dye!

Soap was rationed (there were even adverts on how to make your Lux Beauty soap last longer), and for women that did not have a razor, they had to use soapy pumice stones to de-hair themselves.

These days we are bombarded with top makeup tips both online and in newspapers and magazines. Back in the 1940s a similar article would contain these top 10 tips:

1. Use gravy browning as fake tan
2. Blend lipstick on your cheeks for rouge
3. Get your friend to draw a pencil up your leg as pretend tights
4. Wear bright red lipstick for a touch of glamour
5. Blondes use lemon in their hair, brunettes use vinegar
6. Use a fine soap in your hair and massage into the scalp for sweet smelling locks
7. Make your own homemade face mask, just blend oats, lemon and milk
8. Do your own hair, you don’t need a hairdresser just some hair pins and creativity.
9. Use talc on your face, as a replacement for smooth face powder
10. Rag you hair – you don’t need curlers just old rags!

Do you have any failsafe tips that you want to share? Getting involved is easy, simply visit or email your tips to

Tune in to Ration Book Britain exclusively on Yesterday: Sky 537, Virgin 203, Freeview 12, on 15th January 2010 at 5pm. For more information visit


One response to “Make up in the 1940s

  1. I love how they used the red lipstick to get a touch of glamour. I love how women alway find little things to make them feel better.
    great post, xoxo

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