Skincare and beauty products have been around for thousands of years, with evidence of ancient civilizations in Egypt, China, and India using various natural ingredients and formulations for skin health and enhancement. As skincare advanced from home remedies to commercial enterprises, many brands were born out of apothecaries, barbershops, perfumeries, and pharmacies. Determining the oldest skincare brand still in operation today requires tracing the origins and histories of some of the longest standing companies in the industry.
Kiehl’s was founded as an apothecary in New York City in 1851 by John Kiehl. At the time, apothecaries and pharmacies commonly made medicinal preparations, remedies, and early cosmetics in addition to filling prescriptions. Kiehl’s specialized in unique skincare formulations made from high quality ingredients and developed a devoted customer base in New York along with a reputation for excellence. Some of Kiehl’s early landmark products included Ultra Facial Cream, Creamy Eye Treatment with Avocado, Creme de Corps, and Blue Astringent Herbal Lotion.
Through changes in ownership and locations over the decades, Kiehl’s maintained its artisanal apothecary approach to skincare. By the 1960s, Kiehl’s was being recognized as an early leader in the skincare industry. Today, Kiehl’s operates hundreds of stores globally and remains dedicated to its heritage of preparing natural, efficacious skincare formulations while introducing new products that build upon generations of experience and innovation.
Avon was founded in 1886 as the California Perfume Company by David H. McConnell. Initially a door to door sales company selling perfumes, the company evolved into a direct sales pioneer providing women the opportunity to run their own businesses selling perfume and other beauty products. In 1939, the company was renamed Avon Products, Inc.
Avon became known for its expanding catalog of affordable, quality skincare aimed at the growing middle class market. Early skincare offerings included creams, lotions, cleansers and toners. Avon fostered female entrepreneurship at a time when women entering the workforce met resistance and discrimination. The iconic Avon Lady became a household name and allowed women economic freedom and empowerment through their own businesses.
Today, Avon continues its original direct sales model while expanding globally and diversifying its portfolio with a vast array of skincare, cosmetics and personal care. It stands as one of the oldest and most successful skincare brands created by and for women.
Like other early skincare pioneers, Elizabeth Arden got her start in the early 1900s working in a small skincare and cosmetics shop. In 1910, Arden formed a partnership to create the Elizabeth Arden company and Red Door salon, advertising “Beauty by Arden”.
Elizabeth Arden is credited with bringing a sense of glamour and sophistication to skincare and cosmetics. Many of her creations incorporated innovative use of essential oils and botanicals. She introduced the concept of scientific formulation and created one of the first skincare routines involving cleansing, toning and moisturizing.
Some of Elizabeth Arden’s breakthrough products included Eight Hour Cream Skin Protectant released in the 1930s, Blue Grass fragrance introduced in 1934, and a broad range of skincare preparations bearing her name. Today the company continues her legacy of innovative and luxurious skincare technologies.
Yardley of London
Yardley’s origins go back to 1770 as a purveyor of lavender soaps and perfumes in London. The brand quickly built prestige as a supplier to royalty through the 1800s. Yardley modernized in 1921 and expanded its skincare lines. By the 1960s, Yardley was renowned for top quality skincare, cosmetics and fragrances.
Some of Yardley’s most iconic skincare products include English Lavender Soap, Lavender & Chamomile skincare collection, and various cleansing creams and lotions. The brand continues today as a producer of English fine fragrances and skincare infused with natural lavender.
Coty was founded in 1904 in Paris by Francois Coty. A pioneering perfumer and master chemist, Coty created new manufacturing techniques that allowed for mass production of perfumes. Previously, fragrances had been limited to elites given the costs of ingredients and individual preparation processes.
In 1909, Coty opened subsidiaries in London and New York. Coty fragrances became an affordable luxury reaching new middle class markets. Expanding beyond its renowned perfumes, Coty also produced some of the earliest commercial skincare preparations such as cleansing creams and face powders.
Today Coty remains an industry leader in fragrances, cosmetics and skincare with brands including CoverGirl, Gucci, and Calvin Klein licensed under its house. It continues to make history as one of the oldest multinational personal care companies.
Tracing the origins of major skincare brands provides a glimpse into the evolution of the beauty industry. Some of the oldest established companies were born out of apothecaries, perfumeries, and pharmacies of the 1800s and early 1900s. Brands like Kiehl’s, Avon, Elizabeth Arden, Yardley, and Coty created not only products but experiences that transformed everyday grooming into aspirational rituals of self care and beautification.
Through developing innovative formulas, packaging, marketing and sales models, early skincare pioneers influenced new cultural perceptions around cosmetics accessibility, glamour, and the attainability of beauty for the everyday consumer. They turned small businesses into iconic empires that continue to shape the beauty landscape today.
Examining the history of skincare illuminates both progress and possibilities. While leveraging advances in science and technology, many heritage brands maintain their founding principles of quality ingredients, effective formulations, and a customer-centric approach. As skincare continues evolving in a digital age, the industry’s pioneers provide inspiration to blend tradition with innovation.