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Helena Rubinstein

Lawrence Bush
December 25, 2017

Helena Rubinstein, creator of a cosmetics empire was born in Krakow, Poland on this date in 1872. She emigrated to Australia in 1902 and began to develop “beauty creams” made with a lanolin base, which was hugely abundant in the sheep-rich country. Within a few years she had fashionable salons in Sydney and in London. Rubinstein moved to New York City in 1915, and opened the first of her nationwide chains of beauty shops, which featured nicely uniformed beauticians, “scientific” skin care, status pricing for her products (overcharging), and numerous celebrity endorsements. By 1917, she was manufacturing her own products. She sold the business to Lehman Brothers for $7.3 million in 1928 and bought it back for less than $1 million as soon as the Great Depression hit. Fifty years later, the company was bought by Colgate-Palmolive. Rubinstein established a foundation in her name in 1953 and generously funded medical research and rehabilitation, among other causes. By the time of its dissolution in 2011, the foundation had given away more than $130 million. Rubinstein lived to be 94. Her autobiography, My Life for Beauty, was published in 1966.

“There are no ugly women, only lazy ones.” —Helena Rubinstein

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.