The Facts on Max Factor

Everyone is familiar with the brand. But do you know how the most famous cosmetics company started? Max Factor is considered the father of modern makeup and the company he built literally changed the face of cosmetics history.  He built a giant cosmetics empire with its roots in the  film industry.   Though the business no longer operates in the US,  Max Factor was a household name for decades, bringing the glamour of  Hollywood stars to women the world over.

Originally a chemist, Max Factor became fascinated with cosmetics, opening his first shop in Moscow  selling his hand made rouges, creams, fragrances and wigs.   In 1904 he became the official beautician and wigmaker to the Russian Royal Family.

He moved his family to LA in 1908, where he opened a cosmetics and wig shop in the theater district.  In the early years of film it was very difficult for actors and actresses to find make up that was appropriate for wear on  the big screen.  The greasepaint worn for the stage was much too thick and didn’t hold up well under studio lighting.  Determined to make a mark in the film industry he worked his magic and created a special  make up that  would look more natural on film and  not crack or cake under the hots lights of a movie set.   More and more actors and actresses started showing  up at his shop eager to try his new “flexible greasepaint”.

After Max Factor’s death in 1938, the company was taken over by his son  where he continued the business of being the top innovator in the beauty industry.

Here’s an abbreviated list of products pioneered by Max Factor.

1914-First makeup to give more natural look on film.
1918-Color Harmony, a face powder line in many shades to allow customizing.
1925-Supreme Nail Polish, a powder that was sprinkled on the nails and buffed off to give them tint and shine.
1930-Introduced lipgloss
1937- Introduced Pan Cake Makeup for color film and in 1938 a concealer called  Erace.
1940-True Color smearproof lipstick
1948- Pan Stick Makeup
1971-First waterproof makeup

Because of his strong link to Hollywood, most of  the advertisements  for the company consisted of endorsements by famous actresses.

1940-Maureen O’Hara  in RKO Radio’s “Dance, Girls, Dance” endorses Max Factor Hollywood Face Powder, Tru Color Lipstick and Rouge.

Maureen o Hara max factor 1940

 With the advent of Technicolor in films actors and actresses needed a new makeup that would flatter them in color.  Many of them refused to appear in color films because the old style makeup didn’t show them in their best light. So Max Factor created Pan Cake Makeup. It was so popular workers would steal it off of movie sets for personal use.  So eventually it was made available to the public  and it ended up becoming the best selling foundation in history.  You can still purchase it online and many women swear it gives a flawless finish, but takes some practice to apply correctly.   If  anyone reading this blog has used it, let me know how you liked it. I’m curious to try.

Claudette Colbert in Max Factor Ad 1943

Claudette Colbert in Max Factor Pan Cake Makeup Ad 1943


Ginger Rogers Max Factor 1944

Ginger Rogers Max Factor Pan Cake Makeup 1944


Loretta Young Max Factor 1947

Loretta Young Max Factor Ad 1945

Barbara Stanwyck Max Factor Ad 1947

Barbara Stanwyck Max Factor Ad 1947

Lana Turner Max Factor Ad 1951

Lana Turner Max Factor Ad 1951

By | 2014-01-22T10:01:56-04:00 February 10th, 2012|Beauty, Memorable people|2 Comments

About the Author:

Hi, I'm Theresa, owner and chief classy dame at the Blue Velvet Vintage online boutique. Lover of mid century fashion and home decor, classic films, Old Hollywood, pretty dresses, red lipstick, swing dancing and retro culture in general. Between my ecommere site and vintage style blog my mission is to revive the eras of classy dressing and inspire women to add more glamour to their lives! So don't be shy! I love to hear from others who share my appreciation of the styles of the past.


  1. Avatar
    fifi February 13, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    I have used pancake. It gives a nice matte finish with full coverage. You can build up coverage. I mostly used it for dance or stage performances. It seems too heavy for daily use. Since it is kind of heavy, it gives a blank slate kind of effect. You really need blusher!

  2. Avatar
    Project:Girl February 10, 2012 at 5:43 am

    Love pancake. My grandma introduced it to me and it was my first foundation. I gave it up as I thought it was a bit nana-ish and I was a teenager. I must have then tried every product on the market before coming back to it a few years ago. I swear by it. I have never gotten flawless finish with anything else. Fortunately it is still sold in Australia – and one cake lasts forever.

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