The History of Revlon Cosmetics

Wiki Commons

Revlon is one of the world's largest and best-known cosmetic companies. The company's core products include its drugstore line of makeup, specialty skin care products and salon-quality hair and beauty lines. The company is publicly traded and is based in New York City. Revlon's goal has always been to provide quality beauty products at an affordable price.

Company Founding

In 1932, the United States was in the middle of one of the lowest points in the country's economic history. During this time of the Great Depression, two brothers named Charles and Joseph Revson had an idea to create nail polish using pigments instead of the normal dyes. They believed this would make the polish last longer and would allow for a larger variety of colors. To come up with their formula, they partnered with a local chemist named Charles Lachman. Using the Revson name, plus an "L" for Lachman, they named their new nail polish company "Revlon." Within 6 years, the 3 men had turned Revlon into a million-dollar company, selling only their special nail polish.


Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Revlon slowly began to create new products. They added a selection of manicure tools and nail scissors, and then followed up with a line of lipsticks, also based on their use of pigments rather than dyes. By the 1950s, the company had branched out even further, buying a line of diabetes drugs, sportswear companies and supplement lines. Most of these non-cosmetic ventures were largely unsuccessful, so Revlon began to refocus on its core products, including makeup and skin care. They sold off the unsuccessful lines and introduced "Charlie" perfume and several professional skin care products during the 1970s. Since then, the company has maintained its focus on beauty products and has enjoyed much success in that arena.


From the time of the company's founding through the 1970s, Revlon was led by founder Charles Revson. Though his brother Joseph helped found the company, Charles was named CEO, and led the company through its first 40 years. In 1955, Revlon began to offer stock for sale to the public, and by the next year the company was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. In 1985, the company was sold to the conglomerate Pantry Pride for $2.7 billion. Pantry Pride still owns Revlon, but it has sold off nearly 75 percent of the company's holdings.

Advertising Campaigns

During the 1950s, Revlon began to rely heavily on print advertising. Full-page color ads featuring Revlon model Dorian Leigh were some of the first cosmetic ads used by any company. As Revlon began to sell its products overseas, it took a bold advertising move, and used American models in international ads. International audiences loved the "American look" and became loyal Revlon customers. Since that time, the company has relied heavily on modeling contracts with female movie stars and supermodels. Some of the most iconic ads include Shelley Hack for Charlie perfume and the Cindy Crawford makeup ads of the 1990s.

Revlon in the 21st Century

Today, Revlon is the leading cosmetics company in the United States. The current board of directors has sold off many poor-performing lines and returned the company to its core brands. Today, the Revlon Corporation consists of Revlon and Almay cosmetics, Mitchum Deodorant, and Jeanne Gatineau skin care products. By focusing on its core product groups, Revlon management hopes to increase profits, reversing a downward trend that started in 2001.

About the Author

Emily Beach works in the commercial construction industry in Maryland. She received her LEED accreditation from the U.S. Green Building Council in 2008 and is in the process of working towards an Architectural Hardware Consultant certification from the Door and Hardware Institute. She received a bachelor's degree in economics and management from Goucher College in Towson, Maryland.

Photo Credits

  • Wiki Commons