We're in the business of celebrating women — especially the ones who inspire us. And, we might be biased here, but the beauty industry is brimming with leading ladies we look up to.
To honor their work, we've rounded up the 29 (good number, right?) most influential women in beauty — both past and present. We're talking game-changers, risk-takers, trend-starters, trailblazers, and those exemplary few who embody all of the above. Scroll through, read up, and pay homage to the tastemakers and insiders who have changed the industry as we know it, and made this world a little more beautiful for all of us.
Bobbi Brown entered the beauty scene in the '90s, challenging the popular aesthetic by emphasizing natural makeup — nude palettes, neutral shadows, glowy, healthy skin. That no-fuss ethos continues to define her brand today. Known for her insanely popular cosmetics line and eight — count 'em, eight — books, we wouldn't be surprised if Brown added the title of Superwoman to her ever-growing résumé.
It's no secret that
Korean beauty products, techniques, and traditions have made a major impact here in the U.S., and Charlotte Cho has been at the forefront of that movement, every step of the way. Cho runs the e-tailer site Soko Glam, which stocks the latest and greatest buys from her native South Korea. With a background as an esthetician, she has also penned a skin-care book, and frequently doles out nuggets of wisdom on the site's blog for your reading and skin-perfecting pleasure. More
When chemist Balanda Atis was growing up, she witnessed her family members struggle with an issue that many women of color confront in the makeup aisle: finding a shade to match their complexions. So, in 2013, while working for L'Oréal, Atis took on a side project to develop products for the brand specifically formulated for the consumer of color.
Today, the Women of Color Lab — led by Atis — includes a team of scientists who have created more than 30 new shades across L'Oréal's many brands.
It feels as though ColourPop has reached cult status overnight, thanks to Kylie Jenner's recent enthusiastic endorsement. But even before that sudden catapult into the spotlight, the brand's founders, Laura Nelson and her brother, John Nelson, were steadily making their mark. ColourPop has achieved an impressive and elusive feat, offering products that are both high-quality and highly affordable.
Although this sister-and-brother duo is still keeping a bit of a low profile, it's impossible to ignore ColourPop's huge appeal, and all the buzz surrounding it. Stay tuned to this space for more information, and the brand's next steps.
More Read More
At the peak of Elizabeth Arden's (real name: Florence Nightingale Graham) career, she was one of the wealthiest women in the world. Arden changed attitudes about makeup during a time when the only ladies painting their faces were showgirls or believed to be "loose women." Through her salons and ad campaigns, Arden taught women how to apply makeup and dress for the working world. She even created a lipstick, called Montezuma Red, that matched the uniforms of women enlisted in the armed forces.
BlackUp, Black Opal, and even Iman Cosmetics, there was Fashion Fair. Started by Eunice Johnson and her husband, John H. Johnson, in 1973, the company caters to the prestige makeup needs of women of color. According to , three years after its launch, the brand prompted Revlon, Avon, and Max Factor to expand their shade ranges. The New York Times
Beyond Johnson's cosmetic influence, she was an advocate of supporting and promoting Black designers and models. She created the Ebony Fashion Fair, a country-wide tour that showcased couture and ready-to-wear clothes for a predominantly Black audience.
While everyone else was mixing up lotions and potions, Weingarten decided to follow the road less traveled by cooking up nail polishes. She started out in 1981, selling her products door-to-door to Las Vegas salons. Before long, she was the one fielding the requests. Fast-forward 30-plus years, and it's virtually impossible to mention nail polish and not think of the eponymous brand, and its fun colors and clever names.
Patrice Grell Yursik
Patrice Grell Yursik's Instagram bio reads: "The Godmother of brown beauty blogging!" We can't argue with that. Founder of the popular blog
Afrobella, Yursik was one of the first natural hair bloggers on the scene before the community became the force that it is today. She's been featured in countless publications, and, in 2011, even partnered with MAC to create her own Lipglass (which sold out in a week). Today, she often contributes to titles such as Teen Vogue, Essence, and Glam.com. More
You may think of Coco Chanel as being more of a fashion force — which, okay, yeah,
maybe — but the revolutionary has also played a role in beauty (even if it seems like her influence only reaches as far as your grandmother's vanity). Under her direction, Chanel was the first fashion brand to expand into the fragrance category — a move that's simply de rigueur today. The result, Chanel No. 5, is arguably one of the most iconic perfumes of all time. More
Don't get it twisted. Emily Weiss is much more than the arch nemesis to one Lauren Conrad on
The Hills. The 31-year-old launched Into the Gloss in 2010 — a luxe, relatable site about all things beauty. And in 2014, she launched Glossier, a modern-day product line made for ( and, in a way, by) millennial beauty lovers everywhere. She's also one of our biggest beauty crushes, so there's also that. More
Recently honored by
The Jewish Museum in New York City, Helena Rubinstein helped to challenge the beauty status quo. Originally from Poland, she built a cosmetics empire that extended across four continents. "Her business challenged the myth of beauty and taste as inborn, or something to which only the wealthy were entitled," The Jewish Museum says of Rubinstein, also known simply as Madame. "By encouraging women to define themselves as self-expressive individuals, Rubinstein contributed to their empowerment." More
It may seem borderline dramatic to describe a person as iconic, but it's a more than fitting word when applied to makeup artist Pat McGrath. Starting out with no formal training, McGrath had her big break in the '90s after working with editor Edward Enninful. Since then, McGrath has continued to work with the best of the best (too many to list here, but just think of your favorite designers, photographers, and brands, and they're probably on it). Add to that her creative process (she works mostly with her fingers, rather than brushes), along with the outstanding looks she's masterminded over the years, and it's easy to see why she's widely considered the most influential makeup artist of her time.
Most recently, she's launched a series of
beauty products — all of which have beauty editors everywhere squealing with delight. More
forced to bring her own makeup to shows as a model, Iman decided to branch out and launch her own line of cosmetics with women of color in mind. The brand took off, and today has one of the most expansive shade ranges of foundations, highlighters, and BB creams on the market. More
You can't talk about YouTube's ginormous beauty community without mentioning Michelle Phan. With her incredible, transformative tutorials, she's been at the helm of the video-blogging revolution since 2007. Since then, she has collaborated with beauty giants Lancôme and L'Oréal, and has even launched her own beauty subscription service. Phan paved the way for current YouTube beauty personalities, and has managed to make a name for herself beyond the computer screen...all before the age of 30.
After becoming fascinated with her chemist uncle's business, young Estée Lauder began concocting creams and lotions along with him in the family's kitchen. But her real talent was in selling products. She was very hands-on, believing that, to make a sale, you should touch the consumer and have her try the products. She's also,
reportedly, who we can thank for the samples we're often gifted with a purchase.
She officially formed The Estée Lauder Companies Inc. in 1946, but it was the creation of the bath oil/perfume Youth Dew in 1953 that really launched her career. In its obituary of the entrepreneur,
described her as "the last great independent titan of the cosmetics industry." Need we say more? The New York Times More
Despite the legal
hot water that Honest Company has found itself in over the past year, there's no denying the influence that Jessica Alba has had on the beauty industry since joining the brand. Since its creation in 2011, Honest Company has grown into a $1.7-billion company and Alba has been key to accelerating that growth (she's now officially wealthier than Beyoncé). More
Starting out in her Brooklyn kitchen, Lisa Price created a wildly popular line of hair products — one of the first of its kind — to cater to those with textured tresses. Since her start, the success of her company Carol's Daughter has even caught the eye of L'Oréal, which
acquired the brand in 2014. More
If we can count on anyone to successfully launch an organic, super-healthy, all-natural skin-care line, it's Gwyneth Paltrow. She started the lifestyle site Goop back in 2008, and announced an accompanying
six-piece beauty line in January of this year. And, no surprise here, it's already received some pretty positive feedback. More
Remember when Beyoncé broke the internet a couple of months back with the release of her
video for "Formation"? Do you remember all of the dope hair looks featured in it (of course you do)? That was the work of none other than hairstylist Kim Kimble. In addition to Queen Bey, Kimble's worked with A-listers like Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and even Miss Piggy. She also has a line of hair-care products that's definitely worth checking out. Tbh, we'll try anything that has Beyoncé's name associated with it in some way. More
Joan Bove and her husband Lawrence Gelb
transformed the way women everywhere color their hair with the creation of Clairol. Bove made the concept of coloring your hair more "respectable," but, most importantly, accessible by introducing a dye product — then, referred to as a tint — that produced natural results. More
Living up to the "most influential hairstylist in the world" title that
(sort of?) presented her with, Jen Atkin is the name on every beauty editor's mind lately. The The New York Times Kardashian-hair maven recently came out with a line of highly raved about hair products and a collection of extensions. On top of that, she's behind the blog Mane Addicts. We're waiting with bated breath to see what else the multitasker has in store. We have a feeling there are more beautiful things to come. More
With millions upon millions of views under her belt,
Lisa Eldridge is in the upper echelon of the YouTube-beauty crew. Unlike many vloggers, who get their start in the industry by making four-minute tutorials, before Eldridge started uploading videos she made a name for herself as a makeup artist. Her client roster includes everyone from Kim Kardashian to Kate Moss, and, on top of her soothing how-tos, she also recently signed with Lancôme as the brand's creative director. More
entrepreneur Huda Kattan has put Dubai on the beauty map. Her false lashes — which are faves of Kim Kardashian — are best sellers in the Middle East and launched in Sephora last year. She's reached beauty stardom with her dedicated social media following (12 million and counting on Instagram), YouTube videos (one million subscribers and counting), and Huda Beauty products. More
Sonia Kashuk's products are where fashion and beauty intersect. Not only are her cosmetics seriously addictive, but the gorgeous packaging and designs are aesthetic perfection. She made headlines when she became the first makeup artist to bring affordable luxury beauty to Target.
Mary Kay Ash
With her $5,000 life savings in tow, Mary Kay Ash set out to launch her dream cosmetics company. Arguably the originator of the "lean in" concept, she helped numerous women achieve success on their own terms and encouraged them to be their own bosses.
Model Tracey Norman may not
have been as famous as her Black contemporaries (read: Iman, Beverly Johnson, Pat Cleveland), but she made history in her own right, by becoming the first Black transgender model. She was successful during a time when being trans wasn't nearly as accepted or understood as it is today (though the world still has a long way to go toward total acceptance). Norman achieved many firsts during her career, including, as The Cut unveiled, being featured on a Clairol box. More
When Tata Harper started out in the industry, she didn't want to do what everyone else was doing. And what everyone else was doing was filling their products with potentially harmful chemicals and preservatives. Her namesake brand is one of the first to usher in a refreshing new wave of all-natural, eco-conscious beauty. Harper's also at the forefront of the
farm-to-table cosmetics movement. More
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of beauty tips, tutorials, and news on the
Refinery29 Beauty Facebook page. Like us on Facebook — we'll see you there! More Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here? Kristen Stewart Debuts Platinum-Blonde Shaved Head The Scary-Sounding Skin Treatment Kendall & Kylie Allegedly Swear By The Cool Thing Debbie Harry & Julianne Moore Have In Common