National Museum of American History digitizes cosmetics archive

National Museum of American History digitizes cosmetics archive

Thanks to a grant from Kiehl’s, The National Museum of American History has digitized its 2,200-strong collection of historic cosmetics and toiletries, according to a report published by

The collection includes a wide range of cosmetics and hygiene products from yesteryear, including oral hygiene, skin care and make-up applications.

The entire archive is now fully viewable and searchable online, allowing researchers to trace cosmetics mores from eras gone by. “Bleaching products were really popular among women to attempt to make the complexion pale,” Rachel Anderson, Curatorial Assistant at NMAH’s Division of Medicine and Science told Smithsonian. “But then not even 30 years later, you see tanning products coming into vogue. So for me that was a really interesting thing. Watching these beauty ideals and how they are tied to notions of health. A healthy Caucasian face being idealized as pale and then later being idealized as tanned.

When you look at the whole collection, you see what people were hoping for themselves. What was worth spending money on to try to become something.”