The beauty world has never been more varied. From lip-plumping lipsticks to facial concoctions promising extended youth, the number of tempting new products available to us seems to grow by the day, making our beauty choices increasingly complex. But when options are countless, how do you separate a good product from one you swear by and can’t live without?
For many women, the answer is whether a beauty item has a devoted fanbase — or, better yet, it’s a household name. Essentially, if it’s a cult classic. You likely have a few in mind yourself: there’s the highlighter pen that blends seamlessly for a healthy, natural glow (hello, YSL Touche Éclat). There’s the legendary skin elixir, the one and only La Mer The Moisturizing Cream. And the hairbrush that’s almost a substitute for a professional blow-dry, like Aveda’s Wooden Paddle Brush.
These are the superstars of the beauty realm — perennially sought-after products that will always hold a certain cachet and cult status.
What makes them staples? There are a handful of factors. For one, most have been around for years and have maintained a steady buzz and a regular spot on the bestselling list. Crème de la Mer, for instance, was first christened in 1965, while Lancôme’s Hypnôse mascara line was launched back in 2004. Similarly, the formula for Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream Skin Protectant, a multi-use classic used to moisturize and protect, was created in 1930, and Touche Éclat debuted in 1992. The list could go on: The house of Dior concocted cult fragrance Miss Dior in 1947, while Fresh founders Lev Glazman and Alina Roytberg came up with the gentle Soy Face Cleanser in 1999.
Such seasoned presence on our collective beauty counters has bestowed an aura of reliability upon these products, not to mention helped build a loyalty around them that’s now decades strong. In today’s launch-a-minute beauty sector, we look at them as trustworthy because we know they work, and have years of proven success and happy customers behind them.
But their lengthy lifespan is only part of the story. Aspiration, glamour — sometimes with a little celebrity endorsement — and the promise of transforming us into more confident versions of ourselves have been just as important.
It was Marilyn Monroe’s love for the serum, for instance, that sealed Elizabeth Arden’s Eight Hour Cream’s evergreen clout back in the 1950s (professional makeup artists still swear by the stuff, which they use as their secret weapon when laying foundation). Fans today include Beyoncé, Victoria Beckham, Lady Gaga and Prince Harry.
In the same way, MAC Retro Matte Lipstick in Ruby Woo, a shade that flatters virtually everyone (MAC’s Gregory Arlt once described it to Glamour as “the Little Black Dress of makeup”), has turned into a beauty sensation after being spotted on iconic stars like Dita Von Teese, Taylor Swift and Angelina Jolie, who wore it for the September issue cover of Vanity Fair in 2017. The red number, which debuted in 1999, is now one of the most popular lipsticks on the market, with seven selling around the world every minute.
In a way, then, cult beauty classics almost take on a magical value. They unlock the most coveted aspects of beauty — confidence, impeccable panache, self-possession — and hold transformative powers we can’t get enough of. It’s little wonder their appeal is so strong.
But of course, the main reason we’re obsessed is simple: quality. With tried-and-tested formulas and ingredients, cult beauty classics keep staying at the top because they work exceptionally well for just about anyone, and really deliver on what they tout. Think of them as the ultimate beauty equalizers: frill-free, straightforward aids and remedies that anyone from dermatologist to makeup professionals to regular people will recommend.
Take SK-II’s Facial Treatment Essence, one of the most famous tonics of all time. Created in the 1980s and known as “miracle water” in Asia, it’s a universal cult classic because it effectively smooths texture, diffuses fine lines, and reduces the appearance of dark spots, thanks to its key ingredient, Pitera, which was originally discovered as the secret sauce behind the youthful hands of aged sake-making monks. According to the brand, a bottle is sold every two seconds.
Another example? Estée Lauder’s Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Multi-Recovery Complex. One of the brand’s most popular products since its launch in 1982, it’s been proven to gently firm and smooth the complexion (beauty enthusiasts describe it as “a drink for the skin”) because it contains a combination of ingredients like hyaluronic acid, Bifida ferment, tripeptide-32, yeast extract, chamomile, jojoba esters and squalene that, alongside the brand’s patented Chronolux Power Signal Technology — a molecule activator shown to maximize the skin’s natural repair mechanisms — work to nourish and strengthen the skin, leaving it soft, bouncy, and youthful. More than 20 bottles are sold every minute.
It’s this holy trinity — longevity, a savvy fan base, and effective ingredients — that has allowed certain products to become status symbols worth every penny. A cut above the rest, these standout items have, quite literally, made the world a more beautiful place, while forming an elite class we all want a piece of. So next time you’re looking for a new product for your beauty regimen? Go with the classics.