Lipstick and the Blitz - Did cosmetics become a casualty of war during World War II in Lincolnshire?

July 28, 2018

 Cosmetics weren't rationed but...

Food rationing started in January 1940 and clothing coupons were introduced in June a year later. Even soap was rationed eight months after that. Cosmetics weren’t rationed but actually getting them was another matter.


In 1940, the Limitation of Supplies Order slashed the production of cosmetics to twenty five per cent of what it had originally been before the breakout of war. It was a purely practical move as metal casings were required for armaments. Alcohol, petroleum and other crucial ingredients, which were used to make cosmetics, were appropriated to help with the war effort.



It would be reasonable to presume then that cosmetics became another casualty of the war. However, my research surprised me when I discovered how lipstick was used to stage a mock blitz and servicemen covered themselves from head to foot in cosmetics.

In December 1942, a mock blitz and invasion took place in Grantham. Everything was done to make the whole event as realistic as possible. Aircraft roared over the houses to appear to be dive bombing them; folks were rescued from damaged buildings; groups of people were evacuated to rest centres and German officers were killed or rounded up. The idea was that if Grantham was badly bombed or invaded, it would have a realistic chance of knowing how to cope with the terrifying situation.

The locals who masqueraded as the enemy were described as a ‘tough looking lot’. They were clothed in Nazi uniforms and were artificially wounded; most of them had blood all over their faces. Can you guess what the blood was? It was lipstick. This means that instead of lipstick being seen as a non-essential item and becoming redundant, it actually became a useful article in helping the people of Grantham to prepare for the worst.



In July 1945, a young scientist addressed the Grantham Rotary club. Mr Charles D Torvell helped to solve the mystery of the missing cosmetics or why the Ladies of Lincolnshire had trouble getting cosmetics early on in World War II.

Mr Charles D Torvell gave a talk for the Ministry of Information entitled ‘Some of the Problems of the Pacific.’ In peacetime, he had been stationed in the Solomon Islands to help fight against insects which attacked the country’s wealth by ruining its crops. During World War II, he was sent back there to fight the insects again but this time to stop them attacking the servicemen.

Mr Torvell advised his Grantham audience that the forces had lost far more men in the Far East to insect casualties such as fevers and diseases than they did fighting against the Japanese. In fact, seventy five per cent of the casualties were caused by insects as opposed to the human enemy. All the skill of science was brought into fighting the deadly enemy and they finally got it under control.

However, in the days before science had figured out how to stop the insects killing the servicemen, they had to resort to another method of keeping the bugs at bay. It was this technique which caused a huge percentage of the cosmetics to disappear from Lincolnshire in the early years of World War II.

The reason they vanished was that they were sent out in vast amounts to the Far East. It seems that by covering their bodies from top to toe regularly with face powders and other creams, the servicemen kept the insects at bay. Mr Torvell added that some chaps used more cosmetics in five minutes than many ladies did in years. Instead of cosmetics being a casualty of war, they saved the lives of many of the armed forces who went on to fight the enemy. It would seem then that cosmetics became an asset of war.



In 1946, a year after the war ended, a Lincolnshire newspaper reported that twice as many women used make-up than before the War. The article suggested that lipstick was a morale booster and that they felt better with a well decorated face. This was believed to be the reason that the use of makeup had doubled since the beginning of the war. Mr L.J. Matchan, chairman of the Toilet Preparations and Perfumery Manufacturers’ Federation of Great Britain said that the demand was twice as high as in 1939.

Miss Mary Foster, a beauty adviser, reported that when women were miserable and tired, make up made them feel better and that they would not give cosmetics up now that they had got used to using them. Also, the age range of women using cosmetics had increased to include younger women and also elderly ladies.

During that period, manufacturers were working with only seventy five per cent of the pre-war raw materials for the home market. A female manager of a leading manufacturing company pointed out that that meant that the expensive products like bath oil, salts, creams, nail varnish and perfumes were not being manufactured. However, the actual amount of basic cosmetics like face powder and lipstick that was being made was greater than it was before the war.



Fundamentally, cosmetics both helped the war effort and also gained in popularity during World War II as they boosted the morale of women. Would it be going too far to suggest that instead of being a casualty of war, they were in fact a type of heroine? If you have enjoyed this article and would like a health and beauty article written for your business, website or magazine, please email us at

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