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Max Factor’s Beauty Micrometer: A beauty-measuring mask that looked like something from a “Hellraiser” nightmare

David Goran

Beauty procedures from the 20s, 30s and 40s look a lot more like a torture chamber than a salon. The beauty micrometer certainly is a scary-looking gadget that resembles a medieval torture device or something out of a “Hellraiser” nightmare.

Max Factor in 1935, demonstrating his beauty micrometer device. Photo Credit

Max Factor in 1935, demonstrating his beauty micrometer device. Photo Credit

Also known as the beauty calibrator, it was a device designed in the early 1930s by the make-up legend Max Factor (Maksymilian Faktorowicz, 1877–1938).

To help in the identification of the areas of a person’s face which need to have their appearance reduced or enhanced by make-up.

Max Factor's Beauty Micrometer on display at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum. Photo Credit

Max Factor’s Beauty Micrometer on display at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum. Photo Credit

Born in 1872 in what is now Poland, Maksymilian Faktorowicz started work at a young age in the wigs and cosmetics industry.  He founded Max Factor & Company in 1909 selling everyday cosmetics while researching and experimenting with new concoctions.

His experiments helped him break into the film business with innovative make-ups designed specifically for the screen, without the caking and cracking of traditional theatrical greasepaint. He is also credited with originating the term “make-up”.

The beauty micrometer was completed in 1932 and was primarily intended for use in the movie industry. Hollywood Entertainment Museum. Photo Credit

The beauty micrometer was completed in 1932 and was primarily intended for use in the movie industry. Hollywood Entertainment Museum. Photo Credit

The Beauty Micrometer was an intimidating metal contraption that could precisely measure the contours of a woman’s face to determine how makeup should be applied for filming.

Soon he was giving personalized makeup consultations to the biggest stars in Hollywood, and marketing his cosmetics with the promise that with the right application any woman could attain A-list glamour.

Placed on and around the head and face, the beauty micrometer uses flexible metal strips which align with a person’s facial features. The strips are held in place by set screws, allowing for 325 possible adjustments, enabling the operator to make fine measurements with a precision of one thousandth of an inch.

In the 1930s, Max Factor invented this scary-looking machine to aid in the perfect application of makeup. Hollywood Entertainment Museum. Photo Credit

In the 1930s, Max Factor invented this scary-looking machine to aid in the perfect application of makeup. Hollywood Entertainment Museum. Photo Credit

The inventors stated that there are two key measurements that they looked for: the heights of the nose and forehead should be the same, and the eyes should be separated by the width of one eye.

Its purpose was to detect even barely-visible structural flaws that might be magnified and more noticeable on camera. A technician could then apply makeup to mask the problem.

Here is another beauty story from our vault: Cleopatra, Queen of Ancient Egypt, took baths in donkey milk to preserve her beauty and youth

In 1929, Factor was awarded an honorary Oscar for his contributions to the craft of film. However, the device did not become popular and did not gain widespread usage. Only one beauty micrometer is believed to exist. It is featured in a display at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum.

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