Photography via Instagram/sally_hansen

Who is Sally Hansen? Everything You Need to Know About the Woman Behind the Brand

Pretty much everyone and their mothers recognize the name Sally Hansen. Walk into any drugstore and you’ll find the namesake nail polishes and body products stocked on the shelves, whether it be the iconic Hard As Nails strengthener, the Miracle Gel polish or Airbrush Legs, the “pantyhose in a bottle” that counts Kim Kardashian West as a fan.

But what many people don’t know is the actual identity of the woman behind the brand, or if she was even a real person at all. For over 60 years, Sally Hansen, the person, was unknown.

But after three years of investigating done by Coty (Sally Hansen’s parent company), the Sally Hansen brand and a team of investigative journalists, the beauty pioneer and face behind the brand has finally been uncovered… and revealed.

Sally Hansen was, in fact, real. But when she died in 1963, she left behind barely any record of her existence. When Jeremy Lowenstein, Vice President of Global Marketing at Sally Hansen, began the mission to find Hansen, it proved to be much more difficult than expected.

“If you Google ‘Who is Sally Hansen?’ no information comes up,” Lowenstein told Buzzfeed. “In terms of trying to find her, it was truly difficult because she had no children. Scraps of information led us to some of her step-children in California to help. Truthfully, they didn’t even realize that they were related to Sally Hansen. They knew Sally Hansen, obviously, from growing up. But they didn’t actually make the connection that Sally Hansen, the woman that they knew, was Sally Hansen the brand that they see everyday.”

When Lowenstein’s team started the search for Sally in 2014, they found 49,120 women with the same name. After going through Internet archives, genealogical databases and city hall documents, the team was able to narrow down the list to 14,000 and eventually located an obituary of a factory worker who was previously employed by “Sally Hansen Cosmetics.” From there, they discovered two living relatives of Sally Hansen, and her story began to unfold.

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Sally Hansen. (Photography courtesy of Coty, Inc.)

It all started in 1935 when Sally (née Sally Finney) acquired her parents’ cosmetics store “La Finné” and transformed it into “House of Hollywood,” a parent company of brands and products that included cosmetics, hair care and fragrances. By 1941, she took House of Hollywood national and became president of the brand, and by 1945, she set up Sally Hansen, Inc. in New York City.

“In a time when most women ran households, not companies, Sally dared to embark on a dream and create an empire using her frank voice and vivid vision,” said Coty, Inc. in a press release.

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Sally Hansen in her “La Finné” store. (Photography courtesy of Coty, Inc.)
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Sally Hansen’s “House of Hollywood.” (Photography courtesy of Coty, Inc.)

During the late ’50s, Hansen began developing nail formulas with her chemist husband, and it was in 1957 that she trademarked “Hard As Nails,” the original strengthening treatment that is still one of the brand’s best-selling products. “Hard As Nails” marked the first product to bear Sally’s name, and the logo was later designed by her third husband, Jack Newton, a graphic designer.

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Sally Hansen “Hard As Nails” ad. (Photography via Sally Hansen.)

While married to her trend-setting second husband, Adolf Hansen, she became a fixture in the Hollywood social scene, hosting star-studded parties and soirees at their glam Spanish-style villa.

Sally Hansen and her second husband, Adolf Hansen. (Photography courtesy of Coty, Inc.)

Along with creating products and being a socialite, Sally also was a beauty columnist, writing over 90 articles under the column “Your Candid Mirror” for The Los Angeles Times. And while her articles provided beauty and personal care advice on everything from manis and pedis, lipstick and hair care and even posture, she was witty and playful with her content.

“I have just been reading advertisements,” she once told an interviewer, according to Buzzfeed. “Beauty advertisements about powders, creams, reducing apparatus, eyebrow tweezers, and nail polishes. What a wealth of American wit, brains, and entertainment they provide. I would love to write one and head it ‘Can You Nail Your Man?’ or ‘Polish Tips on the Marriage Market.'”

your candid mirror
Photography courtesy of Coty, Inc.

Additionally, Sally served as the first female chair of the California Cosmetics Association, and was a ballet dancer, choreographer and globetrotter. Oh, and she was also an animal lover, so we’re guessing she would be happy the brand does not test its finished products or ingredients on animals, nor do they commission any third party to do so.

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Sally Hansen. (Photography courtesy of Coty, Inc.)

“Sally was part of a wave of women entrepreneurs who pioneered both fashion and beauty empires for women created by women,” Lowenstein said in a press release. “She really spoke to the needs of all women regardless of age and economic backgrounds, encouraging them to be bold, outspoken, and beautiful.”

As a beauty innovator and a visionary beyond her years, we say it’s about damn time we learned about the woman behind the brand.