If you have ever bravely attempted an at-home manicure or searched for a cure for broken nails, chances are you reached for one of Sally Hansen’s beloved beauty products. The company makes some of the best-known nail-strengthening products, like Miracle Gel and the cult favorite, Hard As Nails, which have saved many a manicure from a sink-full of dishes and made chipped nails a thing of the past.
While Hansen’s products are incredibly well-known thanks to places of prominence in drugstores around the world, until recently Sally Hansen herself was not. In fact, even the employees at Sally Hansen, Inc., didn’t know the story of the real Sally Hansen until recently. Her legacy was only unearthed thanks to the curiosity of Jeremy Lowenstein, a marketing executive at Sally Hansen., Inc., who wanted to know one thing: who was Sally Hansen? Strangely, no one at the company had bothered to ask that question before. Lowenstein set about getting to the bottom of it. While Betty Crocker and Aunt Jemima may be corporate fiction, Sally Hansen was very much a real person—and a truly amazing one, at that.
Lowenstein hired a team of investigative journalists to try and find his company’s namesake. They had their work cut out for them. Hansen had no children to carry on her work or fight for her legacy as a beauty industry legend, so, according to Buzzfeed, to find Hansen, the reporters had to dig through 49,120 other Sally Hansens to find the right one.
Here’s what they eventually discovered: Sally Genevieve Finney was born in Kansas City in 1907 with stars in her eyes. She moved to Los Angeles in 1922 with the hopes of becoming a dancer. She started a studio, landed parts in productions like “Peggy Ann” and “Spring is Upon Us” and worked as a choreographer for film. She married Adolf Hansen, described as a “bon vivant” and they hosted parties in a villa that Sally designed. When not dancing or dabbling in architecture, Sally wrote a beauty column for The Los Angeles Times, called “Your Candid Mirror” aimed at strong, independent women like herself. She wrote over 90 articles on subjects like posture, lipstick, and, of course, nail care.
When it came to beauty, Hansen knew what she was talking about, thanks to her family’s cosmetic store, La Finné, which she took over in 1935, rebranding it as House of Hollywood. There, with the help of her husband and brother, she sold cosmetics, hair care, and perfumes. In 1941, when the U.S. was in the middle of World War II, Hansen took full control of the company, becoming its president. As Sally Hansen, Inc. writes, "In a time when most women ran households, not companies, Sally dared to go out on her own."
While Sally was happy with Adolf, she wanted to expand the business and move to New York, while he wanted to stay in California. They had an amicable divorce and Sally set out on her own. In 1946, Sally Hansen, Inc. was born, with Sally at the helm. Her first move was to take the brand nationwide, turning the company into a leader in the cosmetics industry. She remarried, too, finding love with Jack B. Newton, an artist 11 years her junior, who designed the logos and packaging for her products, giving them a distinctive look. Under Sally’s leadership, the company continued to grow and in 1957, she trademarked the name Hard As Nails, for the iconic product that is still one of the company’s bestsellers. Soon, Sally Hansen was the number one nail brand in the entire country, thanks to Sally’s hard work and entrepreneurial spirit.
By 1962, Hansen was ready to try something else. She sold her company to Maradel on September 21, 1962, for $1,425,000, which is equivalent to over $11 million today, according to Refinery 29. A few months later, Hansen passed away from lung cancer. She was buried in California in a grave marked with the name Sally Hansen Newton, according to Buzzfeed, which made it difficult for anyone to recognize as the grave of the Sally Hansen.
Now, thanks to Lowenstein’s hard work, Sally Hansen, Inc., the company knows the truth behind the name. Sally Hansen was a bold entrepreneur who was way ahead of the curve and her namesake company is proudly proclaiming her story both on the web and on the bottles of nail polish you pick up at the Publix, which now feature Sally’s very own signature.