Whatever Happened To Bonne Bell Cosmetics?

Not quite lip gloss, not quite Chapstick, Bonne Bell Cosmetics' Lip Smackers were a milestone makeup product for millions of teens growing up during the '70s through the 2000s. And once you'd found your favorite flavor, be it Cotton Candy, Vanilla, or Tropical Punch, it became a long-term resident in your makeup bag, carrying you well into adulthood. Of course, Bonne Bell didn't stop at Lip Smackers, either. Remember the Y2K fave Flip Gloss or the scrumptious Sponge On Layered Cake Gloss? Still, no other Bonne Bell release was quite as universally beloved as the sugary sweet, playfully packaged Lip Smackers.

Whether you're a weekly visitor to the drugstore makeup aisle or mosey through on rare occasions, you may have noticed something strange about Bonne Bell cosmetics over the years. At times, it seems they're nowhere to be found on store shelves. When they do appear, their display is far smaller than you recall as a kid. And now that you think of it, you can't recall the last time you saw a Bonne Bell ad. It's a question that's lingered in the minds of millions raised on the alliterative American beauty brand: what happened to Bonne Bell? Are some of our favorite Lip Smackers flavors discontinued forever? Fear not, flavored lip balm fans. We've done a deep dive to answer all of your questions about the status of Bonne Bell from start to finish — and trust us, it gets pretty juicy.

The humble beginnings of Bonne Bell

When most of us hear the words "Bonne Bell," we immediately envision a rainbow of fragrant Lip Smacker tubes. Thus, it may come as something of a shock to learn that Bonne Bell wasn't always synonymous with the colorful lip balm line. Established in Cleveland in 1927 by Jesse Grover Bell, the company navigated the changing face of beauty throughout the decades with ease.

By the 1960s, Bonne Bell Cosmetics began marketing its wares to young beauty fans, with early products reflecting the interests of America's teens at the time. Trendy pimple patches were nowhere to be found in the swinging sixties, and having a clear complexion was a major concern for many young people. As such, Bonne Bell's key offerings included the 10-0-6 skincare system, a blemish-banishing, antiseptic set promoted by stars like Cybill Shepherd in magazine ads of the era.

In terms of makeup, Bonne Bell Cosmetics used a creative approach to appeal to the interests of America's youth. Skiing was a popular pastime in mid-century America, and Bonne Bell responded accordingly with the production of Serious Ski Lipstick, a medicated, SPF-infused lip color that promised to prevent chapped pouts while on the slopes. Other popular '60s and '70s Bonne Bell releases included medicated makeup, similar to Neutrogena or Clinique's acne-fighting foundations of today. By 1973, the company even marketed an eyeshadow palette, "The Happy Blues," which was a triad of frosty cerulean shades that were seriously stylish at the time.

Lip Smackers' golden years

You might not recall "The Happy Blues" eyeshadow palette, but 1973 was the year that Bonne Bell launched another new product, one destined to become a household name: Lip Smackers. Promoted as the world's first flavored lip balm, the original Lip Smackers lineup included strawberry, lemon, and green apple varieties. It's hard to fathom that this modest assortment was once the only gourmand lip balm line on store shelves, but the trio paved the way for bigger and better things from Bonne Bell.

By the early 1980s, business was booming for Bonne Bell Cosmetics, thanks to the overwhelming success of Lip Smackers. And the outpouring of love for Lip Smackers quickly led to an expansive catalog of products to choose from. Collaborations with sodas like Dr. Pepper came in 1975, sugar plum-filled holiday collections followed, and by 1976, the original three grew to 33 Lip Smackers flavors.

Bonne Bell continued to concentrate on the lip gloss sector, introducing dozens of new launches alongside Lip Smackers throughout the '90s and 2000s. The company's 2000-era Lip Flip series, for example, capitalized on Y2K trends with a flip-phone-like mechanism that revealed a slim tube of fruity lip balm. Another unforgettable release from Bonne Bell? Its bakery-themed Sponge Gloss collection — creamy, shimmery glosses infused with irresistible confectionary flavors like Brownie Cheesecake. Each tube held three layers of gloss in a Neopolitan ice cream-inspired design, complete with colorful, sprinkle-like beads inside the cap.

Bumps in the road for Bonne Bell

Although Bonne Bell rocked the worlds of lip gloss lovers throughout the 2000s, the company quietly slipped away from the spongecake-scented spotlight toward the end of the decade. But why? In a 2002 interview with Smart Business, Jess "Buddy" Bell, Bonne Bell's then-president, hinted at the cosmetic giant's intentions to enter the global market following its stateside successes. Yet it was revealed that Bonne Bell's steadily rising sales cooled down the same year, due in part to the "fickle" youthful consumers of the early 2000s. And sadly, the Bonne Bell family lost a legendary member when Buddy's father, former Bonne Bell chairman Jess A. Bell, Sr., passed away in 2005.

Still, the trying events of the 2000s didn't stop Bonne Bell from making the leap overseas. According to Bonne Bell's website, the brand entered the Asian cosmetic market only a few years later, in 2009. The following year, Buddy announced another new move: Bonne Bell Cosmetics and Lip Smackers would now be known as Aspire Brands. After striking up a partnership with Disney and celebrating its 40th birthday, everything seemed to be business as usual for Lip Smackers by the early 2010s. The average American Bonne Bell fan was still blissfully applying their Dr. Pepper balm, unfazed by the twists and turns experienced by the cosmetic company over the decade — that is, until 2015 came along.

Changes to Bonne Bell Cosmetics sent beauty fans reeling

In 2015, beauty lovers from all walks of life broke out in a cold sweat upon hearing big news about Bonne Bell. A company-issued press release alerted informed readers that Bonne Bell Co. and Lip Smackers were being sold to Markwins International Corp., a cosmetics industry leader that already owned brands such as Wet n Wild. Media outlets across the country declared that Bonne Bell would soon be history and urged consumers to stock up on their favorite flavors before they vanished into candy-scented dustclouds. As a result of the sale, Bonne Bell's Ohio-based operations, including its manufacturing and distribution divisions, would also shutter for good.

The sale of Bonne Bell and the closure of its hometown-based plant was a huge moment in cosmetics history, but one that made sense from a business perspective. While native Ohioans and Lip Smacker lovers certainly felt the pangs of loss, Bonne Bell's leadership remained confident in their decision. "Markwins has a proven track record of creating excitement and bringing innovation to the cosmetic category. They will bring the same excitement and innovation to the Lip Smacker and Bonne Bell brands," Buddy Bell told Cleveland.com at the time. Nevertheless, consumers across the country were heartbroken, convinced that Bonne Bell's iconic flavored lip balms would soon be a distant memory.

Markwins promotes one Bonne Bell product in particular

Despite reports that Bonne Bell balms would dry up overnight, the acquisition of Aspire Brands by Markwins wouldn't be the end for Lip Smackers. Quickly after the shocking news suggesting Lip Smackers' end was circulated, Markwins rushed to set the story straight. "The Lip Smacker business will carry on as usual," Markwins representative Alice Chen confirmed to Allure in 2015. 

However, the company had its work cut out for it. Thanks to the explosive hype surrounding Kylie Jenner's lip kit launch in 2014, consumer preferences — and cosmetics – were rapidly evolving at the time of the acquisition. But while over-lined lips and plumping kits may have momentarily overshadowed old-school options like Bonne Bell's Lip Smackers, they could never take their place. Lip Smackers evoke a powerful sense of nostalgia for scores of beauty fans, and their delectable flavors instantly charm newer generations.

Ultimately, it seems that the Bonne Bell Cosmetics name may be retired for the time being, but its most recognizable creation is still going strong. Recent Lip Smackers releases include flavors like Banana Mania, part of a collaboration with Crayola crayons, Strawberry Frosted Donut, and Cheerful Cherry Cake. Alas, Dr. Pepper's partnership with Lip Smackers came to an untimely end last year, but several soda-based options from the Coca-Cola family are still on tap. In a bittersweet nod to Bonne Bell's vintage beauty history, you can even grab the surviving member of the original Lip Smackers flavor lineup: strawberry.