Across Latin America, the United States, and Spain, many abuelitas fill rooms with a distinct and familiar smell. It’s a scent so strong that no matter how much time passes, it can quickly transport us back in time to moments with our grandmothers. That scent of course is Maja – a Spanish makeup and fragrance brand established in 1918 – that has inexplicably become a go-to for our abuelitas.
Younger generations may not remember the name or packaging of Maja, which means beautiful woman in Spanish. But its smell is still embedded in our minds. I vividly remember sitting in front of my abuela’s vanity and playing with her Maja makeup as a child. Whenever I’d leave the room, I’d smell like her – and every other grandmother in town. The memories surrounding the inexplicable smell – described by the company as “a blend of citrus, lavender, spice and woods” — are inescapable. “You want to know about Maja? Go to a mass in Puerto Rico on a Sunday morning. That’s all you’ll smell,” says one person we spoke to.
Today, Maja – owned by Spanish company Myurgia — is not the same brand we all used to know growing up. Its array of products has diversified to meet the modern market with new lines of body washes, splashes, deodorants, and soaps with updated scents. Still, women today continue to crave the classic products, especially the iconic compact powder.
Polvo Maja is the brand’s most recognizable item. With an Andalusian-inspired gold font and black packaging, the Maja compact powder is described as one of the most versatile and affordable in the business with 77 percent of reviewers rating it five stars. “Maja cream powder is a [lifesaver] if you are running late and don’t have time to put full make up,” one reviewer writes. Other reviewers are convinced the current formula is not as high-quality as the original one, popularized all over Latin America and the United States in the 1980s and 1990s. (Editor’s Note: We have reached out for comment and will update if we hear back.)
Although the Maja compact powder is popular, its shades are not as diverse as the Latin American/Latino demographic. With only six powders, the brand does not have much variety. It is mainly targeted toward women with light complexions, the darkest shade of which is called “beige oscuro.”
The Maja perfume is another one of its iconic products. While Gen X and millennials may call the scent “smelly,” the perfume was quite popular among abuelas. Some women we spoke to explain that they even spray it inside their drawers so the smell could linger throughout their home and on their clothing. One woman remembers the smell on her sixth grade math teacher, saying, “You knew she was on her way because you’d smell the perfume.”
Today, Maja is still sold all over Latin America IRL and online. The compact powder is still one of the cheapest available options for women who want to dab their oily faces away for only $11. Its smell, on the other hand, will always be classic that takes us back to inhaling a good dose of that citrus and spicy scent whenever we’d hug our abuelitas.