The History of Lipstick

One of my favorite products of all time is lipstick, specifically liquid lipstick. I find it fascinating to see how far various cosmetics products have gone over the course of the years. Five years ago I would never think lipstick would come in anything other than a cream. If it was in a bottle and liquid, it was a gloss not lipstick. And now I can’t imagine not having a dry matte lipstick that lasts all day without any touch-ups. So I thought I would do a little series here on the blog about the history of cosmetics products. Today in particular will be all about lipsticks.

“Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together.”

– Elizabeth Taylor

Starting back in ancient civilization, Egyptians were extremely known for lipstick from striking shades like purple and black derived from carmine. An ingredient still often used in cosmetics today. If you don’t know what carmine is, it’s a dye created from grounded cochineal insects. Egyptians also used lead and a mixture bromine man-nite and iodine which may result in serious diseases or even death. In Japan also women wore thick makeup and dark lipsticks derived from tar and beeswax. And in the Greek Empire, application of lipsticks was associated with prostitution and prostitutes were under obligation to wear dark lips, by law. However, people from Sumerian civilization can be credited as the earliest users of lipsticks. The stain was procured from naturally occurring substances like fruits, henna, clay rust, and of course insects. Mesopotamian women were a little on the fancier side and used ground precious jewels to add color and shimmer to their lips.

It wasn’t until 9 AD when an Arab scientist named Abulcasis invented the solid lipstick. But it didn’t gain popularity especially with the rise of Christianity. The church condemned the use of lipstick or any makeup. Red lips were associated with Satan worship, and women sporting lipsticks were suspected of being sorcerers and witches. Apart from prostitutes, no self-respecting women sported colored lips. Lip salves, however, were popular and acceptable. Women thus secretly added color to salves or resorted to pinching, biting or rubbing lips with various materials to make them appear redder.

Queen Elizabeth lipstick.jpg

Source: Bustle

This all changed in the 16th Century with Queen Elizabeth. She popularized the pale white skin and red lips. However, the access to such products was a luxury restricted to noble ladies and actors who appeared on stage. It wasn’t until 1884 AD when a French company called Guerlain started to produce lipstick commercially that the commonwealth were able to use the product. It was made of deer tallow, beeswax, and castor oil. The typical cylindrical container that we’re used to seeing today was invented in 1915 AD by Maurice Levy.

Lipstick became more of a staple for society in the 1920s when the cylindrical container was improved by James Bruce Mason Jr. with the addition of a swivel up tube. The fashion icons of the day were the silent era movie stars and people re-created their dark lips. Plums, aubergines, cherries, dark reds and browns were the most sought after colors in this era. It was inexpensive and mass produced. Magazines encouraged women to wear stylish colors and women diligently abided. Helena Rubenstein invented the cupid’s bow lipstick that promised to give the coveted shape to the lips. Women also used stencils to achieve the desired cupid’s bow shape of the lips. During this decade, French chemist Paul Baudercroux invited the first kiss-proof lipstick. However, it was too difficult to take off and was removed from shelves. Brands like Chanel, Guerlain, Elizabeth Arden, and Estée Lauder were selling lipsticks at this time.

Then the Great Depression hit, but the love for lipstick did not go away however it was a luxury of the 1930s. Max Factor started selling lip glosses and became a huge hit among the masses as earlier it was only reserved for Hollywood actresses. Deep plum and burgundy were some of the preferred shades of this era. Then came the Second World Warin the 1940s where women took to laborious jobs with men at war frontiers. The supplies of all materials were scarce, and as for lipsticks, the metal tubes were temporarily replaced with plastic and paper. Due to the lack of materials, makeup in this era was creative and breezy. Women were actually encouraged to wear reddest of the lips to boost the morale during the grim time of the war. Besame’s American Beauty was one of the most popular shades of red.


Source: Avon

When the war was over and the 1950s came around we had the glam icons of Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Elizabeth Taylor. So the bold red lip stuck around with Estee Lauder’s shade called Envious was one of the most popular shades. Queen Elizabeth II created her own shade during her coronation. The shade was customized by Queen’s favorite brand Clarin’s and called the ‘The Balmoral’. The color matched her coronation robe. We also saw the return of kiss-proof lipstick when Hazel Bishop created a new formula that could also be removed easily. Soon enough, Revlon came up with their own range of smudge proof lipsticks and then began the war of brands started.

In 1973 Bonnie Bell introduced, ‘Lip Smackers’, that is lipstick with flavors. These became an instant hit with the younger crowd. Aerin’s Rose Balm Lipstick in Pretty and corals like Maybelline’s Orange Danger were some of the iconic shades of the era.

In the 1980s, it was all about the shimmers and gloss. The concept of power dressing came into being, and bold red lips were a statement once again. Matching your lip color with your outfits was common and in vogue. Hot pink lips became all the rage keeping up with dance party culture of the era. Goth lips were popular in some alternative sub cultures. People were getting more and more conscious about environment and demand for chemical free, natural formulas for lipstick grew. Tattooed or getting semi-permanent color on the lip was getting popular. But if the 1990s is remembered as the era of lip liners. Nothing screams the 1990s more than darker lip liners with a lighter lipstick. Brands such as Mac and Urban Decay came into the scene.

Then the 2000s happened. Orange skin, light pink lips with gloss, and silver eyeshadow ruled the decade. With popular icons of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Paris Hilton, and Ashley Tisdale. I don’t know what happened in that era of time but fashion and makeup in my opinion will always remain questionable at best.

Moving onto the 2010s, lipsticks come in every variety of color and liquid lipsticks were introduced and popularized. We got brands like Kylie Cosmetics, Jeffree Star Cosmetics, ColourPop and more. It seems like almost everyone is coming out with a brand with new launches almost every other week.

I have no idea what the next trend will be, but there’s one thing for sure lipstick in any form isn’t going away any time soon. What is your favorite lipstick on the market today?

Love ya,

Mae Polzine

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