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The illustrious and vast history of lipstick

30 March, 2014 - 08:54pm by - First Lady | 10 Comments

Article by BR Fiona

In this day and age where we are being bombarded with new and exciting products it's easy to lose sight of the fact that so many everyday items that us ladies use have, in fact, been around thousands of years.

Lipstick is no exception to this, so it is with much joy that we here at Beauty Review present to you the illustrious history of the humble lipstick.

Said to have been invented by women from Ancient Mesopotamia about 5,000 years ago, lipstick was originally made out of crushed gemstones and for those with a cheaper drug store budget, a mixture of red clay, rust, henna, seaweed, iodine and bromine (a highly toxic substance).

Later on in the Bronze Age the Indus Valley Civilisation, (a people who lived around Pakistan and India) applied a red tint to their lips for decoration.

Next during the Islamic Golden Age, Abu al-Quasim al-Zahrwai, the man called the father of modern surgery, created the first lipstick which actually looks like something we might recognise. Made in a lip stick form, his creation was wax based, tinted and perfumed - sounds familiar right?

Moving onto somewhere between 51 and 30 BC we now head to the beauty goddess herself, Cleopatra. Cleopatra apparently use to crush ants and carmine together along with a few beetles for good measure, into a base of beeswax to colour her lips luscious red. While it doesn't sound too tasty it must have done the job because she nabbed two of the hottest Roman bachelors, Caesar and Marc Antony!

Moving on from here the popularity of lipstick began to dwindle throughout the medieval period with only lower class women and prostitutes using lipstick. By the time we move into the 16 century the lipstick started to become 'acceptable' again when a certain famous Queen Elizabeth would wear bright red lipstick to set off her pale skin and red hair. Once again beeswax is used to make this regal lady's lippy, with it being mixed with crushed, dried roses or geraniums (this concoction sounds slightly better than the beetles and ants).

In 1770 lipstick started to go out of fashion…possibly because the English government decided to make a law stating that women who wore makeup were witches who out to lure men into marriage and they should be burnt at the stake….that would be enough to put even the most dedicated makeup user off lipstick. Throughout the 17th and 18 centuries lipstick, for the most part, remained a social taboo until the 1890s.

The tide turned when at the end of the 19th century French cosmetic legend Guerlain began to manufacture lipstick made from wax and presented in a gold plated tube.

The rise of the film industry catapulted lipstick into the lime light with actresses needing dark lips to stand out in the black in white films. By 1915 lipstick in a tube, as opposed to a pot, was a common feature on the night stands of women around the world, with the more recognisable metal tube replacing paper and plastic tubes during the Second World War.

The roaring 30s saw Max Factor & Company introduce the first lip gloss for commercial use called ‘X-Rated’ and it has since remained a popular product. Hazel Bishop an organic chemist from New York created the first long lasting lipstick in the late 1940s called No-Smear lipstick and created a thriving business.

The 1950s saw a move away from the more traditional red lippy to other shades with Max Factor creating a popular lipstick shade called Strawberry Meringue. It seems that parents weren’t quite so keen on their teenage daughters wearing red so colours in pink and peach became the colour lipstick of choice.

In the 60s rock groups such as the Ronettes and the Shirelles started to wear white lipstick and this trend evolved into the fashion forward wearing white lipstick over their pink lipstick. The 60s also saw lipstick being associated with femininity and any women who didn’t wear lipstick was considered to be either a lesbian or have a mental illness. It’s interested to reflect at this point how much makeup has actually influenced society and its beliefs.

With the experimentation of the 70s came lipstick shades in slightly more unusual shades.....colours such as iridescent light blue, silver sparkled navy blue and frosted lime green.  Black also made an appearance at this time and then again in the 90s when punk and goth rock stars such as Marilyn Manson made dark shade lipsticks ‘cool’.

Throughout the 80s and 90s lipstick changed not only colour but form as well with lipstick that was both glossy and lip plumping at the same time. It was also at this time that the 'lip stain' and the all important and amazing mood lipstick were stocked by mainstream cosmetic companies. Matte and semi-matte lipsticks in shades of brown, inspired by that little known T.V. show Friends, became very popular in the 90s as well. So as you can see lipstick went through an amazing transformation at this time.

Today the selection and type of lipstick seems unlimited. Choose from gloss, either clear or coloured, lip stains, lipsticks with glaze, lustre and satin finish as well as matte. As to colour, any cosmetics line would carry 30 to 40 colours in all finishes. Want to be “nude”, nude lipstick is ideal for different coloured skins from ivory to light brown to olive and darker. A nude lipstick is not colourless but has a shade which will complement your skin tone and there are a million shades to choose from.

These days lipsticks sit in the bottom of our handbags, roll around in our makeup drawers and come in a multitude of formulas and shades. It's amazing to sit back and just think about thejourney of the ever popular lipstick and how it has evolved and devolved then evolved again over the millennium.


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4th April, 2014

This was very interesting. Awesome to see how much they have evolved to form the product that we buy so easily from department stores now.

2nd April, 2014

Fascinating evolution of the lippy... I wonder how it will change in the future?

2nd April, 2014

Funny how lipstick got "banned" and well, associated with witchcraft to being so important that you'd be viewed as an outcast if you didn't wear it to what it is today. I've read before that fishscales were also once used to help the lipstick stick better. Scary!

1st April, 2014

Hmmm crushed insects? You learn something new everyday! Id be interested to see what white lipstick looks like :)

1st April, 2014

Interesting read, thanks good old Guerlain for getting the ball rolling again. Glad I didn't live in the 18th century either. I love lippies and have plenty of them!

31st March, 2014

What an interesting read! I will pass on the ants and beetles thanks. ;)

31st March, 2014

Thank you! I love reading about the history of everyday items and this is no exception. Very interesting.

31st March, 2014

Interesting read. Thanks for the article BR review. :-)

31st March, 2014

Wow, that is a super cool article and yikes, don't know if I would do what Cleopatra did to get her lips to stand out, but obviously a small price to pay if she was able to nab two hotties lol. And wow, 5000 years ago…...

31st March, 2014

Very interesting, funny how something as simple as lipstick can change peoples perspective! I am very grateful to not be alive in the witch burning times and probably also when using crushed bugs was a lipstick choice!

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