Humans have been using makeup to highlight features for as long as we can remember. Today, the range of what makeup can do is mind-boggling—who knew we would reach an age where the perfect lipstick finish would matter? I personally think that above all beauty products, lipstick is a way of life. We’ve got different varieties of it now—from mattes to sheers, metallics to blotted lips, but the lipstick remains seated on a throne power over all makeup products. It alone does wonders to the human face. It brings personality, purpose, and edge.
Well, today is International Lipstick Day, and there is no other day more fitting to know how your favorite makeup staple came to exist. Ever wonder how your tube of lipstick started back in the old days? Let’s boost your history.
Makeup has been a status symbol for both men and women back in olden times. It was used for both aesthetic and medicinal purposes. According to Style Craze, the Sumerians can be credited for being the earliest lipstick users—using stains from naturally occurring substances like fruits, henna, clay, rust, and weirdly enough, insects. I know. Crazy, right? Mesopotamian women were more on the fancier side of life and used grounded jewels to add shimmer and color to the lips.
But when we talk about real lipstick lovers, we have to give this one to the Egyptians. Although the main colors they used were purple and black, red eventually popularized and was made from a combination of fucus-algin, iodine, and bromine mannite. Cleopatra was said to have used a mixture of crushed carmine beetles and ants to color her lips red. But some sources say that the Egyptians also used harmful chemicals like lead and a mixture of bromine man-nite and iodine which resulted in serious diseases and some deaths back in the day.
In 9 A.D, an Arab Scientist, Abulcasis invented the solid form of lipstick. He was initially making solid perfumes that can be pressed into a mold to rub on the body, and when succeeded, he experimented with colors—thus coming up with the first solid lipstick.
With the arrival of Christianity in civilization came with the conservative notions of cosmetics. This is why the church condemned the use of any makeup, as red was associated with Satan worshipers, which accused women of wearing lipsticks as witches and sorcerers.
In the 16th century, the lipstick made a comeback during Queen Elizabeth’s reign in England, where she popularized pale white skin with red lips. However, this was only available to noble ladies and celebrities.
According to historians, the first cosmetic lipstick that was manufactured commercially—rather than homemade stains—was in 1884, by a French perfume company named Guerlain. Their product was made with deer tallow, beeswax, and castor oil, and was wrapped in silk paper.
The year 1915 is when Maurice Levy of the Scovil Manufacturing Company invented the metal tube container for lipstick, which has a small lever at the side that lowered and raised the product. This was called the “Levy Tube.” It was followed by the swivel-up tube in 1923 that was patented by James Bruce Mason Jr. of Nashville, Tennessee
Hollywood icons are a big contribution to the emergence and evolution of the lipstick craze. Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, and Elizabeth Taylor, are all very important red lip icons in this era. Estée Lauder’s Envious was one of the most popular shades.
The most important lipstick evolution during this time would most probably be the “kiss-proof” or “no-smear” formula, which we can thank Hazel Bishop for. Revlon eventually came up with their own range of smudge-proof lipsticks—and the war of brands started from there.
Lipsticks were soon incorporated with fashion, and brands made sure that their products suited everybody’s preference. In 1973, Bonnie Bell introduced the famous and teen favorite, ‘Lip Smackers,’ which were lipsticks with flavors. Oranges and corals were the most iconic shades of the era.
Lipliners, glosses, and sheer finishes plagued the ’80s and ’90s. The concept of power dressing came to be, and bold red and hot pink lips were once again a thing. Gothic lips were also popular in alternative subcultures. These are the years when MAC and Urban Decay emerged.
We have come to a point where lipstick varieties are endless, and choosing your perfect one is more difficult than ever. Not that girls only own one lipstick. We all know that the typical makeup lover owns more than just one. Maybe two. Or 10.
Liquid lipsticks, gradient tones, metallic lips, and many more are now fighting over lipstick finish dominance, and so are lipstick brands. From local to international lipstick makers, these beauty staples aren’t going away anytime soon. Or ever.
So now that you know where your product’s origin story, will you look at it the same way? As a statement?A status? The cruelty towards beetles during Cleopatra’s time?
Or does it represent you? Make you feel empowered? Make you feel like your own boss?
Lipsticks can do that. They can do anything. Most importantly, make you feel like you can be anything.
Art by Tricia Guevara
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