In many cultures, red lips are an important component of feminine beauty, and this has often prompted women to augment the redness of their lips through artificial means. The modern use of lipstick in Western society has been part of a more general development of makeup for women, one often unstated, and possibly the unconscious goal of which is the emulation of the clear skin, good blood circulation, and sexual fecundity associated with youth and good health.
Lipstick, a cosmetic product used for coloring the lips, and now usually made in the form of a cylindrical stick of waxy material encased in a metal or plastic tube, has a very long history. In ancient Egypt, powdered red ocher in a base of grease or wax was used as a lip coloring. During the time of the Roman empire, henna and carmine, in various preparations, were used for the same purpose. Other ancient lip coloring preparations were made with vermilion or mulberry juice.
Queen Elizabeth I of England made her lips crimson by using a concoction of cochineal blended with gum Arabic and egg white; her red lips made a striking contrast with her pale powered face. In the seventeenth century artificially colored lips were denounced as immoral by the Puritan clergy; stained lips were sometimes referred to as "the devil's candy." During the eighteenth century, a moderate use of makeup was regarded as normal and attractive for members of the upper classes, but frowned upon for people of more humble status; thus the use of lip color was involved in distinctions of social class. During the nineteenth century, however, in both Europe and America, social commentators generally frowned upon the use of any cosmetics (referred to as "paint") at all; women who resorted to the conspicuous use of makeup, including lip coloring, invited social criticism. By the end of the century, in turn, many younger women rejected this socially conservative attitude and began to use cosmetics openly. The use of lip coloring came to be one of the beauty secrets of the New Woman.
Until the early twenthieth century, lip coloring was often made in the form of a salve, packaged in small jars and applied with a fingertip or small brush. Lipstick as such probably derived from theatrical makeup ("grease-paint"), which was often produced in the form of a waxy crayon or pencil. The term "lipstick" itself dates from the late nineteenth century. Maurice Levy designed the first lipstick in a sliding tube in 1915. Soon thereafter, both Helena Rubinstien and Elizabeth Arden followed his lead and produced lip salve, rouge, and later lipsticks to respond to popular demand.
The influence of movie stars, heavily made up for the screen, may have prompted a shift to stronger colors of makeup, including lipstick, by the 1920s. At that time also, new clothing styles and shorter hairstyles, both of which promoted an image of fashionable youthfulness, led to new styles of makeup and more conspicuous use of lipstick and other cosmetics. By the 1920s also, cosmetic companies relied heavily on advertising to introduce new products, stimulate demand, and promote brand loyalty.
Lipstick came to be associated with other closely related products that were promoted as aids to health and good hygiene. Lip salve and lip balm, designed to protect against sunburn, dryness, and chapping, were introduced around the time of World War II and won widespread consumer approval.
Modern lipsticks typically are made from waxes (beeswax, carnauba wax, palm wax, candelilla wax), oils (olive oil, mineral oil, castor oil, cocoa butter, and others), and chemical dyes. These basic ingredients are supplemented by a range of moisturizers, vitamins, aloe vera, collagen, and other enhancers.
Recent improvements in lipstick have included lip glosses, which give the lips a moist appearance, lipstick with improved adhesion that avoids unsightly lipstick-stained cups and glasses, a wide range of colors keyed to the individual complexions of wearers, and lipsticks that also contain sunscreen. The palette of fashionable lipstick colors changes from year to year, varying from bright and vivid reds to soft pastels. Lipstick in unusual colors, such as black and dark green, is made for niche markets, such as goths and punks. In the mainstream, the continuing allure of red lips seems to assure that lipstick will be part of the beauty and fashion scene for a long time to come.
Corson, Richard. Fashions in Make Up: From Ancient to Modern Times. London: Peter Owen Limited, 1972.
Ragas, Meg Cohen, and Karen Kozlowski. Read My Lips: A Cultural History of Lipstick. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1998.