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Birth of the Red Lipstick

Updated: Aug 26, 2018

Lipstick falls under the category of cosmetic, with basic components of pigments, oils, emollient and waxes, it is applied to the face mostly for beauty purposes. When we think of lipstick, we see the round and long colored baton that can be rolled upward and downward for application on the lips, fairly inexpensive and can be found nearly everywhere. However, the beginning story of the lipstick, specifically the red lipstick is much more complex.

About 5000 years ago, both men and women wore lipstick during the Sumerian period. The Sumer is an old civilization of the southern Mesopotamia that is currently known as Southern Iraq today. The Sumerians were thought to be the first groups of people to wear red lipstick. The ancient Egyptians also were lovers of red lips, as well as those from the Indus Valley during the periods of 3000-1500. In ancient Egypt (3100 BC), the famous Cleopatra used lip coloring not only for beauty enhancement but also to reinforce social status. The Egyptians used an extract from insects to yield this victorious red color.

During the 8th to 14th Century a famous cosmetologist, physician, surgeon, and chemist by the name of Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi, was also known as Abulcasis, but more famously known as Al-Zahrawi, was the first to invent the solid lipstick that were also scented. More than 1000 years ago the Chinese use beeswax for lip applications to protect the lips. Aboriginal girls used ocher (a mixture of clay and ferric oxide) to color the lips for maturity ritual purposes.


Later during the 16th Century, the English catapulted to the popularity of the red lips when Queen Elizabeth I wear bright red lipstick against the pale of her skin, creating a bold statement. During this time, red lips were reserved for the aristocracy and male actors only. Queen Elizabeth II later created her own personnel shade of red lipstick for her coronation.


During the period of Christianity and Puritan (late 16th - 17th century) red lipstick was not well regarded, in fact, its use was condemned together with all types of makeup. They were thought to be in keeping with satanism, sorcery, and witchery. They were thought to be applied by prostitutes as well as state actors. Despite the restrictions, women were already attracted to red lips and use different methods such as biting, rubbing and pinching of the lips to appear redder.


In the late 19th early 20th century, the famous French actress Sara Bernhardt was one of the first to start wearing red lipstick publicly. By 1912, red lipstick was becoming mainstream and Maurice Levy introduced red lip coloring in a stick form. Darker color reds were more preferred at the time, such as plums, cherries, brown, aubergines, brownish. Guerlain, a French perfume company was the first to commercialize lipstick. Making it cheaper and widely available. Later long lasting "kiss-proof" lipstick was introduced by Hazel Bishop as well as Revlon.

Over the years, many words (both flattering and not so flattering) have been used to be associated with women who wear red color lips, such as prowess, luring, immorality, sexualized, regal, aspirational, overtly feminine assertiveness, self possession, assertion, to cite a few. Red lips are still quite controversial today, as it is found that many teenagers fight with their parents over this color on their lips, as parents consider this color on their young daughters as adult-like.

There have been numerous famous quotes from famous individuals about red lipstick that you may enjoy, for example:

-Coco Channel "If you're sad, add more lipstick and attack"

-Elizabeth Taylor "Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together.

-Gwyneth Paltrow "Beauty, to me, is about being comfortable in your own skin. That, or a kick-ass red lipstick"


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