Worldwide Beauty Fact – Origins of Lipstick

Ed’s Note: This post was written by contributor, Kate Derrick.

The Origins of Lipstick

It is thought that lipstick was first invented by the women of Mesopotamia around 5000 years ago. Mesopotamia covered what is modern-day Iraq, northeast Syria, and parts of Iran and Turkey. Mesopotamian women would crush up stones and apply them to their lips. Women of the Indus Valley Civilisation (Pakistan, and parts of India, Afghanistan and Iran) also used lipstick. Of course Cleopatra was not to be out done; the ancient Egyptians made their lipstick out of a dye from a seaweed, iodine, and bromine mannite – it made them quite sick. All in the name of beauty! It is said that Cleopatra, avoiding the aforementioned toxic blend, made her red lipstick form crushed carmine beetles and ants, beeswax, and sometimes some fish scales for added shine. Ewww.

Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra

Lipstick then fell out of fashion in the Middle Ages when it was seen to be something for prostitutes and women of lower classes. The richer ladies were obviously lacking style.

Lipstick became widely used in the 16th Century. Made from beeswax and plant dyes, it was popularised by Queen Elizabeth I.

Queen Elizabeth I

Again in the 17th Century lipstick was deemed to be “the work of the devil”, and the English parliament passed a law saying that women who wore makeup were witches and must be burnt at the stake. Seems like there were some pompous dudes who were threatened by women who liked to express themselves. Seriously though, pretty terrible to think of what happened (and still does happen) to many women.

By the early 1900s lipstick was back in fashion and luckily for us the trend has continued through the 20th and 21st centuries.

Clara Bow. In silent films the actresses wore very dark lipstick.

In 2007 a study found many lipsticks contain a level of lead that exceeds the allowable amount set out by the Food and Drug administration. A bit worrying considering we probably get a bit of lippy in our mouths. Perhaps it’s time to go back to the old school beeswax and plant dyes? Sounds healthier to me. Maybe leave out the fish scales though.

Reading about the history of lipstick has certainly stirred the feminist within. Who knew that lipstick was so closely aligned with women’s rights? It does makes sense though, after all lipstick is a way of expressing ourselves, showing confidence, and accentuating our womanly charms. I thank my lucky stars that I’m living in a time and place that allows me to wear whatever lipstick I please. I know not all our sisters are so lucky.

One thought on “Worldwide Beauty Fact – Origins of Lipstick

  1. Great post Kate. Funny to see how it has evolved.

    Screw those pompous dudes – hehe. Lots of amazing feminists wear lippy: Naomi Wolf, Marieke Hardy, Clementine Ford, Ariel Levy. I guess it’s about finding the right balance of expressing yourself/having fun with makeup and not feeling pressured to fit into a “mainstream ideal” with makeup and beauty.

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