A Brief History of Lipstick.

The History of Lipstick - The Stripe.

Seeing as today is actually National Lipstick Day (I hope you are celebrating by wearing your boldest, brightest lipstick!) I thought that it would be fun to give you a little history lesson today.

It is thought that the practice of coloring one’s lips actually began nearly over 5,000 years ago, by ancient Sumerian men and women. They would crush up gemstones (this is hilarious/amazing to me… wouldn’t you have thought it would be berries?) to decorate their face. There were all sorts of variations of lip decoration, using everything from iodine to pearlescent substances found in fish scales. Cleopatra painted her lips with a deep red “lipstick” made up of beeswax, crushed ants, and carmine. She’d then add a layer of fish scales for a frost-like effect. (Cool, but… yuck!) Ancient Egyptians used a combination of bromine mannite mixed with iodine to create a deep purple effect. Unfortunately this combination is actually toxic, and ultimately became known as “The Kiss of Death.”

Lip coloring gained popularity again in 16th century England, where bright red lips and a pale white face became fashionable. This look was made popular by Queen Elizabeth I, who loved makeup. Back then, lipstick was made from beeswax and red stains from plants. In Medieval times, it was actually thought that lipstick would ward off death.

Then, for a long time, lipstick was not widely accepted. The Catholic church considered makeup to be the devil’s work. In 1770, Parliament passed a law where a marriage could be annulled if the woman wore cosmetics before her wedding day. Cosmetics weren’t really considered acceptable (by anyone besides stage actors and eek – prostitutes) until the late 19th century, when Guerlain began manufacturing lipstick. Back then, lipstick was colored with carmine dye, which is actually extracted from insects. It was applied with a brush (not a tube) and came in paper tubes, tinted papers, or small pots. In America, lipstick actually made its first appearance in the Sears and Roebuck catalog.

It wasn’t until 1912 that lipstick was considered acceptable (though only within the fashionable set). An article in the New York Times advised women to apply it cautiously. By 1915, it was sold in metal cylinders (invented by Maruice Levy.) There was  a tiny lever at the side of the tube that women needed to slide with the edge of their fingernail to move the lipstick up. In 1923, James Bruce Mason Jr. patented the first swivel up tube. It’s crazy to think that all of this was less than a hundred years ago!

national lipstick day2

A few of my personal favorites, from left to right: ILIA in Jump // ILIA in Wild Child // Dolce & Gabbana Real Red // Tom Ford Orlando // Charlotte Tilbury Bitch Perfect (the best neutral) // Stila Valentina (my absolute favorite) // Marc Jacobs Cora Cora (my other favorite) // NARS Heat Wave // Marc Jacobs Goddess

As for my own history with lipstick, I bought my first lipstick nearly eighteen years ago. It was from Clinique, called “Almost Lipstick.” I forget the shade name but it was just slightly darker than my natural shade. It was particularly excited, as I got my first Clinique GWP when I bought it, which sparked a minor addiction. My first bright lipstick was Heat Wave from NARS… four or five years ago. When I first bought it, I would apply just a little bit with my finger. Oh, how times have changed.

I’m curious… what was your first lipstick?

images by me, I sourced the info for this post from: Wikipedia, Robert’s Container, Elle

Leave a Comment

Leave a Comment


  1. I think my first lipstick was from Avon. One of my mom’s friends sold Avon and my mom allowed me to pick out a few things when I was in middle school. It was a pretty big deal! Unfortunately I had no guidance when it came to applying make up because my mom hardly wears any. So I probably chose the worst possible colors for any young girl. I learned how to apply make up from watching make over shows on the style network. But I only started getting into wearing lipsticks in brighter shades this past year.

    7.29.15 Reply
  2. Lisa:

    My first was also clinque’s almost lipstick…and I think the name was black honey!?

    7.29.15 Reply
  3. I love this post! It’s so interesting, and I had no idea lipstick as we know it was only invented in the 1900s! As for my first lipstick…it was definitely of the kid variety. I remember someone gave me this horrible makeup set when I was about 5 or 6 and it came with blue lipstick — which, for some reason, I loved. Looking back today it reminds me of that episode of Friends when Joey does the Chinese lipstick commercial!

    7.29.15 Reply
  4. this was such an interesting read even though i’m not a lipstick person at all (don’t even like the feeling of chapstick!)

    7.29.15 Reply
  5. I need to try Charlotte Tilbury lipsticks tbh


    7.29.15 Reply
  6. Robin:

    My first lipstick was by Fashion Fair and the color was Tropic Pink. I got it for Easter just before my 16th birthday. I remember my father not even being able to stand near us and watch me make this purchase. He couldn’t believe his little girl was growing up and starting to wear makeup. I will always remember the tender, sweet moment of buying my first lipstick.

    7.30.15 Reply
  7. Almost Lipstick was my first “lipstick” too! I also remember having a pod of lipgloss with a little application brush Clinique sold around the same time.

    7.30.15 Reply
  8. I love history, and Queen Elizabeth is one of my favorites. Thanks for sharing this! (sorry I’m a day late to the party!!)

    7.30.15 Reply
  9. Jasmine:

    Very good read! I love little history things
    like this for makeup.(which I also love) My first lipstick was actually my Moms. It was Artistry’s Bonbon and my second was Ripe, I think. I was very…uh, lets just say I didn’t know what I was doing and looked like a clown! 🙁 Since then I love experimenting and have gotten much better!

    8.3.15 Reply
  10. These lipsticks look beautiful. I think my first lipstick was a Rimmel Kate Lipstick, I still swear by them as the perfect drugstore lippy.

    8.12.15 Reply
  11. Mary Gosline:

    My first lipstick was neutral! It looked like a pinky peach wax! Not much color! When I was old enough to wear make-up, I skipped lipstick!

    4.26.18 Reply
  12. tassie:

    awesome! thank you so much!

    6.14.19 Reply
  13. Selina:

    When I went to university I bought an old NYX tube (the black square packaging) in the shade garnet and a W7 lipstick in the shade chestnut. I love bold lips

    11.13.19 Reply