Although lip paints
have been used for millennia, dating as far back as 7000 B.C. in Sumeria
, lipstick as we know it today is a 20th century invention. The first lipstick crayon
was used by German actor
s in the 1860
s, courtesy of one Charles Meyer, but the first sliding tube
for lip color was a metal
one designed by American Maurice Levy in 1915
; before that, lip coloring had usually been in containers like those used for lip gloss
today. Less direct methods than actual paint were often prefered in the past: both Victorian-period Westerners and Japanese women might color their lips subtly by kissing a piece of thin red paper
; biting one's lip
s was a common methods of reddening them; and Gibson girls
often tried sucking on hot cinnamon
actresses in the 1920
s helped popularize lipstick as an acceptable thing for women to wear; even during the Great Depression
, a 1938
survey showed 58% of households owning at least one lipstick (only one percent less than owned so commonplace an object as a jar of mustard
Past lip color formulas include such combinations as henna and carmine (Ptolomaic Egypt); crushed red rocks (Ur); ochre, iron ore, and fucus (Imperial Rome); cochineal, gum arabic, egg white, and fig milk (Elizabethan England); "caul of mutton," wax, carmine, and roses (1700s Europe); pomade of grapefruit, butter, and wax (the Guerlain company in 1820s France); beeswax, olive oil, and cochineal, which is crushed insect bodies (1920s, throughout the Western World).
Some of these combinations were harmful to the skin or even poisonous (lead, mercury, and arsenic have all been used in the past), and in the U.S. it was 1938 before cosmetic ingredients were government-regulated.
Nowadays, all lipsticks have three components: a wax to make it solid enough for stick form; an emollient oil for softness and lubrication, and pigment. Generally the pigments are mixed with castor oil and ground until extremely smooth and nonabrasive to the lips (since many of them are powdered metallic compounds such as titanium oxide or iron oxide). The wax and emollient are mixed separately, with the pigment paste added after the right color is achieved. The mixture is melted and put into molds, and after about fifteen minutes of cooling, a recognizable lipstick is created. Other ingredients such as moisturizers or sunscreen may have also been added before molding. (And yes, the e-mail forward is somewhat true: fish scales may be used to create a pearly shine.)
Ragas, Meg Cohen, and Karen Kozlowski. Read My Lips: A Cultural History of Lipstick. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1998.