The History of Red Lipstick

First Representation

The first reference of any kind to lip cosmetics exists on papyrus and referenced Egyptian women applying makeup. It's now known that Egyptians used focus-algin, iodine and bromine mannite to create lipstick — a combination that is actually lethal. Around the same time, Mesopotamian women crushed gemstones to decorate their lips.

Queen's Rouge

Queen Elizabeth's 16th century lipstick routine is well documented. Her Royal Highness used a mixture of cochineal, gum Arabic, egg whites, and fig milk. During her reign, it was believed that lipstick could ward off illness and death which explains why Elizabeth was discovered with half an inch of color on her lips after she perished. If she were still alive, she would probably be a huge fan of Botox.

Queen's Disapproval

Cosmetics in general went out of style in the 19th century under the reign of Queen Victoria, who called makeup "impolite." Lipstick was considered especially crass. That didn't stop women from trying to color their lips by doing things like smooching red crepe paper, biting, and using homemade recipes.

Prostitutes And Actresses

Though red rouge was deemed gauche by the ruling class in the 19th century, prostitutes and actresses continued to wear it. Throughout history, bright red lipstick would always be associated with the stigma that first was attached to it during the 1800s.

Lipstick As Protest

When suffragettes marched the streets with signs reading "Lips that touch liquor shall not touch ours," those lips also wore bright red lipstick in defiance of their inability to vote. This is one of the first documented instances the cosmetic was used in the 20th century and one of the first times it's use was equated with female strength.

World War I

Lipstick really came into it's own in the 1920s following the first World War when products were patented and the first twisty tube type gloss was invented. One brand of lipstick even manufactured its product to look like a miniature toaster that shot up rouge paste (can we make this a thing again?). At the time, lipstick alighted on the lips of approximately 50 million American women.

Rosie Red Lips

The popularity of lipstick continued into the second World War. Though many beauty items were rationed to American women back at home during the war effort, lipstick became a symbol of female strength and wasn't discouraged in the way that other cosmetic items were. The tubes became so important to morale that they were given nicknames like "Fighting Red!" and "Patriot Red."

70s Feminist Movement

The relative popularity of lipstick dramatically dipped in the 70s with the advent of the second wave of feminism. During this time, cosmetics and symbols of traditional femininity were viewed as tools of patriarchal oppression.

Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel, like second wave feminists, was not a fan of the red-lipped lady. The empress of class found the cosmetic and red nail polish vulgar. Her reasoning was simple — the red goop left stains on her linens.

Hitler's Disapproval

Adolf Hitler was also not a fan of red lips. The Aryan ideal centered on a natural, white beauty, unblemished by what the man called "animal fat rescued from sewage." When women visited the dictator, they were advised to avoid wearing too much makeup, to avoid red lipstick and to never wear nail polish.

Today's Lips

Lipstick in general remains a profitable industry in modern times earning $9.4 billion of the $32.7 billion global market of makeup as a whole. Red lipstick underwent another wave of popularity a few years ago and a wide range of colors and shades are now sold so that women can get the perfect pout.


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