The History of Lipstick and My Favourite Lipsticks

March 01, 2019

This post is inspired by and based on this post from Quite Contrary and this video by Safiya Nygaard. Thank you to Amy and Safiya for the inspiration! I also got a heck of a lot of my info from this post on Stylecraze, so thank you to author Avipsha Sengupta for the information.

Both men and women wore makeup as a representation of status in ancient civilisations. Their lipstick was made from natural ingredients, such as fruits, henna and other plants, and insects. Particularly wealthy people would add ground jewels to add a nice shimmer to their lips.

The ancient Egyptians can be credited with first popularising lipstick. While today, we regard shades such as black and purple as a lil' bit 'out there', for the ancient Egyptians, they were common. The source of their lipstick shades was carmine, an ingredient that comes from ground up insects. Carmine is still used today, and is the reason many red shades of lipstick, eyeshadow, and other cosmetics may be unsuitable for vegetarians and vegans.

In Japan women wore heavy makeup, including lipstick that featured a list of ingredients that included beeswax (still used today) and tar.

By law, sex workers in the Greek Empire had to wear dark lipstick (seems a very odd law to modern minds, but there ya go). This meant that the application of lipstick at that time was associated with prostitution.

Similar attitudes persisted with the birth of Christianity. Lipstick was condemned by the Church, and no god-fearing person would wear it. Red lipstick was associated with Satan worshippers, and coloured lipstick of any kind was linked to sex workers and people of 'loose morals'. This could potentially be the stem of some negative attitudes towards heavy and dramatic makeup looks today.

An Arab scientist named Abulcasis invented a mold to press perfume into a solid block for application. He adapted the method to include colour in the mixture and invented the solid lipstick sometime in 9 AD.

In the 16th Century, Queen Elizabeth I of England popularised pale skin and red lips, but the look was very exclusive and limited to nobilty, actors, and - as ever - sex workers.

Guerlain, a French company that's still alive and kicking today, were the first company to produce lipstick commercially. They started this in 1884. From there, we stepped closer and closer to the lipstick we recognise today. The cylindrical lipstick container was created by Maurice Levy in 1915, and the swivel up tube we still use today was invented in 1923 by James Bruce Mason Jr.

Throughout the 1920s, dark shades like plum, dark red, and browns were extremely. This decade brought a wave of feminism with it, and lipstick was used as a feminist statement. The 20s were also when iconic brands such as Chanel, Elizabeth Arden and Estee Lauder started selling lipsticks at this time. [As a cruelty free blogger, I'd just like to mention that none of the brands I've mentioned so far are cruelty free.]

In the 1930s, popular shades were burgundy and deep plum. These were replaced by bright red shades in the 1940s. Hollywood stars in the 1950s continued to popularise the bold red lip. Queen Elizabeth II actually developed a beautiful red lipstick for her coronation with her favourite brand, Clarins [also not cruelty-free]. From there, the range of colours continued to expand, and we started seeing oranges, corals, and pinks throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

Throughout the 80s and 90s, people were interested in seeing more natural and chemical-free formulas. Lip liners also became popular during this time. I'm sure most of the people who read this blog can remember the lipglosses and 'foundation lips' that were popular in the 2000s.

Nowadays, our lipstick shades are ridiculously versatile. The Kardashians and Jenners have certainly helped to popularise nude and 'your-lips-but-better' shades, but pinks, reds, oranges, berries, and purples recieve a lot of love from us. Some of us also enjoy sporting less popular shades such as yellow, green, blue, and black when we feel a bit more dramatic.

Lipstick has a rich history, and is still an excellent finishing touch for any makeup look.

To wrap up this post, I thought I'd share some of my favourite lipstick shades:

'Rock Steady' by Urban Decay - This rich true red shade suits me like no other red I've found and I wear it on a regular basis.
'Nairobi Camellia' by The Body Shop - This matte nude lipstick is so flattering and inexpensive and is a nude shade I really recommend.
'Wildfire' by Urban Decay - I've always loved the metallic finish of this orange lipstick. It's one of the first high-end lipsticks I ever bought!
The red lipstick block from Lush - Unfortunately, I believe this is now discontinued, but the veratility that came from having three shades in a block that you could wear individually or mix together for your own custom shade was a great idea. I hope they bring these back!


  1. Great post - really enjoyed hearing about the origins of lipstick! The ground up insects part is a little disconcerting lol! Those are some pretty shades you are wearing!

    I really enjoyed the trend with dark liner and nude glossy lips - I think that was late 1990s. It was great for people like me with thinner lips.


    Misty Ann

    1. Thank you so much - it's a very jarring fact haha!

      Yes, that's definitely an excellent trend for people to give the look of plump and full lips!

  2. I love beauty and fashion history. So fun! Also, that pink shade looks amazing on you. Great color.
    💕Miss Pettigrew Review

    1. I do too - it's so interesting to see how we got to where we are today! Thank you so much!

  3. Love learning about the history of lipsticks, though I know that women crushed insects with them to get that red color. Lipsticks are my favorite beauty product, I can go hours talking about them or paragraphs writing a blog post dedicated to my favorite shades. That lipstick block from LUSH sounds so interesting, I would've loved to try it myself!

    Hannah the Mad Dog

    1. It's so fascinating to see our progress in makeup! Although some lipsticks and eyeshadows still contain carmine today! It's such a great product, I was surprised to see that it appears discontinued - let's hope it comes back soon.


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