The History of Lipstick

Lipstick and lipstick containers

closeup of lipstick being applied to lips
closeup of lipstick being applied to lips. Max Oppenheim/Getty Images

Lipstick by definition is a cosmetic used to color lips, usually crayon-shaped and packaged in a tubular container. No individual inventor can be credited as the first to invent lipstick as it is an ancient invention, however, we can trace the history of the use of lipstick and credit individual inventors for creating certain formulas and methods of packaging.

The First Lip Coloring

The actual term "lipstick" wasn't first used until 1880, however, people were coloring their lips long before that date.

Upper class Mesopotamians applied crushed semi-precious jewels to their lips. Egyptians made a red dye for their lips from a combination of fucus-algin, iodine, and bromine mannite. Cleopatra was said to have used a mixture of crushed carmine beetles and ants to color her lips red.

Many historians give credit to the ancient Arab cosmetologist, Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi for inventing the first solid lipsticks, which he described in his writings as perfumed sticks rolled and pressed in special molds.

Innovations in Lipstick Packaging

Historians note that the first cosmetic lipstick manufactured commercially (rather than homemade products) occurred around 1884. Parisian perfumers had begun to sell lip cosmetics to their customers. By the late 1890s, the Sears Roebuck catalog started to advertise and sell both lip and cheek rouge. Early lip cosmetics were not packaged in their familiar tubes that we see used today.

Lip cosmetics were then wrapped in silk paper, placed in paper tubes, used tinted papers, or sold in small pots.

Two inventors can be credited with inventing what we know as the "tube" of lipstick and made lipstick a portable item for women to carry.

  • In 1915, Maurice Levy of the Scovil Manufacturing Company invented the metal tube container for lipstick, which had a small lever at the side of the tube that lowered and raised the lipstick. Levy called his invention the "Levy Tube".
  • In 1923, James Bruce Mason Jr. of Nashville, Tennessee patented the first swivel-up tube.

Since then the Patent Office has issued countless patents for lipstick dispensers.

Innovations in Lipstick Formulas

Believe it or not, the formulas for making lipstick used to consist of such things as pigment powders, crushed insects, butter, beeswax, and olive oil. These early formulas would only last for a few hours before going rancid and often had ill effects on one's health.

In 1927, French Chemist, Paul Baudercroux invented a formula he called Rouge Baiser, considered to be the first kiss-proof lipstick. Ironically, Rouge Baiser was so good at remaining on one's lips that it was banned from the marketplace after being considered too hard to remove.

Years later in 1950, chemist Helen Bishop invented a new version of long-lasting lipstick called No-Smear Lipstick that was very successful commercially.

Another element of lipstick formulas' effects is the lipstick's finish. Max Factor invented lip gloss in the 1930s. Like much of his other cosmetics, Max Factor first invented lip gloss to be used on movie actors, however, it was soon worn by regular consumers

In Sarah Schaffer's article Reading Our Lips she describes the variety of patents issued for lipstick dispensers and formulas including: octagon lipsticks, lipsticks designed to resemble toast popping out of a toaster, and lipsticks whose covers rolled back in imitation of roll-top desks, devices intended to rearrange women's mouths into more pleasing shapes, such as a clamp that promised to mold the upper lip into a cupid's bow, indelible and waterproof lipsticks, lipsticks that change color upon application, and flavored lipsticks.