Cosmetics have been used on lips for millennia to protect them from chapping and cracking when the air is dry. In the nineteenth century, a soothing and protecting lip-salve or lip pomade could be purchased from a local chemist, pharmacist or druggist, or made at home from one of a number of available recipes. Some lip-salves contained a red colouring agent – such as alkanet or black grape juice – that also redden the lips and made them more attractive.

A Scarlet Lip-Salve.
Take an ounce of the oil of sweet almonds, cold drawn; a drachm of fresh mutton suet; and a little bruised alkanet root; and simmer the whole together in an earthen pipkin. Instead of the oil of sweet almonds, you may use oil of jasmin, or oil of any other flower, if you intend the lip-salve to have a fragrant odour.

(The toilette of health, beauty, and fashion, 1834, p. 87)

Waxy, protective lip cerates could be coloured in a similar fashion.

See also: Cerates


Women in the nineteenth century who wanted to redden their lips could also use a liquid or paste rouge. Bloom of Roses, for example – a liquid rouge made from carmine dissolved in ammonia and rose water – was used to redden cheeks but some women also applied it to their lips.

Bloom of roses

Strong liquid ammonia½ oz.
Finest carmine¼ oz.
Rose-water1 pint.
Extract of rose (triple)½ oz.

Place the carmine into a pint bottle, and pour on it the ammonia; allow them to remain together, with occasional agitation, for two days; then add the rose-water and esprit, and well mix. Place the bottle in a quiet situation for a week; any precipitate of impurities from the carmine will subside; the supernatant “Bloom of Roses” is then to be bottled for sale.

(Piesse, 1857, p. 236)

Commercial versions of Bloom of Roses were available all through the nineteenth century, a popular English form being made by Pears.

PEARS’s [sic] LIQUID BLOOM of ROSES gives a most delightful tinge to the Female Countenance, and to such a degree of perfection, that it may with propriety be said that Art was never so successfully employed in improving the Charms of Nature.

(Pears’ advertisement, 1807)

See also: Rouge


Pears’ Bloom of Roses was one of a number of cosmetics imported from England by Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain [1798-1864] when he opened his perfume shop on the ground floor of the Hôtel Meurice – a popular residence for English visitors – in Paris in 1828.

By the 1840s Guerlain was well established, making and selling his own cosmetics including some that were designed specifically for the lips – Roselip, a tinted lip-balm and Extrait de Roses, a liquid lip-rouge. Then in 1870, he introduced Ne M’oubliez Pas, widely credited as being the first stick lip-rouge (rouge à lèvres en bâton). Suggestions that the first lip-rouge sticks were seen wrapped in tissue at the Colonial and General Export Exhibition held in Amsterdam in 1883 seem too primitive and too late.

Stick cosmetics

Stick cosmetics were well known to the perfumery and pharmacy trades in the nineteenth century and many products were made in this form; examples being moustache wax sticks and suppositories.

See also: Water Cosmetique (Mascaro)

Coloured lip-salves were generally made as pastes but stick forms could be produced by adding a stiffening agent such as white wax. According to some sources lip-salves of this type were were in existence before 1840.

The following well-tried example, dating from before the “forties” of the previous century is often quoted to-day as new. White wax 2½ ozs., spermaceti 3 ozs., almond oil 7 ozs., balsam Peru 1 dram, alkanet root 1½ ozs., melted together to desired colour, strained, and perfumed if desired.

(Lipsticks, 1927, p. 421)

Lip-salve-sticks and rouge-sticks had some advantages over other forms of lip-rouge; they did not spill like liquid lip-rouge and, if used directly on the lips, did not produce messy fingers generated by using a paste lip balm.

The difference between a coloured lip-salve-stick and a rouge-stick or lip-stick is arbitrary but can perhaps be distinguished by the type and amount of colouring agent they contained; lip-salves usually had less colouring and were generally made with cheaper alkanet, whereas lip-rouges or lip-sticks had more colouring and often used carmine which was more expensive.

Rose lip salves are usually of weak colour; from ¼ to ½ percent. of lake or pigment or sufficient alkanet root to produce the desired tint. …
Rouge sticks are more heavily coloured, generally with carmine of various grades or the carmine lakes which may be obtained in varying tints—geranium, purple, crimson, carmine, etc.; 5 to 10 per cent. is the usual amount, but it is often increased to as much as 20 per cent.

(P&EOR, 1927, p. 422)

Also, alkanet lip-salves were generally translucent, as the colour was dissolved in the base, whereas lip-sticks containing carmine were usually opaque.


The 1870s also saw the introduction of another stick cosmetic of importance to the story of lipsticks, namely greasepaint, a theatrical make-up sold in sticks wrapped in decorative paper or tin foil.

See also: Greasepaint

After Ludwig Leichner began selling greasepaint in 1873, a number of French companies supplying the French theatre trade with powdered make-up also began to include greasepaint sticks (batons grime) in their make-up lines. A. Bourjois et Cie., for example, sold greasepaint labeled as ‘Batons Extra-Fins’ from the 1880s at the latest.

As the use of powder, rouge and other ‘paints’ became more acceptable towards the end of the nineteenth century, some French firms producing theatrical make-up began selling their wares more widely and their cosmetics, including batons grime, began to find their way into general hands. Paris led the way in the use of cosmetics in the late nineteenth century and as French fashion spread to other parts of the world so too did French cosmetics.

In Paris artificial complexions have become so general that a woman has no more hesitation about displaying a rouge pot than a powder puff. In London it is very much the same thing now, and among the jewelled trinkets which women carry in their pockets there is generally one containing an eyebrow pencil or a stick of lip salve.

(Auckland Star, 1901, p. 1)

Lipstick cases

At some stage lip rouge sticks were encased in metal tubes. Cardboard or paper provided protection, portability and ease of use, but the use of metal allowed for the development of better mechanisms for pushing the stick out of its container and gave the finished product an appeal that would eventually make it an essential item for almost every woman’s handbag.

Exactly when the first lip-stick was encased in a metal tube is unknown and is likely to remain so for a number of reasons. First, there is the question of the distinction between a lip-salve and a lip-stick. Many women protected their lips with coloured lip-salve sticks during the winter months in cold climates or during summer months in hot climates, and it is likely that some of these were encased in metal. Second, society women who wanted something a little more substantial than paper or cardboard to hold a lip-salve or lip-stick could elect to have a metal container made up by their jeweller. Cheaper ready-made metal cases were also available for purchase from department stores and other outlets.

The first lip cosmetic sold in a metal case, that I can date with some precision, was Vinolia Lypsyl made by the British company Blondeau et Cie; later known as the Vinolia Company. It was available in a metal tube no later than 1892. Described as a ‘coraline emollient for the lips’, Lypsyl came in a fluted, silver-metal tube (large and small) in a design similar to the one used for the company’s silver-metal encased shaving sticks. The company also sold Vinolia Cosmetic, a water cosmetique for the moustache, which could be purchased in a silver-metal tube using the same design.

See also: Water Cosmetique (Mascaro)

It seems likely that French-made metal lipstick cases were also being produced in the nineteenth century as other French stick cosmetics, such as eyebrow and eyeliner pencils, were packaged in sliding metal cases in the 1890s.

1898 Bourjois cosmetic pencils

Above: Bourjois cosmetic pencils with a sliding mechanism from an 1898 catalogue.

The first American lipstick sold in a metal case is generally credited to the Scovill Manufacturing Company (Connecticut, U.S.A.) in 1915.

The modern lipstick can be said to have been the result of a meeting in New York in 1915 between Anthony Guash, a French cosmetics manufacturer and Maurice Levy, an American investor. Their meeting had been arranged by an official of the Scovill Manufacturing Company and resulted in the formation of the French Cosmetic Manufacturing Company.

(D&CI, 1957, p. 55)

However, there are suggestions that this may be a long-standing error and that Scovill previously made a metal lipstick container in 1914 for the Luxor Company, Chicago (Hetherington, 2015). It would not surprise me if earlier American versions are later unearthed, given that William Kendall – who holds the first American patent for a metal lipstick holder (US1236846, 1917) – lists his invention as an improvement on existing forms.

1917 Kendall lipstick case patent

Above: 1917 Drawings from an American patent taken out by William Kendall for a lipstick case.

There are also occasional descriptions in American newspapers of earlier products being advertised. The one below from 1913 appears to be a stick lip cosmetic sold in a metal case.

Lip Pomade
The frosty atmosphere makes the tiny metal cases of lip pomade especially desirable for my lady’s hand bag, for just a touch of cold cream protects the lips from the dryness of the wind. The metal cases are about two inches long, and are gilt, finished at the top with an imitation jewel and a ring by which they may be attached to a chain. They are about half an inch in circumference. The pomade is slightly tinted, either flesh or rouge color, so that its use cannot be detected, or, for those who so wish, it may be had in white. These are priced at less than one dollar.

(Daily East Oregonian, February 21, 1913)

Once introduced, the idea of metal lipstick casings spread, particularly after the First World War when scrap metal was abundant and metal prices were low. Early forms were generally small, often oval in cross-section rather than round, and used some form of sliding mechanism to extend and then withdraw the stick. Some had a paper label glued to the case while others had the company name embossed into the metal.

Early lipstick case

Above: An early brass lipstick case showing the sliding mechanism used to push the lipstick out of the tube. The oval shape of the tube made it easier to fit the cap on correctly.

Glued-on paper labels soon disappeared except for the one applied to the base of the lipstick case to indicate the lipstick shade.

An early modification of the push-up type was the double which had a sliding grove curved around the lipstick case. This mechanism required the lipstick tube to be round rather than oval, a situation reinforced by the introduction of lipsticks that used swivel bases from the 1920s onwards.

1924 Kendall lipstick case patent

Above: 1924 Drawings from an American patent taken out by William Kendall for a lipstick with a double mechanism used by the Scovill Manufacturing Company (US1,480,449, 1924). On occasion the pins would become dislodged from the groove causing the mechanism to freeze.

The earliest known patent for a lipstick with swivel mechanism was granted to James Bruce Mason Jr. of Nashville, Tennessee in 1923.

1923 American patent by James Bruce Mason

Above: 1923 Drawings from an American patent taken out by James Bruce Mason Jr. (US1,470,994, 1923). The case was oval in cross-section like the early push-up types as the lipstick did not need to rotate.

By the late 1920s there were a wide variety of case designs, made from a range of materials, with varying mechanisms for getting the lipstick in and out of the tube. Some, like those from Kissproof, were highly decorated.

The containers vary from nickel plated brass and aluminium to jewelled works of art. There are rich designs in burnt aluminium and in silver of exquisite colour and finish; doubles, in which the slide moves both ways; swivel type; flat ovals and those with hinged caps to prevent loss at the top. America is foremost in their production, followed by Germany and then France.

(Lipsticks, 1927, p. 421)

Lipstick cases

Above: A range of lipstick cases from the 1930s made by the Bridgeport Metal Goods Manufacturing Company. Lipstick manufacturers could use standard cases, or take undecorated standard cases and have them embellished in a design of their choosing. If they elected for non-standard cases they would have to pay for the metal dies and deal with all the risks associated with changes in fashion.

One interesting development from the 1930s were cases that could be opened, used and closed with one hand. Interest in these ‘automatic lipsticks’ was widespread with examples including: Helena Rubinstein’s Automatic Lipstick (1931) and Golden Automatic (1935); Harriet Hubbard Ayer’s Automatic Lipstick (1933); Scovill’s Roll Top Lipstick cases (1934); and Guerlain’s Rouge Automatique (1936). Most went out of production during the packaging restrictions imposed during the Second World War and with a few exceptions, such as Hazel Bishop’s Ultra-Matic and Guerlain’s recent Automatic Lipstick, they were not revived when restrictions eased. There were other experiments with lipstick cases but over the years these have mostly given way to the forms we know today.

A major advance in the production of lipstick cases came in the 1950s when case manufacturing firms, like Scovill, introduced component standardisation. Breaking down the pieces of a lipstick case into its various parts – the base assembly, holder cup and cap – and then manufacturing variations of each at standard sizes, meant that components became interchangeable. Lipstick manufacturers could select items from the range of component parts and combine them to produce a lipstick case that suited their particular needs, dramatically reducing fitting costs. They could also pay extra to have one or more of the components made to their specific design with the understanding that they would still fit with other ‘off the shelf’ pieces.

Some of the most impressive lipstick cases were made during the 1950s with many using semi-precious metals and gemstones, a practice that would normally be done by a jeweller. The rising post-war prosperity, a general increase in the base price most women paid for lipsticks, the development of component manufacturing, and the 1950s ‘lipstick wars’ between Hazel Bishop, Coty, Revlon and others, all contributed to this fashion trend.

See also: Lipstick Wars

A good example of cases from this period was Revlon’s Futurama range introduced in 1956. Copying an idea from Helena Rubinstein, Charles Revson had the cases for Revlon’s Futurama lipsticks designed by Van Cleef & Arpel, a Fifth Avenue jeweler. Base models – which included a lipstick in Revlon’s Living, Lanolite or Regular formulation – retailed for as low as US$1.75 in the United States while those made in sterling silver went for as high as US$32.50. Women who wanted something even more exclusive could also go to Van Cleef & Arpel direct and have a case made in gold and other expensive materials and then fit them with a Revlon lipstick.

1956 Futurama lipsticks

Above: 1956 Advertorial on Revlon’s Futurama lipsticks.

Helena Rubinstein would have been suitably annoyed that Charles Revson – the ‘Nail Man’ as she called him – copied her idea but this did not stop her from entering into an agreement with Revlon to fix the price of lipstick refills. Both companies were later charged by the American Federal Trade Commission (FTC) with conspiracy (AP&EOR, 1958).

1957 Helena Rubinstein lipstick cases

Above: 1957 Helena Rubinstein lipstick cases.

The high quality cases of this period used easy to fit refills that ‘clicked in or out’. Unfortunately, they all suffered from the same problem that had plagued metal lipsticks from the beginning; unless protected, the cases collected unsightly abrasion marks when they collided with the other clutter in women’s purses and handbags and soon looked worn and tired. This may have been why the use of lipstick refills never really caught on.

Abraded lipstick cases

Above: A range of metal lipstick cases showing signs of wear.

Size and shapes

Like their containers, the size and shape of lipsticks has also changed over the years. Some of these were the result of technical advances but other were largely fashionable.

Cross-section: Early lipsticks were round, oval or square in cross-section with the oval and square forms generally disappearing with the demise of push-up cases. With some notable exceptions like the automatic lipsticks – which required a push-up mechanism to work – most lipsticks made from the 1930s onwards have been round or roughly so. There are of course always exceptions to this generalisation. Two examples come to mind: the heart-shaped lipsticks introduced by Helena Rubinstein in 1960; and Avon’s recently released square-shaped lipsticks.

Size: Lipsticks were a lot smaller in the past than we normally see today. There were a number of reasons for this, the two most important being the tendency for early lipsticks to break if they were too long, and the need to keep costs down. Larger lipsticks arrived in the American market with the introduction of ‘Jumbo’ and ‘Super Jumbo’ sizes. These thicker sticks appear to have been introduced to improve margins during the Great Depression.

There is much talk and quite a bit of action on new “Super Jumbo” lipsticks which will make their debut during the coming season. As the name indicates, these will be bigger sticks and bigger cases than the “Jumbo”, the stick that has been on the market for some time and which commonly retails for about one dollar. The new sticks will retail for about $1.50 and are really quite large, some of the cases running to fully one inch in diameter.
There are mixed motives behind this “Super Jumbo” development. Vanity cases, of course, have been getting bigger and more complicated for some time. There has also been very little profit in lipsticks for some time. … [T]he new larger cases cost more and the new larger sticks cost more—about 15 per cent. and 10 per cent. higher respectively. But at a 50 per cent. increase in retail price, that will allow a better profit percentage, and, of course, increase the unit of sale.

(AP&EOR, 1937)

Until the end of the 1940s, over 80 per cent of lipstick sales in the United States were still below US$1.00, with many being sold for as little as 15 cents. After the Second World War the average price of lipsticks in the United States rose, with 80 per cent of lipstick sales in the late 1950s now being in the US$1.00 to US$1.35 range (D&CI, 1957). Along with the higher prices, small lipsticks all but disappeared.

See also: Hazel Bishop

Length: Very long lipsticks – sometimes referred to as pencil types – were first introduced after the Second World War, without much success. They were often promoted as lip liners and sold in tandem with a coordinated lipstick of the traditional length. Examples include: Revlon’s Lip-Fashion (1948); Gala’s Lip Liner (1949); Dorothy Gray’s Lipstick Couplet (1949); and Flame-Glo’s Longfellow (1950). Another wave of long lipsticks took place in the 1960s with examples that included: Helena Rubinstein’s Fashion Stick (1962); Max Factor’s Fine Line (1962); Revlon’s Sculptura (1963); and the Cutex Fashion Wand Slim-Line (1963).

Tip shapes: These have also been subject to the vagaries of fashion, with particular shapes often promoted as helping the lipstick to produce a defined line on the mouth. Given that any sharply defined line on a fresh lipstick disappears quickly with use, this seems rather spurious to me. The three shapes common to early lipsticks – chisel, bullnose and bullet – were added to over the years and now include exotic forms going by names such as sculptured, blunt, gothic, fishtail, teardrop, moondrop, contoured, bullet-wedge, moondrop-wedge and sculptured-teardrop.

Lipstick tip shapes

Above: Some lipstick tip shapes in production today. The proliferation of shapes has been made possible through new moulding techniques.


Even when the use of lipstick became more common in the 1920s they were still regarded by many as being associated with actresses or women of ‘easy virtue’. Most lipsticks from this period were therefore formulated to enhance rather than completely replace the natural colour of the lips. Some exceptions were made for night make-up when artificial light made darker, vivid colours more acceptable. Popular shades were the ‘naturals’ that contained little or no pigments and used a stain to give some colour to the lips without making them ‘look painted’.

See also: Indelible Lipsticks

The lipstick that epitomised this situation best was Tangee. Sold from 1922 by the George W. Luft Company, the lipsticks only came in two shades in the 1920s, Natural and Theatrical Red, with the later being for “those who insist on vivid color and for theatrical use”. Tangee advertisements strongly criticised the ‘painted look’ all through the 1920s and 1930s and this helped make it the largest selling lipstick in the United States between the wars. It would not be until 1940 that the company would introduced a third shade, Red Red, to its lipstick range.

Tangee was not alone in this period in producing lipsticks with a limited range of colours. Other examples include Max Factor’s Society Make-up lipsticks that only came in three colours (Light, Medium and Dark) when introduced in 1927, and Dorothy Gray’s lipsticks that were still only available in four shades (Light, Medium, Dark and Evening) in 1929.

The colour [of lipstick] is important. There are two basic shades—Carmine (deep red), and Geranium (bright red). All other colours offered for sale are slight variations of these. The former is used by the brunette type, and the latter by the blonde, it being remembered that artificial light demands a more liberal application.

(Poucher, 1926, p. 52)

This situation changed in the 1930s for two main reasons. The first was the increasing influence of the motion picture industry on fashion. As women in the 1920s began to emulate the make-up they saw on screen, looking ‘artifical’ or ‘painted’ became less stigmatised and obvious colour on the lips became more acceptable. This situation was cemented during the Second World War when lipstick became an almost essential component of a woman’s service uniform. The increased use of colour film in the thirties and forties only served to help move this process along.

A second contributing factor was make-up colour coordination. Until the 1930s the only requirement for selecting a lipstick – apart from it not appearing too obvious – was that it should match a woman’s rouge.

The lips should have a natural rose hue—but at times the lipstick has to help out Nature. Now the lipstick cannot be considered unless in its relation to rouge. …
Rouge used for the face … should be matched by the shade used on the lips. Hence, let your lipstick match your rouge exactly. Most women need no lipstick—not that this prevents their using one.

(Courtenay, 1922, p. 31)

A visitor to France states that the Parisienne today is careful to have her lip-stick, rouge, and powder exactly to tone. If she is a brunette (despite the temporary preference for blondes) she will have a more orange touch to her lip-stick and a darker shade to her powder and rouge. The great secret is that they must have the same tone shade.

(AP&EOR, 1926)

In the late 1920s it became fashionable in Europe to match lipsticks and nail polish so, in 1935, when Northam Warren added lipsticks to its Cutex range, the company naturally harmonised them with their nail polishes.

See also: Northam Warren

Cutex was not the first nail polish to use this idea. Glazo, for example, bought by Northam Warren in 1928, had introduced their ‘Lipstick Red’ nail polishes into the United States in 1930 as a Parisian fashion trend. Although Glazo did not make lipsticks their advertising described how women could match Glazo nail polishes with their preferred lipstick shade.

Flame, Geranium and Crimson—these are Glazo’s three new lipstick reds. With a light lipstick use Glazo Flame, Geranium with a medium. And with a dark lipstick, use Crimson.

(Glazo advertisement, 1930)

The idea was adopted by Revlon in 1939 when they began making lipsticks, and formed the basis of their ‘Matching Fingertips and Lips’ campaign in the 1940s. By the end of the 1930s the days of lipsticks in light, medium and dark were over. From then on lipsticks colours became increasingly subject to fashion and cosmetic companies were soon announcing new matching lipstick and nail polish colours each autumn and spring.

See also: Revlon

The rise in the intensity of colour, the increased colour ranges found in lipsticks in the 1930s and 1940s, and the move to match lipstick with nail polish, all required a greater reliance on the use of pigments. Even during the ‘lipstick wars’ of the 1950s, which saw a temporary resurgence in the use of dyes, the reliance on pigments continued. In the 1960s and 1970s, when the preference for pastel shades increased, pearlescent lipsticks became more common and, as make-up fashions moved towards a more ‘natural look’, lipsticks became creamier, had better moisturising capabilities and a softer feel. The trade-off was a reduction in durability.

The most common complaint about today’s lipsticks is that “they are thin and smeary and don’t wear well,” compared with those of two or three decades ago. The problem today is to find the proper balance between soft texture and the color durability.

(Anonis, 1974, p. 37)

Fortunately, current formulations have largely overcome many of these earlier problems, enabling lipsticks to have higher levels of pigment and enhanced durability without overly affecting adhesion and comfort. Formulations have even reached the point where manufacturers now consider the skin-care aspects of lipsticks more seriously. This takes us right back to the origins of this cosmetic when it was a simple, coloured lip-salve.


Lipsticks are made by incorporating colour into a suitable base made of solvents, spreading agents and stiffening ingredients, with a suitable fragrance and preservatives mixed in. Each part of the lipstick formulation – colour, base, and perfume – had problems that needed to be solved by the cosmetic chemists of the day.

Early twentieth century lipsticks were relatively simple mixtures of fats, oils and the pigment carmine.

No. 1516
Carmine, No. 40100
Soft paraffin—white550
No. 1517
Zinc oxide50
Almond oil50
Soft paraffin—white500

(Poucher, 1932, p. 471)

Things got more complicated in the 1920s when bromo acid dyes – which required the use of specialist solvents – were introduced. Initially, materials like stearic acid were employed but by the 1930s castor oil was almost universally preferred as the bromo acid solvent. Unfortunately, it was not readily compatible with other ingredients used in lipsticks and this required cosmetic chemists to introduce more complex lipstick formulations.

 per cent
Cocoa butter7.0
Cholesterin absorption base26.0
Castor oil, tasteless4.0
Benzoinated lard8.5
Bromo acid2.5
Butyl stearate5.0

(The Manufacturing Chemist, 1935, p. 388)

 per cent
Absorption base16.0
Castor oil22.0
Glyceryl monostearate20.0
Beeswax Yellow12.0
Diethylene Glycol Monostearate2.0
Bromo acid2.0
Isopropyl Palmitate10.0
Color Lakes10.0

(Keithler, 1955, p. 428)


A good quality lipstick should display a number of characteristics: a melting point that is high enough to ensure that it does not soften during the warmer summer months; strength to resist breaking under pressure when the lipstick is applied; plasticity so that it spreads easily and smoothly on the lips; a pleasant taste; smearing and feathering resistance; moisturising and softening properties to protect the lips; and lasting colour that will remain on the lips for a considerable period of time.


Lipsticks can be coloured with soluble dyes and/or insoluble pigments, the amounts of which will affect the indelibility of the lipstick.

Three distinct types of lipsticks are obtainable by the use of “bromo acid”. Types 1 and 2 are perfectly indelible.
The types are as follows:
Type 1. “Bromo acid” is the only coloring matter entering into the composition of the stick. The range of possible tints is, of course, rather small, being limited to the number of “bromo acids” of different tints, and mixtures of them, obtainable in the requisite degree of purity.
Type 2. In contrast with certain solvents, the orange to orange-red colour of “bromo acid” is changed to yellow to orange. The yellow to orange solutions, however, tint the skin pink. Hence, by the use of such solvents, lipsticks of the type commonly called “Tango” can be got, which change colour when applied to the lips.
Type 3. The “bromo acid” is used in conjunction with suitable colouring matters of the pigment type. These sticks are semi-indelible, since the pigment colour tends to come off. Nevertheless, lipsticks of this type enjoy immense popularity, owing perhaps, to the very large number of tints which can be made.

(Redgrove, 1935, pp. 123-124)


Above: Cosmetic chemist Paul Luffer developing new colour formulations (LIFE, 1947).

Dyes: Although early lipsticks contained natural dyes, from the 1920s onwards synthetic bromo acids were the dyes of choice. They were used alone to produce a ‘natural’ or changeable lipsticks – such as that made by Tangee – but in general one or more bromo acid dyes was combined with pigments and formulated so that the stain left on the lips would match the pigment colour visible in the lipstick as closely as possible. Given the limited range of colours in early lipsticks this was not much of a problem but as the number of lipstick shades increased it became more of an issue. The use of bromo acid dyes in lipsticks also meant that most lipsticks that used it were produced in variations of red: blue-red, orange-red or red-red.

Pigments: Most coloured pigments used in lipsticks are coal-tar dyes made into lake colours by precipitating the dye onto an insoluble base. In this form the dyes do not stain the lips, so they are easier to remove, but they are not as long lasting. As mentioned previously, early lipsticks came in a limited range of colours so a light coloured lipstick could be made with cosmetic scarlet lake, a medium coloured lipstick with cosmetic medium red lake, and a dark coloured lipstick with maroon lake.

Not all pigments used in lipsticks are insoluble dyes. Inorganic white pigments like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide were used to brighten reds or to produce pink colours, and iron oxide pigments were added for special effects. After the Second World War, when pearlescent lipsticks became popular, fish scales, mica coated titanium dioxide, bismuth oxychloride (‘synthetic pearl’) and other pearlescent pigments were also included. All these pigments needed to be ground very finely so that they did not produce a gritty feeling when applied to the lips.

See also: Pearl Essence

As many of the colours used in lipstick and other forms of make-up were also used in food, their safety came under increasing scrutiny during the twentieth century. Lipsticks are ‘eaten’ so it is important that the ingredients used in them are not toxic or irritating. In the United States for example, certified lists of colours that could be used in cosmetics (D&C or F,D&C) were published by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and as colours were added to or deleted from this list cosmetic manufacturers made adjustments to their colour recipes.

Lipstick color. Pink.Parts
D&C Orange No. 52.0
Color (Not lakes)
D&C Red No. 196.0
D&C Red No. 372.8
D&C Red No. 131.0
D&C Yellow No. 110.2
Lipstick color. Dark Red.Parts
D&C Red No. 211.0
D&C Red No. 241.0
Color Lakes
D&C Red No. 222.0
D&C Red No. 34 Ca Lake4.0
D&C Red No. 12 Ba Lake3.3
D&C Orange No. 3 Ba Lake0.5
D&C Yellow No. 5 Ba Lake0.2

(Keithler, 1955, p. 429)


As well as being the medium that delivers colour to the lips, the base also supplies the lipstick with its structure. It must be strong enough to resist crumbling or breaking, but soften when used so that the lipstick can slide easily over the lips and apply colour to them. Both of these characteristics are affected by temperature.

The temperature at which a lipstick softens depends primarily on the amount, type and combination of waxes used in the base. Waxes with a higher melting point give the lipstick greater strength, while those with a lower melting point allow it to soften when it is applied; so a combination of waxes must be used. Fats and oils in the base also affect these qualities as they give a certain degree of plasticity to the lipstick which reduces the possibility of it cracking or crumbling, while providing the lipstick with important emollient (creamy) characteristics.

Over the years a wide variety of substances have been use in formulating lipstick bases including beeswax, candelilla wax, carnauba wax, castor oil, lanolin and lanolin absorption bases, ozokerite, ceresin, cocoa butter, lard, cetyl alcohol, petroleum jelly and liquid paraffin. However, although formulations became increasingly sophisticated, the fundamentals did not change dramatically until silicone derivatives came into widespread use.


Lip cosmetics differ from other forms of make-up in that they are tasted as well as smelled, so both fragrance and taste need to be considered when selecting a suitable perfume. Also, many of the ingredients contained in lipsticks, such as lanolin, beeswax, bromo acids and castor oil, do not have a pleasant taste and needed disguising. The need to mask these ingredients required lipsticks to use higher levels of perfume than other forms of make-up, with amounts of up to 3% still being recommended in the 1950s (Vasic, 1958), although most authors suggested that 1-2% was sufficient. As with eye cosmetics, not all aromatics were suitable for use, as many irritated the sensitive lip tissue or themselves had a disagreeable taste.

One solution to the problem of palatability was to include flavours and sweeteners in lipsticks.

A light perfume with a sweet, fruity, subdued flavour is the type normally required for lipsticks. Floral types such as rose, jasmin, orange blossom, and violet are also popular. Lilac, lily-of-the-valley, cyclamen and mimosa are less popular. Hyacinth, narcissus and tuberose are unsuitable. Perfumes of a light, spicy character are also in demand. But the fruity and spicy note must not be overdone and the delicate perfume-flavour balance must be maintained.

(Vasic, 1958, p. 431)

Some lipstick manufacturers discarded any idea of a ‘delicate perfume-flavour balance’ and produced a flavoured lipstick, the first that I know of being the fruit lipsticks in raspberry, strawberry, pineapple, orange, lemon and lime flavours produced by Rose Laird in 1941. Other flavoured lip cosmetics included: Harriet Hubbard Ayer’s Ayerfast (1951), indelible lipsticks in Mint Rose and Clove Carnation flavours; Forbidden Fruits by Cutex (1964), a line of strongly-flavoured lipsticks originally released in caramel, orange, cherry and peppermint; and Bonne Bell’s Lip-Smackers (1973).

Manufacturing lipsticks

For much of the twentieth century the basic procedure for making lipsticks was relatively simple. The ingredients were thoroughly mixed together in a heated liquid state, then poured into moulds to form the lipsticks which, after being cooled, were removed from the moulds, fitted into cases and packaged for sale. Like other cosmetics, the production of lipsticks started out as a cottage industry with most of the work being done by hand. However, as the demand for lipstick increased and batches got larger, the methods used evolved and became increasingly mechanised and systematised.

When making a lipstick from a suitable formula, manufacturers had to make sure that the colours were uniformly dispersed through the lipstick – so streaks and graininess were eliminated – and that the moulded sticks had a smooth, finished appearance. Looking at the manufacturing process as a whole we can divide it into four main steps: colour blending; melting and mixing the ingredients; moulding the lipsticks; and packaging.


Left: Wetting and mixing pigments. Centre: Running the mixed colours through an ointment mill. Right: Final blending of all the lipstick ingredients (deNavarre, 1975).

Colour blending: For much of the twentieth century both dyes and pigments were used. The pigments were measured out, sifted and mixed with enough oil to enable them to be made into a paste. Unfortunately, no matter how finely ground the pigment particles were, they tended to clump together in the mix giving it a grainy appearance. Manufacturers making lipsticks largely by hand could remove the lumps by passing the mixture through a fine sieve several times until it was smooth, but a better solution was to run the pigment mixture repeatedly through a paint or ointment mill until an even texture was achieved. If a dye like bromo acid was used in the lipstick it would normally dissolved in a suitable solvent – in a separate heated container – before being added to the rest of the mixture. Lipsticks made with dyes as the only colourant would not have required the use an ointment mill.

Mixing the ingredients: The main ingredients making up the lipstick base were heated in separate metal containers made from stainless steel or enamel. Some manufactures heated the fats and alcohols in one container and the waxes in another, while others heated all three sets of ingredients separately. Temperature consistency was achieved by having the vessels water-heated. Once the correct temperature was reached, the colour was added to the oils and alcohol, and slowly mixed until it was evenly incorporated. Slow mechanical stirring of the mixture also helped to remove any small air bubbles present in the mixture so that they did not get moulded into the finished lipsticks. To help in the removal of these air bubbles later manufacturers began to enclose the mixing vessel so that they could generate a partial vacuum to help draw the air bubbles out.


Above: Mixing lipsticks in a Tangee factory (LIFE, 1947).

After several hours of slow mixing the pigmented mass was then combined with the hot wax and further mixed until uniform. Manufacturers might then pass the mixture through an ointment mill to ensure that all the ingredients were uniformly dispersed.

Best products result from milling the finished salve through an ointment mill, and then gently remelting to fill out the moulds. Where this is not possible the colours should be ground thoroughly to a cream with part of the oils in a mortar, and passed through fine muslin, several times if necessary until perfectly smooth; then add the desired perfumed oil to the colour in a nicely warmed mortar, and follow with the strained wax and oil mixture, gradually, at a gentle temperature, just high enough for subsequently running into the moulds.

(P&EOR, 1927, p. 422)

The last ingredients to be added to the mix were generally the preservatives and perfumes. To reduce the possibility of the volatile perfume evaporating, the mixture was allowed to cool slightly before the perfume was added.

Moulding the lipsticks: When the completed lipstick mass was ready, it was poured into moulds made to fit the size and shape of the lipstick specified by the manufacturer. The pouring temperature had to be carefully controlled to avoid the colourant separating or having moulding blemishes, air bubbles and other artifacts being introduced into the finished sticks.

Moulding lipsticks

Above: Hand moulding lipsticks (deNavarre, 1975).

The lipsticks contracted on cooling in the moulds and were removed after an hour or so. This time was dramatically reduced by refrigerating the mould, a practice that became a standard procedure in larger manufacturing concerns. Chilling the sticks also had the added benefit of reducing the tendency of the lipstick to sweat or bloom while cooling.


Above: Filling lipstick moulds (LIFE, 1947).


Above: Removing lipsticks from moulds (LIFE, 1947).

Once removed from the moulds the sticks were placed in their casings and then checked for moulding ridges and air bubbles. If these were found they could be smoothed out by passing the lipstick briefly through a low-intensity spirit or gas burner flame and then smoothing the surface with the fingers or a spatula.

Lancome lipstick moulding

Above: Lipstick moulding and assembling at Lancôme, Paris. Note the heated metal containers used to fill the moulds and the small spirit lamps needed to flame the finished lipsticks if they showed blemishes (deNavarre, 1975).

The process of making lipstick in this manner was very labour intensive. From the 1970s onwards, automatic moulding machines began to be used which enabled manufacturers to deliver higher volumes of lipsticks without increasing labour costs. Manufacturers also began to experiment with moulds made of silicone or high temperature plastics and these have now replaced the traditional metal moulds in many situations.

1947 Tangee checking finished lipsticks

Above: Checking finished lipsticks and adding their tops (LIFE, 1947).

Using lipstick

Applying lipstick has changed over the years. There are suggestions that early on many women smoothed lipstick over their mouth with their finger which would mean that the widespread practice of applying it directly across the lips was a later development. Movie make-up artists generally used a brush to apply lipstick and this practice was also adopted by the general public when companies like Max Factor and Revlon promoted it and made lip brushes generally available.

Fashions in mouth shapes have also come and gone over the years and lipstick has played its part these changes, as the move from the small cupid’s bow lips of the 1920s to the wide hunter’s bow shape of the 1930s clearly demonstrates. Although fashion changes in mouth shape have not completely disappeared they are less important today, with make-up artists being more concerned with correcting perceived deficiencies in the shape of the lips than anything else. Lipstick can make lips appear larger, look thicker, lift corners and correct unevenness; issues that have been of concern to women for some time.

The use of a lipstick requires no small amount of skill if a natural and becoming effect is to be obtained. The treatment of a small, medium and large mouth differs. In the former case the colour may be applied right up to the end of the lips. In the others it must never reach the corners. Start in the centre of “cupid’s bow,” and bring the lipstick in an outward direction. Leave a very fine dividing line in the centre of the “bow.” The lesser amount of colour should be given to the prominent lip if the two are not perfectly balanced.

(Poucher, 1926, p. 53)

Most women today use lipstick straight from the stick but before the Second World War it was relatively common for women to apply the lipstick with their fingers using a three-dot technique. The idea probably came from theatre/movie make-up techniques and may have been very useful when using lipsticks that were more likely to break than those available today.

Straight mouth makeup

Above: Straight mouth make-up (Ward, 1937).

This piece of beauty advice from the 1930s follows this idea but only uses the fingers:

Take the lipstick and apply a very little colour to the tip of the first finger, and then transfer this to the lips. It should be put on in three dots. One at each side of the “cupid’s bow” on the upper lip and one immediately below and in the centre of the lower lip. Thus you have three circles of colour. Then while the mouth is stretched, run the finger along just inside the lips, smoothing out the colour to the desired shape. There should be a little colour just inside the mouth as well as actually upon that part of the lips which can normally be seen.

(Sloane, 1933, p. 12)

Using a brush to apply lipstick to the lips instead of directly with the stick was also taken from make-up practices used in the movie industry.

Updated: 15th January 2018


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