Kiss Off: The Historical Pursuit of the Perfect Pout


The struggle for the perfect lipstick is real, but it is certainly not new. We make up hounds have been in pursuit of our perfect lip color for centuries. Today the hunt takes form in dozens of swatches of color on the back of your hand and arm, but in those dark pre-Sephora days it was a completely different game.


Crushed bugs were used by both ancient Egyptians and Elizabethan ladies as a way to add color to lips. In addition to the bugs, the ever resourceful Egyptians used red clay, rust, seaweed, henna, and bromine mannite (which is poisonous, btw) on their lips. In 17th century Japan, geisha used mashed safflower petals. Next time my favorite lipstick is sold out, I need to remember that things could be a lot worse.


In Medieval times coloring one’s lips was akin to sprouting devil horns, so crafty women of the time used lemons to naturally add reddish color their lips. Lipstick Queen named one of their signature colors “Medieval” as a nod to this practice. England’s Queen Elizabeth I was a lipstick fanatic, and was not afraid to slap on tons of lip rouge. She believed it had life saving properties and could ward off death (as do I), but unfortunately for Liz her lipstick had a shit ton of toxic white lead in it and that probably didn’t do her any favors, health-wise. After her death, the bold lip Elizabeth favored went out of style and most people (lip rouge wasn’t just for women, men got into the game too) toned their lip games down a notch.


The early 1900s brought the first tube style lipstick we’re still familiar with today, and we brazen lipped hussies rejoiced, a rainbow of possibilities at our fingertips! Although bold, red lips might be the most iconic (and long-lasting) lipstick trend, this new twist-up lipstick made it possible for everyone to take their glam game on the go. We’ve come a long way from crushed up bugs and poison, kids.



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