<span>Actress Elizabeth Taylor (1932 - 2011) touched up her lipstick during a stay in London, November 1948.</span>

Lipstick through the ages

by Kathy Saunders -

Lipstick is one of the oldest beauty tricks in the book. From ancient Mesopotamian women, thought to be among the first to have used lipstick, to Cleopatra of Egypt to Elizabeth Taylor to the Spice Girls, colourful lips have been used to convey power, sexuality, independence and femininity throughout the ages.

Organic beginnings

More than two and a half millennia ago, Mesopotamian women crushed gemstones and applied them to their lips to add colour. The Egyptians were also partial to enhancing their natural lip colour. They often used a toxic compound that resulted in a lot of women falling ill.

Cleopatra herself never succumbed to any such cosmetic health crises. She ordered her own lipstick to be made by crushing cochineal insects for a bright red colour and used ants as a base.

Satanic associations

Solid lipsticks were invented sometime around AD 500 in the Middle East and from then on, lipstick was to become one of the most important and controversial cosmetic items in history.

Aside from ancient queens, lipstick was widely associated with prostitution and loose morals. In Mediaeval Europe, lipstick was even banned by the church as it was widely believed to be an incarnation of the devil.

Royal beauty inspiration

In Britain, lipstick became popular in the 1500s during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Whatever the Queen wore on one day, the nation's women would imitate the next, hence pale complexions and red lips were all the rage.

Lipstick soon became associated with upper class women and male actors as the theatre became an increasingly popular form of entertainment.

Victorian morality

By the late 1800s, Victorian morality had taken over and lipstick was considered brazen, unladylike and still something that was 'reserved' for prostitutes.

By the 1850s, people were becoming aware of the dangers of applying lead-based products and by the turn of the century, French cosmetics companies were producing lipsticks made from beeswax and castor oil.

Before then, women (especially in Europe) had made their own lipstick at home with their own recipes...which lead to lead-poisoned disaster.

A new era

The 1920s hailed a new era for style, beauty and the use of cosmetics. For the first time in the UK, lipstick became widely accepted and was no longer used in a clandestine manner. In the US, a similar revolution happened in 1912.

Over the course of the decade, wearing lipstick became increasingly easier as the first swivel tube was invented in the US in 1923. During the 1920s, flappers wore lipstick to symbolise their freedom.

During the 1930s, lipstick became a symbol of adult sexuality and later became popularized internationally by actresses such as Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. Interestingly enough, Elizabeth Taylor played Cleopatra in the iconic biopic of the Egyptian ruler.

A colourful end to the millenium

Skip forward to the 1960s and lipstick has become a symbol of femininity. The range of colours available had exploded by this point, meaning that everything from red to pink to nude to black was available to buy.

When the punk movement took the UK by storm in the late 1970s, it brought it's own dress code with it... including black lipstick (replaced once more by lighter red and pink shades in the 1980s). Before this happened, black lipstick only appeared in horror movies.

In the 1990s, black lipstick became popular again, thanks to people like Marilyn Manson. However, at the same time, brown and pearl shades became firm favourites, as did lipgloss.

A long journey

Today, lipstick is bigger, brighter and bolder than ever. It comes in all colours imaginable and won't give you lead poisoning. It's taken over 2,000 years but finally people everywhere can wear whatever lipstick they want, whenever they want, no insect-crushing necessary!

The next time you reach for your lipstick, think about just how far it's come and remember, even Cleopatra's lippy wasn't as good as this!

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