The History Of Red Lipstick: From Nefertiti And The Beauties Of The Homer Era Up To Our Days

Date December 10, 2017

Red lipstick is a classic type of makeup which is feminine and attractive at the same time. It's like a little black dress, a string of pearls or a pair of court shoes: eternal classics that never go out of style.


Lipstick is an armour to the world. My mum had a thing when we were growing up, if she'd had a bad day or if something had gone wrong, she'd put her red lipstick on. I still abide by that. - Keira Knightley

But it hasn't always been that way. Throughout its history, the scarlet color on lips has endured ups and downs, admiration of crowds and unanimous rejection. In fact, the culture of makeup originated from the civilization of Ancient Egypt.


The ancient beauties of Ta-kemet (self-name of the Egyptian kingdom) used a lipstick of vinous shades, which was made from red ocher, iron oxides and cinnabar. The last option, however, was fatal, since cinnabar is a raw material for obtaining mercury. Queen Nefertiti preferred lipstick with natural mother-of-pearl obtained from the crushed shells of shellfish.

The beauties of Homer's era

Red lipstick existed in ancient times, as well. This can be proved by the so-called ''Fayum mummy portraits''. They were funerary portraits, some of the rare pictural evidence of those times (ancient culture reaches us mostly in the form of sculptures). However, in Ancient Greece, only courtesans used red color for their lips. And in Rome, both men and women used red lipstick.

The Middle Ages

Controversial times, controversial values and an ambiguous attitude towards red lipstick. During the years of the Inquisition in England, there was an official law, according to which, a woman who had her lips painted was a witch who was wearing ''the mark of the devil''. But, as a matter of fact, it wasn't something new, as a woman with a noticeable birthmark, or a simply beautiful or even a very chatty girl, could be considered a witch.

However, Elizabeth I resisted inquisitorial rules and introduced a fashion of bright red-raspberry colored lipstick. She painted her lips with a mixture of fig juice, egg whites, and ground cochineal red kernels. This 'trend' eagerly filled the shops of English society and for 100 years English beauties painted their lips red to the angry displeasure of the Anglican church. Superstitions about red lips lived up to the age of Enlightenment and sometimes girls were seriously punished for their love of lipstick.

True love does not wither

By the way, the origin of the word 'lipstick' is related to Cardinal Richelieu. According to historians, the cardinal was so fond of apples that the court pharmacist prepared a lip balsam with apple scent for him (in French, “pomme” means apple). But due to the general debauchery of the court, red lipstick gained notoriety as a sign of not so innocent women!

A true rebirth of red lipstick came at the end of the 19th century when Pierre Guerlain, the founder of the house of Guerlain, created a few lipsticks with a red pigment. And in 1870, this brand released a novelty - lipstick in a twisting case.

New times, new lipstick

Throughout the 20th century, red lipstick became a feminine flag. It was actively used by the so-called suffragettes who fought for women's rights. In this very feminine way, they expressed their protest against gender inequality. The image of the femme fatale of the 'roaring twenties' greatly emphasized the lips and the eyes. At that time, red lipstick was dark, almost vinous.

In the forties, when the whole world was burning in the flames of World War II, women still wanted to remain women. Despite the difficulties and adversities, they remained fragile, elegant and beautiful. When all the nylon was sent to the battle-front, girls drew stocking stitches on their legs with black pencil and painted their lips coral-red. Beauty was now being supported by world brands like Max Factor and Elizabeth Arden and thus raised the fighting spirits of the soldiers.

One can't imagine the fifties without red lipstick. Every woman wore it paying tribute to the cult of femininity. The most popular shapes for lips were:

  • rosebud”;
  • Cupid's bow”;
  • bee sting”.

Neither before, nor after, has history witnessed such a sensation as red lips. In 1952, for the wedding ceremony of Elizabeth II, cosmetics brand Clarins specially released a red lipstick with blue notes, called “The Balmoral Lipstick”.


In the 90s, red lips came back into fashion, but this time as an undeniable classic. And they have been considered as such up until now. Many stars can't imagine their images without this color of lipstick. Fans include Renata Litvinova, Dita Von Teese, Monica Bellucci and Olga Drozdova. Scarlett Johansson confesses that this is her favorite way to attract men. Red lipstick can't be resisted. It can be feared, incorrectly chosen, it can make you shy, but still, it always makes you hope for a long and happy romance.