Did You Know That Red Lips Were Once A Sign Of Witchcraft? Here’s The Surprising History Of Red Lipstick

Red lips are a classic beauty trend. But how did it become so iconic? It turns out that red lipstick is much older than you thought, dating back to the earliest days of civilization. Also, red lips have meant many different things over the years, some of them shocking.

Here’s the fascinating history of red lipstick:

3000 – 30 BC

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It is thought that Ancient Mesopotamian men and women were the first to invent lipstick. Evidence states that they used crushed gemstones to color their lips. Also, the Indus Valley Civilization of South Asia liked to use red dye on their lips. It isn’t known if one culture influenced the other with their red lipstick trends, but it seems likely.

The Egyptian pharaoh Cleopatra was the first historical figure to use red lipstick. She used crushed ants, carmine, and beeswax for a red pout. However, this use of lipstick had nothing to do with femininity. In Ancient Egypt, lipstick was a sign of social status, worn by men and women. Egyptians other than Cleopatra made red lipstick from a combination of fucus algin, iodine and bromine mannite. However, this is a toxic combination, and it meant that most who used this lipstick suffered terrible illnesses.

The influence of Egypt’s use of lipstick spread throughout Europe. Both the Greek and Roman empires used lipstick, most notably for actors.

One civilization that started using lipstick without any influence from other civilizations was the Aboriginals of Australia. Aboriginal girls often painted their mouths red with a clay called ochre as a sign of reaching puberty.

Dark Ages-1500s

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Red lipstick died out for a number of reasons. Most notably, lipstick was condemned as satanic by the most prominent force in Europe, the Catholic Church. Still, red lipstick was sometimes used in Europe, but it had a bad reputation, as people considered it only fit for lower-class women,

Red lipstick had a revival in 16th century England. Queen Elizabeth I wore it and paired red lips with a pale face. The English red lipstick of the time was made with beeswax and red plants. Much like in Egyptian times, red lipstick became a status symbol, worn only by those in high society. However, actors did also continue to use it.  After Queen Elizabeth I’s death, red lipstick became unpopular in England again.

1770 -1880

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British parliament deemed that red lips were a type of witchery. They even passed a law stating that women who wore makeup were witches luring men into marriage. Similarly in America, (which was still a British colony at the time) the government decreed that a man could annul his marriage if a woman wore lipstick during their courtship, as this was interpreted as trickery.

This negative perception of red lipstick stuck, and up until the late 19th century using red lipstick was discouraged.


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French actress Sarah Bernhardt started the re-emergence of red lipstick and cosmetics in general. She began wearing lipstick and other make-up off the stage. It was controversial at the time, but it had an effect. Sears started offering red lipstick for the first time in the 1890s.

Early 1900s

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Red lipstick really started to take off in the beginning of the 20th century. American women who kept up with fashion trends all started applying it. However, there were still a range of articles published that urged women to use it sparingly.

In 1915, Maurice Levy invented the first metal lipstick tube. Before that, lipstick was wrapped in silk paper. Pretty quickly, beauty companies like Chanel and Estée Lauder began selling lipstick.

By the 1920s, red lipstick was more acceptable in American society than ever before. Flapper women wore dark red lipstick as a symbol of independence. Some strange restrictions remained. For example, it was acceptable to publicly apply lipstick at lunch but never dinner.


At the start of the 1940s, all lipstick, including red lipstick, was scarce due to wartime shortages.

However, by the end of the decade, red lipstick was seen in workplaces across the United States, due to women entering the workforce. Also, Hazel Bishop invented long lasting lipstick, which would allow women to get through the workday with their lipstick intact.


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By the ‘50s, every silver screen actress donned red lips. This had a huge effect on the American public. A survey from 1951 showed that over 2/3s of female teenagers in the US wore lipstick.

1960s and ‘70s

The ‘60s and ‘70s was not a big era for red lipstick. These decades saw more nude shades with the mod era and darker colors during the punk movement.

1980s and ‘90s

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Red made a comeback in the ‘80s and ‘90s with Madonna. To this day, red remains a classic lip color. However, there are more shades of lipstick available than ever before.

Despite this competition, it’s hard to imagine red lipstick disappearing. As the last 5000 years have shown, it’s got staying power.

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