History of Lipstick

I was recently doing some online research and stumbled across this interesting Harvard University paper on the History of Lipstick in the West by Sarah Schaffer 2006.

Here is the opening line from the paper: “This paper traces the history of lipstick’s social and legal regulation in Western seats of power, from Ur circa 3,500 B.C. to the present-day United States.” That certainly covers a lot of ground! It’s a long article and over half of the paper is the research reference guide.

I’ll hit a couple of the highlights, direct quotes from the paper are italicized:

Lipsick has played an important role in cultural expression: Flappers took a page from earlier women’s rights advocates, and wore scarlet lipstick “in a deliberate and, it seems, successful attempt to shock their elders.” Further into the paper, the 1970’s had noteworthy lipstick cultural expression, with different groups emerging: Looking at lipstick from a social perspective, people spent the 1970s busily rebelling both with and against lipstick. As it had so often before, lipstick became a symbol of social rebellion, adopted by both sexes of the punk-rock music and cultural movement to express sex, violence, and general nonconformity. On the polar opposite hand, however, feminists rebelled by not wearing lipstick. This era also saw the emergence of the “New Age Movement” which ushered in a cultural revolution that continues and has grown in momentum today. Lipstick producers responses to New Age movement demands included: plant extracts showing up in lipstick ingredients, formulas named and flavored like natural products, and advertising emphasis on lipsticks’ medicinal attributes.

The history of regulation of drugs and cosmetics has its share of scandal (from the notes) in the 1930’s: “When ninety people died from the solvent diethylene glycol in the drug Elixir Sulfanilamide-Massengill, which its manufacturer had tested for flavor but not effect, public pressure ensured that the House finally agreed to pass the new food, drug, and cosmetic safety regulation. That more people did not die from this elixir of sulfanilamide was due to FDA officials creatively realizing that, even though they lacked authority to seize the drug for deadliness, they could seize the drug on the misbranding technicality of calling itself an “elixir” without actually containing any alcohol, as required by the United States Pharmacopoeia’s definition of elixirs.” This particular scandal helped passage of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in the 1930’s.

This paper includes a detailed synopsis of the evolution of FDA authority and regulations in regards to labeling, dye delistings and industry input from the CTFA. I won’t bore you with a review of this part, those of you interested in this subject will find the paper quite an interesting read.

There are a few technical inaccuracies; another quote from the paper: Given that the average woman now eats one to three tubes of lipstick per year, or four to nine pounds of lipstick over the course of her lifetime this safety regulation seems wise. See my blog post entry just prior to this one for another opinion.

Thanks for reading!


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