Lipstick Secrets Are the Best Secrets

Lipstick just might have the most complex history of any item of makeup. It's been revolutionized, banned, weaponized, and more, and we've pulled together the most surprising lipstick facts from its long history—get ready to impress just about anyone.

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1. Yes, Cleopatra Wore Lipstick… Sort Of

Cleopatra, doing whatever it takes to look good.
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Without access to a nearby Sephora, ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians improvised with natural elements. While the Mesopotamians used ground-up gems and jewels to enhance their lips, Cleopatra was rumored to wear a red shade sourced from beetles. Sometimes beauty is pain. Other times, beauty is just kind of gross.

2. The First U.S. President Also Wore Lipstick

A Rembrandt Peale oil painting of George Washington circa 1754. Photograph courtesy of Getty Images
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Rumor has it that George Washington used a bit of rouge on his lips and cheeks during portrait sittings. He probably wore it to appear livelier on canvas, rather than just thinking it was a good look (although if you did, Mr. President, we're not here to judge!). 

3. Old Hollywood Substituted Red for Black

Popular silent film star Julia Faye circa 1927. Photograph courtesy of Getty Images

In the early twentieth century, black-and-white films began to use lighting and makeup techniques that allowed the actors and actresses to be seen more clearly on screen. One of the tricks, invented by Max Factor, was to use black lipstick to enhance starlets' lips—viewers likely assumed that it was red—and with the darker hue, lips were much better defined.

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4. The Lipstick Tube Didn't Always Twist 

In 1915 Maurice Levy created a tube with an internal lever that pushed lipstick up and down—it was aptly christened the "Levy Tube." But we have Nashville resident James Bruce Mason Jr., to thank for the fact that we now twist up our lipstick for application. Mason patented the swivel design in October 1923 for the use of "improvements in toilet articles," which he described as, "devices for holding articles such as lipsticks which are worn."

5. One Lipstick Took Its Name a Bit Too Literally

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In the 2001 book Beauty: The New Basics famed beauty editor Rona Berg wrote about a lipstick called Rouge Baiser that was taken off shelves due to one fatal flaw: it just wouldn't come off!

6. 1950 Saw the Introduction of a Few Key Ingredients

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A (very cute)  '50s commercial for Hazel Bishop Inc.'s Lasting Lipstick. Watch the video and see how long it takes the saleswoman to convince you!

In 1950, American chemist Hazel Bishop started selling a product called Lasting Lipstick. It was made with bromo acid dyes that helped color adhere to the lips, and later, included lanolin to combat dryness.

7. There Was Once a Shoe With a Lipstick Compartment  

The lipstick shoes showcased at the Dolcis Shoe Company in February 1955 on Bond Street in London. Photograph courtesy of Getty Images

Also in the 1950s (a big decade for cosmetic innovations), the trendy spectator sports shoe [Ed note: spectators are essentially low-heeled oxfords with two contrasting colors] received a design tweak that made toting around lipstick much easier. The Dolcis Shoe Company promoted a style with a slot for storing a lipstick tube at the base of the tassel.

8. Lipstick Was Once a Weapon of Sorts 

The lipstick weapon of choice. Photograph courtesy of the International Spy Museum
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Just when we thought that lipstick wasn't dangerous, the former Soviet Union convinced people otherwise. In the mid-sixties, KGB spies used a "lipstick pistol," which was a 4.5mm pistol disguised as a lipstick tube. The tiny weapon only held one bullet and was used for close-range attacks. One of them is on display at the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C.

9. The Most Expensive Lipstick Cost As Much As an Audi

You could get this pricey lipstick tube engraved with your initials.

$62,000! In November 2007, French cosmetics brand Guerlain released the KissKiss Gold and Diamonds lipstick collection, which was exclusively sold at Bergdorf Goodman's (by appointment only, naturally). The tube was adorned with 18-karat gold and 199 diamonds, with a few rubies and emeralds thrown in for good measure.

10. An Airline Banned Red Lipstick 

Hot tip: Do not attempt to apply lipstick when there is turbulence. Photograph courtesy of Getty Images

Back in 2013, Turkish Airlines prohibited flight attendants from wearing nail polish and lipstick in shades of red or dark pink. Its reasoning was that those colors interrupted the communication between hostesses and passengers. About a week later, the airline lifted the ban.

11. Rihanna Sells Out

Rihanna at the MAC Cosmetics Launch of her collection in New York City, 2014. Photograph courtesy of Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

MAC Cosmetics and singer Rihanna collaborated on a lipstick that reimagined their classic bright red matte finish Ruby Woo shade as "RiRi Woo." When it went on sale, the lipstick sold out in three minutes, setting the standard for her future MAC products, which have been similarly popular. 

You can find the same shade, entitled Ruby Woo, for $17 on maccosmetics.com.
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