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July 12,1999
Volume 77, Number 28
CENEAR 77 28 p.31
ISSN 0009-2347


Rita Johnson

I have some early memories of imitating my mother applying makeup. I would sit in front of the mirror and powder my face with loose powder using a big hamburger-like powder puff, smear my mother's ruby-red lipstick on my lips, and pucker up like the movie and television stars I'd seen. I also recall the days when I was about 11 or 12 and my friends and I--not having arrived at the age where we were allowed to wear lipstick--would sneak a tube of lipstick to school, put it on, and then wipe it off before we got home. Nowadays, I know women who say they feel naked without lipstick.

Lipstick in some shape or form has been around for a long time and has always been a part of the fashion statement. History tells us that ancient Egyptians used henna to paint their lips. According to Meg Cohen Ragas and Karen Kozlowski in their book, "Read My Lips: A Cultural History of Lipstick," a reddish purple mercuric plant dye called fucus--algin, 0.01% iodine, and some bromine mannite--was used for lip rouge. Little did the ancient Egyptians know that it was potentially poisonous--talk about the kiss of death!

Although no self-respecting Egyptian would leave home without it, makeup has not always held an accepted place in society. In fact, it has traveled a bumpy road to acceptance.

According to Ragas and Kozlowski, Thomas Hall, an English pastor and author of the "Loathsomeness of Long Haire" (1653), led a movement declaring that face painting was "the devil's work" and that women who put brush to mouth were trying to "ensnare others and to kindle a fire and flame of lust in the hearts of those who cast their eyes upon them." In 1770, the British Parliament passed a law condemning lipstick, stating that "women found guilty of seducing men into matrimony by a cosmetic means could be tried for witchcraft."

Jessica Pallingston points out in her book, "Lipstick," that in the 1800s, Queen Victoria publicly declared makeup impolite. It was viewed as vulgar and something that was worn by actors and prostitutes. Makeup took a backseat, and paleness became vogue for almost a century.

Putting on a happy face during World War II, aided by the movie industry, gave lipstick and face powder respectability. It became the patriotic duty of female citizens to "put their face on." In the 1930s, leaders in the industry such as Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden opened their first beauty parlors, offering services that ranged from facial massages to hair dressing to makeup tips.

Lipstick contains a variety of waxes, oils, pigments, and emollients. The wax gives lipstick its shape and ease of application. Among the waxes are beeswax, a substance obtained from bee honeycombs that consists of esters of straight-chain monohydric alcohols with even-numbered carbon chains from C24 to C36 and straight-chain acids also having even numbers of carbon atoms up to C36. Other waxes include carnauba wax, which is an exudate from the pores of leaves of Brazilian wax palm trees, and candelilla wax, which is obtained from the candelilla plant and is produced in Mexico by immersing the plants in boiling water containing sulfuric acid and skimming off the wax that rises to the surface.

The oils and fats used in lipstick include olive oil, mineral oil, castor oil, cocoa butter, lanolin, and petrolatum. More than 50% of lipsticks manufactured in the U.S. contain substantial amounts of castor oil. It forms a tough, shiny film when it dries after application. However, ingestion of large amounts of castor oil may cause frequent rest-room visits.

In recent years, ingredients such as moisturizers, vitamin E, aloe vera, collagen, amino acids, and sunscreen have been added to lipstick. The extra components keep lips soft, moist, and protected from the elements.

Lipstick gets its color from a variety of added pigments. Among them are bromo acid, D&C Red No. 21, and related dyes. Other common lipstick dyes are D&C Red No. 27 and insoluble dyes known as lakes, such as D&C Red No. 34, Calcium lake, and D&C Orange No. 17. Pink shades are made by mixing titanium dioxide with various shades of red.

Making lipstick is similar to making crayons--a lot of heating and mixing and stirring goes on. Simply put, the mixture is finely ground, and the waxes are added for texture and to maintain stiffness. Oils and lanolin are added for specific formula requirements. The hot liquid is then poured into cold metal molds where it solidifies and is further chilled. The formed lipstick is put through a flame for about half a second to create a smooth and glossy finish and to remove imperfections.

From the oven to the store comes a variety of lipsticks: frosted, mattes, sheers, stains, and long-lasting color. Frosted lipsticks include a pearlizing agent--often a bismuth compound--that adds luster to the color. Bismuth oxychloride, which is synthetic pearl, imparts a frost or shine. Bismuth subcarbonate is used as a skin protective. Most bismuth compounds used in cosmetics have low toxicity when ingested, but they may cause allergic reactions when applied to skin.

Matte lipsticks are heavy in wax and pigment but lighter in emollients. They have more texture than shine. Cremes are a balance of shine and texture. Glosses have a high shine and low color. Sheers and stains contain a lot of oil and a medium amount of wax with a tad of color. Shimmers have extra glimmer, which comes from mica or silica particles. Long-lasting color lipsticks contain silicone oil, which seals the color to your lips. Lip gloss usually comes in jars and contains different proportions of the same ingredients as lipstick but usually has less wax and more oil to make the lips shinier.

In Connie Francis' 1959 song, "Lipstick on Your Collar," lipstick was the giveaway that her boyfriend had been untrue. According to a 1996 survey by Shisedo Cosmetics, Tokyo, 87% of American women admit to having left traces of lipstick in unwanted places.

Until recently, I never thought of reading the label on a tube of lipstick. Now that I have, I'm a convert. I'm going to read every lipstick label before I purchase it and with a greater appreciation for that color in a tube.

Chemical & Engineering News
Copyright © 1999 American Chemical Society