8 Major Moments in Makeup History—From Lipstick to Lip Smackers

As a 21st-century woman, I often take for granted how easy it is to apply makeup, the natural ingredients available, and the range of foundation shades. When you look back on the history of makeup, we've come quite a long way. Both in terms of the makeup itself and the attitudes surrounding it.

From lipstick bullets and "blush-on" glow to forging equality in makeup for any person who'd like to wear it, these are a few of the most important moments in makeup history.

The Lipstick Bullet

first lipstick - history of makeup

Before the 20th century, lipstick was deemed "impolite" and had a certain taboo attached to it. However, thanks to suffragettes like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who wore it to signify independence in 1912, lipstick became an accessory to confidence and empowerment. Soon after, it became clear that there needed to be a better way to produce and apply it.

In 1915, the first metal lipstick case was crafted by Maurice Levy to resemble a bullet (after Guerlain first created the stick form of lipstick in 1912). This directly impacted the application process of lipstick. Now, instead of applying lipstick with a brush from a pot, women could apply it directly from the tube. It didn't have the glamorous swivel we have today, but it transformed the process from a more difficult, messy one. Then, in 1922, the Scovil Manufacturing Company began mass-producing lipstick bullets.


revlon blush - history of makeup
Vintage Ad Browser

Soft, pastel blush was popular in the '60s (this Revlon ad came out in 1964). It was the first time blush was sheer and subtle—meant to create a natural glow. Previously, bright rouge was caked on, ensuring a statement and more "obvious" makeup look. However, now, using a brush, "blush-on" was applied to the temples, hairline, jaw, and cheeks for warmth and definition.

Clean Makeup

covergirl clean makeup - history of makeup

In the '60s, CoverGirl was the first in the United States to incorporate skincare into makeup—the company made foundation, pressed powders, and blush infused with ingredients from its Noxzema skin cream, like olive and eucalyptus oils. By 1968, CoverGirl began touting "clean makeup," using medicated products that boasted fresh, natural finishes that helped take care of skin.

"It looks and feels like no other makeup at all," The advertisement says. This began a trademark look for CoverGirl—"fresh-faced" was its new thing.

Makeup Formulated With WOC in Mind

iman - history of makeup

In 1994, Iman launched a makeup line formulated specifically for women of color, representing races, cultures, and ethnicities that have long been marginalized in the industry.

"The seed for Iman Cosmetics was implanted in my head in 1975 on my first job for American Vogue," Iman told Into the Gloss. "It was a white model and me, and the makeup artist asked me if I brought my own foundation because he had nothing for me. … And he proceeded to put something on me, and when I looked in the mirror, I looked gray. … But after the shoot, I went to every store I could think of and asked for foundation, looking for something that had any pigment like mine. And whatever came close, I bought. I remembered what [the makeup artist] did, he mixed things. And that's what I did, I mixed. I'd try on the foundation that I just mixed, and I would take a Polaroid to see how it came out in pictures. And if it was too red, then I'd mix another one. When I found something that looked good or reasonable in the pictures, I made a batch. I would bring my own foundation to shoots and then, after that, most Black models would ask me, 'Can I use your batch?'"

Frosted, Flavored Lip Gloss

lip smackers - history of makeup
Lip Smacker

The '90s and early aughts brought glossy, frosted lips, and Lip Smackers (in all its sugary-sweet and Coca-Cola-flavored iterations) was a makeup bag staple.

"Though those of us who grew up in the '90s and early '00s fondly recall the brand's glittery packaging and balms, Lip Smacker was actually founded in 1973," says Broadly writer Lilian Min. "It launched with generic flavors, but two years later, the company partnered with Dr. Pepper to create the world's first iconic lip balm. Further brand partnerships paused until 2004 when the company went back to its roots to introduce Skittles and Starburst flavors." So, what's the cultural significance of junk food-flavored lip gloss? It's nostalgic yet noncommittal. "They allow consumers a taste or whiff of something that's bad for them while manufacturing even more desire for the real thing," Min suggests.

The Do-You Ethos

milk makeup - history of makeup

Now, makeup companies are finally offering imagery and products geared toward embracing the skin we're in. No longer is foundation a "must-wear." Brands can't get away with limited shade ranges. Makeup isn't only for those who identify as female. We certainly have a long way to go before, both consciously and unconsciously, the beauty industry doesn't require us to look a certain way. But, it's exciting to see the progress we've made and imagine the progress that's to come.

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