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From India to Sumeria, does lipstick have a colourful ancient past?

Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe along with Elizabeth Taylor, popularised the red lipstick (Pic. Courtesy wikimedia commons)

July 29 is the National Lipstick Day which is observed to celebrate this popular cosmetic item which is generally a must in every lady’s handbag.

Many may feel that lipstick came into being in modern times but that is far from true. Men and women in ancient Indus Valley and Sumerian civilisations may have invented and used it.

The Sumerians using crushed gemstones, decorated their lips and the area around the eyes. Indus Valley women used rectangular pieces of ochre with bevelled ends as lipstick.

In ancient Egypt, Cleopatra was known to crush carmine bugs to get the red colour for the lips.

The ancient Indian Sanskrit text on sexuality, eroticism and emotional fulfilment in life attributed to Vatsyayana Mallanaga, Kamasutra, describes lip colouring made of red lac and beeswax and also how to use it.

Making lipstick from beeswax more than 1,000 years ago, the Chinese used it as a protection for the delicate skin of the lips. Scented oils were added to this during the Tang Dynasty (from 618 CE to 907 CE) to provide an aroma to the mouth.

Aboriginal girls in Australia painted their mouths red with ochre during rituals connected with puberty.

Colouring of the lip gained popularity in England in 16th Century. Bright red lips and a stark white face were fashionable during the time of Queen Elizabeth. This cosmetic then was made from a blend of beeswax and red stains from plants.

Movies and actresses too played a vital role in popularising lipstick. Hollywood stars Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor in the 1950s popularised back dark red lips. There has been an explosion in the lipstick shades since the 20th Century.

Today in India, the lipstick market is worth billions of rupees. In 2018 it was Rs.34.80 billion and the top leading brands are Lakme, Revlon, Avon, Mac and Maybelline.