I Recreated 4 Historical Lipsticks — Here’s How Well They Worked

by F Yeah History

For the next four days, I’m going to try out lipsticks from history. From The 1300s to the 1940s, I’ll be testing them all. On my lips…


I’ll admit to being something of a lipstick junkie, to the extent I have a small chest of drawers to hold all my lip products (yes it’s an addiction, but it’s not meth — so back off!) But it’s not just me that’s obsessed with lipstick; it’s a trend that’s endured throughout history.


Lipstick itself dates back to Queen Schub-ad or Puabi of Ur (if you can pronounce that, then you get a gold star!), who was a Sumerian ruler from around 2500 B.C. This first lipstick was more of a lip stain and was made from pretty much anything, as long as it was highly pigmented and could be smeared on your lips. Popular ingredients included lead (this will be a recurring theme), fish scales, crushed rocks and dung.

Now, I will do a lot of things for history, but putting lead and literal shit on my face is not one of them. So let’s call Egyptian lippy a write-off and move onto the next stage in our tour of historic lippery:

The Middle Ages

Throughout the Middle Ages, several European countries, including France and Spain, embraced rouge and lip paint. However, England was having none of this — and of course by England, I mean the English church.

The church was not a fan of makeup on women; in fact, women who wore makeup were considered”‘reincarnations of Satan,” which seems a tad strong.

But there were no actual laws banning makeup, which resulted in a very fine balancing act and the popular look of “makeup that won’t piss off your priest.” So slightly tinted lips —okay. Full on red lips — you’re going straight to hell, young lady.

One of the most popular methods to get those slightly tinted (but not too tinted) lips was crushing up flowers petals.


There’s something weirdly romantic about the idea of flowers as lip tint. It feels very Shakespearean, very feminine, very “oh don’t mind me, just off to go skip through this meadow wearing a daisy crown.”

If you can’t tell, I was excited to try this out.

Making the flower lip stain was really easy. All I did was get some flowers (I got tulips, because for some reason, none of the shops near me sold anything but them and because tulips…two lips…get it), and then ground them up and popped them onto my lips.


crushed flowers

Now if you are wondering, where the fuck is the flower stain? You are not alone.

If I am being generous, I’ll say that it maybe stained my lips a bit. But let’s be honest — it’s basically one shade up from the shade your lips should probably be if you’re not dying. Which admittedly in the Middle Ages is a win.

Would I try this again? No. The colour payoff is not worth the taste of ground flowers on your lips (which is not nice, FYI); get a tinted lip balm and leave this lipstick in the dark ages where it belongs.

I GIVE THIS 0.5/5.


By the Elizabethan period, English people were on board the lipstick bandwagon, led by Elizabeth l, who loved a bit of lippy.

elizabeth lRed lip on point

Now when I say loved, I mean LOVED. Elizabeth pioneered the first known lip liner (made of red dye and plaster of {aris) and was never without a slick of red lipstick. She believed it to have healing powers, and it’s said that when she died, she had lipstick an inch thick embedded onto her lips. This is something I can get behind. As someone who lives for a matte lip, the idea of lip products burrowing into every lip crevice is neither new nor scary. If anything, I was pretty pumped to try out Liz’s own lip recipe.


Elizabeth I used cochineal, gum arabic, egg whites and vermillion for her statement lip. For those not up on their deadly beauty ingredients, vermillion is a red pigment obtained from mercury sulphide – basically, it’s toxic as f and I won’t be putting it on my face. To make up for this, I used a bit more cochineal than the original recipe would have used (cochineal is a powdered insect used in most red dyes, including food dye, yum!).

So I mixed up my cochineal, gum Arabic, and egg whites until I got a bright red lip…mousse…thing. With that weird mess prepared, I moved onto the lip liner, becuase as any lipstick addict will tell you, liner is the key to a flawless red lip. I mixed some red dye (a mix of cochineal and beetroot) with plaster of Paris and once it had turned into a liquid… I realised I didn’t know what to do next.


Yeeeah, I hadn’t really thought the lip liner through…but luckily, the internet exists! Sadly, I couldn’t find any tutorials on making plaster of Paris pencils, because, well why the fuck would you? But fortunately, I am a women of many skills, so I macgyvered a plaster of Paris mold using a straw and some tin foil.

strawTa da!! And my art teacher said I had no artistic talent, pffft!

 Unfortunately, after the lip liner had set, I tried to remove it — and it immediately broke into roughly 5,000 pieces.

 The Finished Product

elizabethan red in progressI’m optimistically calling the shards of liner “travel sized”


I applied the lip liner first and it immediately tore the fuckity out my lips. Don’t use plaster of Paris as a lip liner guys, just don’t. It didn’t even leave a colour, just pain.

After that ordeal, I applied the lipstick/mousse.


elizabethan redDefined lines for daaaaaays.

Yeah…it looks like I’ve been punched in the mouth.

Also, no, I didn’t have a fit whilst applying this, it just spreads out like that. It might be because of the egg white – which, FYI, tightens the bejesus out of the skin around your mouth! That’s why my lips are clamped shut in that pictur — I couldn’t move them without cracking the skin of my lips (niiiiiice).

On the upside, it’s a good red hue, I bet if you used vermillion, it would be stunning and only slightly toxic!


Not if you paid me! If beauty is pain, this is straight up bullshit.


17th Century

After the clusterfuck that was Elizabethan lipstick. I’ve moved across the pond to America for my next foray into historic lipstick. America had a somewhat tempestuous relationship with lipstick during this period; in Pennsylvania, it was even legal to divorce your wife if she had worn lipstick during your courtship, which was seen as conning a man into marriage.

Yet America’s first First Lady loved lipstick. Martha Washington even had her own unique recipe for the lippy she wore every day; naturally, I had to check it out.

martha washington colourYou can’t really see but Martha’s totally rocking some “my lips but better” lippy.

Martha’s recipe consisted of lard, almond oil, raisins, sugar, balsam, Alkanet root and spermaceti. Now, as spermaciti is a waxy substance found inside a sperm whale’s head, for obvious reasons (e.g the law and ethics), I won’t be including this.

To make this, I first had to prep the alkanet root, which is a root which naturally produces both red and purple pigments. To get the red dye, I had to steep the root in vodka and water for a week. That, my friends, is dedication.

After this, I mixed in all the other ingredients, and then, as Martha would have done, ground the shit out of it.


martha washington in progressCan’t wait to get this on my lips

It looked super gross, and it smelled a lot like really wet and musky bark. But at least it had a color and didn’t contain plaster of Paris or egg whites, so my lips were hopefully safe!


martha washington stylee1 copy

Color-wise there isn’t a huge payoff, but there is a clear red tint in there; not much, but like a red tint for people scared of red lips. Which makes sense. For a statement lip in a climate where half your country hates makeup, I think this is about as bold as Martha could go.

The main issue was the grease.

Now shocker…lard is greasy, but lard mixed with oil and baslm is a whole other level of greasy. The grease did make my lips shiny (win), but it also made them incredibly heavy and about 10 minutes, in some of the lipstick glooped onto my shirt, which is not what you want.


Fun fact: You may have noticed that my skin in the above image is not filtered, while the other images are – that is because I tried this historic lipstick out first and the lard and oil immediately broke me out. So to answer the question, no, no I would not use this again.


The Blitz

At the start of World War Two, British women were urged to keep up appearances and ensure they maintained a glamorous look at all times. Hitler was not a fan of makeup (or anything fun) so the allies saw brightly made up women as “good for the morale of the nation.”

This meant lashings of red lipstick. Makeup brands happily played into this, releasing fun compacts in the shape of military paraphernalia and  lipstick packaged in patriotic shades.

america powder compacts in the shape of military hatsLook how cool!!!!!!

But then rationing hit cosmetics like it did everything else. Yet the expectation for women to retain red lips remained. Now one tube of lippy needed to last!

So women came up with ingenious ways to get red lips in between coats of the good stuff; one such method was rubbing beetroot directly onto the lips for a wartime friendly lip stain.

beetroot raw

I was quietly confident about this, After doing a Pinterest search, I found tons of women who all swore by beetroot lip stains and had the cherry lips to prove it.

Admittedly, these women all used other ingredients (e.g. coconut oil) with the beetroot juice, and as this isn’t strictly 1940s, I’d just be rocking raw beetroot — but still, Pinterest wouldn’t lie to me…..right?

It turns out that Pinterest is a filthy liar.

pitnerestI TRUSTED YOU!!!

Okay, I might be being a tad harsh. It’s been a tough few days.

Did it stain my lips? Yes. But not in the way I was expecting it too. I was expecting a cherry pop pout, and what I got was a pinky hue, which was nice, but let’s be honest; it’s a really pretty pink. But not worth the many, many minutes of beetroot-based effort I put in.


The stain does last all day, which for a Land Girl on the go is ideal; no touch-ups required. And the end product doesn’t look out of place with lip stains you can buy today, win! However, it is pretty drying (not egg white drying, but still), so like the women of the 40s, you do want to keep some Vaseline on you for moisture and shine.


It takes a while to get the colour payoff that picture shows, and after about a minute of rubbing a raw beetroot onto your lips, you do start to question your life choices. Not to the level of “why I am rubbing lard and gum arabic onto my lips”…but an existential crisis nonetheless.



1. Elizabethan lipstick doesn’t beat MAC.
2. Plaster of Paris is worse than waxing.
3. Egg white is the devil’s own creation.
4. Petals do fuck all.
5. Lard does actually give you spots.
6. It turns out progress happens for a reason and historic makeup sucks.

kissNow I’m off to drink wine and forget this ordeal ever happened!

This post originally appeared on FYeahHistory.com and is reprinted here with permission.

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