A touch of colour: Historical and contemporary lipstick formulation by George Deckner

A touch of colour: Historical and contemporary lipstick formulation by George Deckner

Lipstick is a cosmetic product containing pigments, oils, waxes, and emollients which is applied to the lips to provide color, moisturization, and protection. Lipstick is the least expensive and most popular cosmetic in the world with 21% of women using it daily and 78% on special occasions.

A colorful history

The earliest known use of colored cosmetics was in Mesopotamia 5000 years ago, where precious and semi-precious gems were ground and applied to lips and eyelids. In Ancient Egypt, much of the population used cosmetics both for beauty enhancement but also to protect themselves from the sun and desert wind.

The actual term “lipstick” wasn’t used until 1880 and not popularized until the late 19th and early 20th century. During the 1920s, lipstick and other types of cosmetics became fashionable, a trend that has continued to present day1.

Lipstick in modern times

The first modern cosmetic lipstick was introduced at the World Exhibition in Amsterdam in 1883 and became broadly available by 1884 when Parisian perfumers began selling lipsticks.

The types of lipsticks can be classified as moisturizing, satin and sheer, matte, cream, pearl and frosted, gloss, long wearing and transfer resistant lipsticks.2 Typical lipsticks are composed of:

  • Emollients (also can help disperse pigments): 41-79%
  • Structuring agents: 15-28% (usually a mixture of two to five ingredients)
  • Pigments: 3-10%
  • Pearls/luster agents: 0-10%
  • Matting agents: 0-5%
  • Wear ingredients: 0-5%
  • Fragrance/flavor: 0-0.3%
  • Preservatives/Antioxidants: 0.2-0.5%

Formulation tips3

  • Lipsticks are usually formulated in three stages: a pigment grind, a wax base, and a dilution oil blend.
  • Use pigment grind premixes that have been high-shear processed in a viscous emollient like castor oil, via roller mill or Kady mill. Also, include a good dispersing agent.
  • Use blends of crystalline and amorphous waxes to get good oil binding. Most sticks contain three to five structuring waxes.
  • It can sometimes be difficult to produce a lipstick which is stable across a wide range of temperatures. Materials which liquefy or solidify within the stick under different temperature conditions can alter the texture and surface appearance of the stick over time. Cocoa butter, which melts at body temperature, is a good example of a material which can produce this type of effect.
  • The oils and waxes used should be close enough in polarity to readily mix when the lipstick is melted before the stick is formed. Problems can occur if excessively high levels of a microcrystalline wax are used in a high castor oil containing lipstick, the microcrystalline wax only having limited solubility in polar castor oil.
  • Use materials which produce a small crystal structure. Larger crystals can reduce the gloss characteristics of the stick. Microcrystalline waxes can help form smaller crystals.

Learn more about lipstick formulation in the Prospector® Knowledge Center. To receive additional articles bi-monthly, create your free account for the Prospector material search engine and newsletter.


  1. http://www.historyofcosmetics.net/history-of-makeup/history-of-lipstick/
  2. http://www.lipstickhistory.com/lipstick-facts/types-of-lipsticks/
  3. Harry’s Cosmeticology, 9th Edition



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *