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 percent of women using it daily and 78 percent on special occasions. It is estimated that 80 percent of women in North America and Europe use lipstick regularly and more than 30 percent of them have 20 lipsticks in their possession in any time of their adult life.
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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. Lipsticks became part of their daily routine, except for the poor who could not afford cosmetics.
Early lipsticks were made using a toxic combination of ingredients extracted from seaweed, iodine, and Bromine Mannite. They eventually found the way to extract carmine color from beetles and ants. Cleopatra (51 – 30 BC) was often depicted with red lips.
In the 1500 years after Cleopatra’s time, cosmetic products were almost nonexistent in Europe until the start of Renaissance. 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 begun selling lipsticks. By the late 1890s, the Sears Roebuck catalog started to advertise and sell both lip and cheek rouge2.
Packing for early lip cosmetics varied, from silk paper, to paper tubes, to small pots. Two inventors are credited with inventing the tube lipstick and made lipstick a portable item for women to carry.
In 1915, Maurice Levy invented the metal tube container for lipstick, incorporating a small lever at the side of the tube for lowering and raising the lipstick. Levy called his invention the "Levy Tube". In 1923, James Bruce Mason Jr. patented the first tube with a swivel mechanism2.
The types of lipsticks can be classified as moisturizing, satin and sheer, matte, cream, pearl and frosted, gloss, long wearing and transfer resistant lipsticks3. Typical lipsticks are composed of:
- Emollients (also can help disperse pigments): 41-79 percent
- Structuring agents: 15-28 percent (usually a mixture of two to five ingredients)
- Pigments: 3-10 percent
- Pearls/luster agents: 0-10 percent
- Matting agents: 0-5 percent
- Wear ingredients: 0-5 percent
- Fragrance/flavor: 0-0.3 percent
- Preservatives/Antioxidants: 0.2-0.5 percent
Lipstick structuring agents
The types of structuring agents used in lipstick formulations include waxes, polymers, particles (e.g. silica, organo clays) and fiber network forming agents. The most common structuring agents used include:
It’s critical to use a blend of crystalline and amorphous waxes that provide a small crystal size on cooling, which creates good oil binding/compatibility and stick strength. Common combinations include:
Emollients are important lipstick ingredients that impact product application, color, spreading, and shine. The best emollients are normally high molecular weight, viscous ingredients that don’t spread quickly on skin. This can help prevent bleeding, and feathering or wicking of product into the skin creases around lips.
Emollients that provide shine normally are viscous to provide cushion and have a refractive index over 1.49. Examples of commonly used emollients include:
- Castor oil
- Bis-Diglyceryl Polyacyladipate-2 (synthetic Lanolin)
- Shea Butter
- Hydrogenated Polyisobutene
- Triisostearyl Citrate
- 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.
- Slight variations in the formulation can sometimes produce big differences in hardness, crystal size, and appearance.
- Lipsticks should harden quickly and easily come out of molds.
- Waxes that produce adequate shrinkage of the lipstick on cooling must be incorporated for good mold release. It is helpful to include a small amount of wax which melts above the molding temperature, to give faster nucleation during the cooling process.
- 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 gloss characteristics of the stick. Microcrystalline waxes can help form smaller crystals.
- Use fumed silica in the formulation to improve payoff, reduce pigment settling and reduce oil bleeding.
- Then and Now: Shampoo Formulations through the Years
- An Overview of Emollient Technology
- Natural Based Emollients
- When Small is Big: Nanomaterials EU Regulation 1223/2009 Update
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24 Responses to “A Touch of Color: Historical and Contemporary Lipstick Formulation”
This is great information and thank you. When is it a good idea to use a broad spectrum preservative in a lip product and when is it a good idea to use an antioxidant? And with preservatives is Optipen okay for lip products or something more natural?
Could you please elaborate on what you mean by Matting agents and Wear ingredients? Thank you.
Matt ingredients reduce shine. Wear ingredients help keep the product film in place on lips over time.
Very informative George,
I’m glad you gave a detailed account of the structuring agents and emollients found in modern lipsticks. I just want to point out for your vegetarian and vegan readers that a lot of modern lipsticks are NOT vegan (you mention one animal product ingredient – lanolin oil). For those who try to avoid animal products, or who are prone to allergies, I run through some ingredients to avoid in a recent post here:
Thanks again for the well researched info!
Indeed very good information. However could you please advise how to reduce or eliminate sweating in lipsticks.
What are the best matting ingredients to be used to get crayon finish Matt lipstick. lipstick with no shine but good glide on lips.
Use the right combination of amorphous and crystalline waxes.
Fumed silica or silica spheres are good matting agents. Avoid using low molecular weight esters as emollients will reduce spreading and feathering.
Thank you George for the information about lipstick formulation.I like lipsticks with vegan and natural ingredients and natural pigments and colors in their composition. Please let me know your experience about natural and vegan lipstick formulations.
I have formulated numerous natural vegan lipsticks. Your choices of color will be limited if you need to use natural based approved colors.
Hi can you give us your lipstick formulation for matte lipstick matte smudge free ?
Unfortunately I can not provide finnished formulations. There are numerous supplier lipstick formulations on UL Prospector you can check out.
Thanks for your informative blog. I have a few questions and hopefully you can give me some guidance:
1. How can I formulate a lipstick which can give high gloss on the outside appearance but matte finish when you apply it?
2. How to make a lipstick which will last long and will not transfer of color.
Thanks in advance.
I must say it is an amazing post on lipstick. From history to modern times and formulation, every thing is here. Enjoyed reading the post. Thanks..
Please tell me how to make lipstick matte.
Just add silica to the formulation. A spherical silica will give you a better skin feel. Use the UL Prospector search engine and the term spherical silica to get specific examples.
Thanks for reading!
I would like to know the percent of pigments used in lipstick and it’s incorporation process.
Typical pigment levels in lipsticks are 3-10%. Use pigment grind premixes that have been high sheer processed in a viscous emollient like Castor oil (roller mill, Kady mill) to incorporate pigments into lipstick base formulations. Also include a good dispersing agent.
Thanks for reading!
Without a doubt excellent data. Anyway could you if it’s not too much trouble, encourage how to decrease or take out perspiring in lipsticks.
The best way to reduce lipstick sweating is to make the stick less crystalline by adding amorphous less crystalline waxes to the stick.
Thanks for reading!
I read this article and its quite good but can someone help me with the formulation of lipsticks that meets the below requirements?
* Cruelty Free
* Transfer Proof
* Long Wearing (Long Lasting)
Thanks in advance
I suggest you hire a cosmetic chemist to help you.
Thank you for reading,
Mix together isododecane and flake resin for matte finish !
Thank you for the information George, Please advice how one could achieve an SPF of min 15 in a lipstick formulation.