Poisonous Lipsticks to die for – Part 2


As Christianity took hold in Europe and the dark ages started creeping in along with the burning of books, black cats and witches (who were probably just strong opinionated women that weak men had problems with), lipsticks became a thing of the past and was almost completely written out of the history books

However, it made a resurgence when the dramatic, no-nonsense English Queen took hold of the throne. This was only after her crazy dad beheaded and divorced his 6 wives and fell into an early grave brought on from an excessive lifestyle of whoring, raping and plundering. Cosmetics had finally arrived in Europe from the Middle East, along with that magical product called Henna. Henna was used for all sorts of things, the dying of silk, wool and leather and cosmetically, to dye skin, nails, hands (mehendi designs, very pretty) and used to give glorious colours to all shades of hair, although the smell is somewhat troublesome if not rinsed correctly

[On a side note. Henna is made from the leaves but if you touch them (wet or dry), they do not stain your hands. The leaves have to be broken up or crushed into powder form and a bit of water added for the molecules to react and do their job properly]

A word of advice from the wise. Never henna your hair on the same day that you have a big date or company event planned. Trust me, lots of tears, tantrums and projectiles

Anyway, Elizabeth I had this peculiar fondness bordering on a fetish for stark white porcelain faces, high ruff collars, vermillion lips and men in stockings. In fact, make-up took on another role of hiding smallpox scars. So ladies, there’s your first documented use of concealer. She contracted this potentially disfiguring and often deadly disease when she was 29. Many of her maids-in-waiting contracted the illness from her and either died or were horribly disfigured

As Elizabeth aged she started using more and more makeup to maintain her image of being the “Virgin Queen” and to dispel the rumours that she was actually a man; but that’s a story for another day

As she was queen, everybody followed suit, especially if they wanted to keep their heads, (unlike the unfortunate Mary Stuart) and follow her they did for a while before that look faded from fashion, as fashion does and then lipstick was mainly used by the Ladies of the Night on the streets of London to set them apart from the “good girls” who were not so good behind closed doors. Thankfully, the ingredients for lipstick in those days were a bit more civilized and merely made from a blend of beeswax, egg whites. fig milk, red juice and sap from plants and the occasional bird poop

Unfortunately not so for the white face paint (Venetian Ceruse) that they were all lathering onto their faces, which was also known as Spirits of Saturn. Artists even used this white paint on their canvasses so common sense should have dictated that it might not be such a good idea to slap on your face. Venetian Ceruse comprised mainly of lead and was mixed with vinegar and allowed to dry on the skin after a layer of egg white was applied to seal the mask. The problem was further compounded by the fact that this mask was seldom washed off and as the skin below would be deprived of oxygen it would eventually turn grey. The lack of natural light being able to penetrate the skin would also lead to a vitamin D deficiency


This facial mask concoction not only caused lead poisoning due to the absorption through the skin, but actually damaged the skin, caused mental illness and resulted in chronic hair loss.

Bad for humans but once again, a booming trade for big business, in this instance, for medical quacks, psychiatric institutions and wig makers

The Venetian Ceruse could well be what actually killed Queen Elizabeth I and not the heartbreak caused by the execution of her beloved, Robert Devereux, for treason.

[On a side note: The queen herself credited lipstick with lifesaving powers, and when she fell ill, continued to apply lip rouge in ever thickening layers. On her deathbed, Elizabeth was wearing almost half a centimeter of lip rouge]

In 1870, a French cosmetic company, Guerlain, began to mass manufacture lipsticks which were wrapped in silk paper and made from deer tallow, castor oil, and beeswax and were pushed out via a small mechanical device and were actually refillable. Could this be the first retailer to have Gone Green? Guerlain then went on to create perfumes for royalty, such as the Queen Victoria and the Spanish Queen, Isabella. This Isabella should not be confused with the crazy Isabella of Spain who was instrumental in the torture and death of thousands of people during the Spanish Inquisition which was established in 1478. This new inquisition replaced the Medieval Inquisition, which was under Papal control and apparently not vile enough and had to be taught a thing or two about the proper way to flay humans alive. So that Isabella was not somebody that any self-respecting cosmetic company would want to have on their clientele Christmas list

So the arrival of the industrial revolution in the late 19th century brought lipsticks back into fashion. Mass production, low prices, plenty of raw materials, both synthetic and chemical made lipsticks a sought after commodity and that brings us back to right now, give or take a couple of years

And by now you would think we would have learnt something from the ancients regarding poisons in lipsticks? Not quite

End of Part Two

(One day you might thank me for these history lessons)

3 thoughts on “Poisonous Lipsticks to die for – Part 2

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