The (Slightly Icky) History of the Color of Love

By Shannon R., SELF magazine

Roses are red and lipstick is too! While red may by the iconic color of romance, it also has some history in the beauty industry. With Valentine's Day coming up tomorrow, take a look at how red has made its mark in cosmetics.

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The history of red dye
Before synthetic color pigments were invented, the use of cosmetics was extremely limited. Red was one of the only colors that could be made naturally, either using red stains from plants or bugs. Yep, red dye was originally made from a natural, yet disgusting, source-- crushed insect bodies. The cochineal insect to be precise (nothing romantic about that, yuck!). These bugs grow in certain varieties of cacti and are hand picked and immersed in hot water to kill them and to dissolve the waxy coating off of their shells. They are then dried in the sun and then ground into a fine powder that can be used as dye for fabrics, foods and cosmetics. Luckily, modern chemistry can synthetically create a wide variety of red dyes so we don't have to rely on picking bugs off cacti to make our lips look pretty (yeah!).

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The history of red cosmetics
In the early 1900s, Estee Lauder and Elizabeth Arden were among the first to start selling lipstick in their salons. It wasn't until the 1930s that companies starting making lipstick colors other than shades of red. However, thanks to Hollywood (both old and new) red lipstick has long been associated with glamour and sophistication and continues to remain popular. The perfect red lips have been donned by Marilyn Monroe, Angelina Jolie, Gwen Stefani and even Taylor Swift.

The history of nail polish is a little harder to follow, but it is believed that the ancient Chinese and Egyptian women wore nail polish to signify social status. As with lipsticks, red was one of the only colors available before the creation of synthetic dyes. Even in the modern age of almost endless color options, red nail polish remains the #1 selling shade. "I'm Not Really A Waitress" by OPI continues to be their top selling "iconic" red polish.

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Bottom Line

Happy (early) Valentine's Day! Everyone has (or should have!) a sexy red lipstick or nail polish to add some classic glam to her day. Thanks to the miracle of modern chemistry, we've got bug-free red colorants, so snatch up a new shade to spice up your Valentine's Day!

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