RED lipstick dates back thousands of years, interwoven through history from Egypt to the Elizabethan era and beyond; deeply connected to status and the women’s movement. But post-pandemic, sales have plunged.


When you think of red lipstick…

…you may well think of movie icons Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor, whose scarlet pouts became trademarks, instantly associated with Hollywood and glamour.


Lipstick was already linked to status?

Thousands of years ago, ancient Egyptians like Cleopatra, are said to have crushed carmine beetles to use their bright red pigments as lip colouring, which in itself was one way of appearing more striking and superior in society.


And on through history…?

Elizabeth I adored a bold red, coating her lips in a reputed half an inch of lip paint, with a belief during the era that lipstick contained magical or healing powers. Elizabeth is said to have made her own, using cochineal, egg whites, gum Arabic and fig milk and is further said to have invented lipliner - mixing ground alabaster with colour and rolled into a pencil shape that dried in the sun.


And it’s connected to the women’s movement?

The first commercial lipstick was invented in the late 19th century in Paris and in the early days of the suffragette movement in the United States, women began wearing red lipstick to public events and marches, as an act of defiance against those who regarded it as a symbol of scandal or a lack of morals. 1920s flappers wore it too to symbolise their independence.



The sale of red lipstick products has fallen by 40 per cent according to the BBC, with a survey of by market research firm Kantar further documenting a global decline in make-up sales around the world. Kantar state in their report that "the pandemic certainly exacerbated the global decline, with cosmetics most impacted by less triggers for usage” - the mix of having nothing to dress up for and having to wear face masks meant lipstick wasn’t required. Eye-make up has weathered the storm - partly because eyes can be seen in face masks - but occasions requiring lipstick plunged. Weekly usage of cosmetics is down 46% in the UK compared to 2017 and 15% on 2020.



Kantar point out that a fall in make-up usage was noted pre-pandemic, amid the global rise of the "pursuit of the natural look", with more than two thirds of women preferring to wear less make-up to obtain a more natural appearance. In the UK, 71% of women say they want a more natural look, with 72% of American woman agreeing and 90% of Chinese women. 


Colour is on the way out?

The data points to changing trends. Sebastian James, boss of Boots in the UK, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the High Street retailer has noted the trend, saying: “Over the pandemic we saw a lot less colour cosmetics in our trade, lipsticks and so on, and a lot more spend on self care.”


What now for the red lip?

With the world still opening up and face masks no longer legally required everywhere, perhaps it is time for a red revival. After all, Audrey Hepburn memorably said, “There is a shade of red for every woman”.