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Ancient Red Lipstick Discovered

The red lipstick, housed in a decorated stone tube, is around 4,000 years old.

An intricately decorated chlorite lipstick vial
The ancient red pigment was held in an intricately decorated chlorite vial | Massimo Vidale via Scientific Reports

The lipstick dates to between 1936 and 1687 B.C.E., according to a study published this month in the journal Scientific Reports. The team thinks the vial could have come from the Marḫaši, which, according to Mesopotamian texts, was a powerful civilization that occupied what’s now eastern Iran.

Lip pigment was just one of many beauty products used in ancient Iran. Perhaps the region’s most prominent cosmetic was eyeliner, which was made of a black powder called sormeh and worn by both women and men.

Analysis of the lipstick - found in a delicate, intricately decorated stone vial is made of greenish chlorite - reveals that it was made of hematite (which produces its deep red colour), manganite, braunite, galena, anglesite and plant-based waxes. This mixture, you may be surprised to learn “bears a striking resemblance to the recipes of contemporary lipsticks.”

Furthermore, the lipstick may have once been fragrant as the vial contained vegetal fibers, which could have been added to produce a scent.

The study also notes that the lipstick vial's appearance “supports the idea that cosmetic products in ancient times were branded, packaged and traded in standard types of containers with specific forms, allowing for easy visual identification,” just like contemporary cosmetics.


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