Reading our Lips: The History of Lipstick Regulation in Western Seats of Power

March 2007

62 Food and Drug Law Journal 165-225 (2007).

This article traces the history of lipstick's social and legal regulation in Western seats of power, beginning in Ur circa 3,500 B.C.

Sliced in this manner, lipstick's history emerges as heavily cyclical across the Egyptian, Grecian, Roman, Western European, English, and American reigns of power. Examining these many eras' informal social and formal legal regulation of lipstick, reveals how the extent and type of lipstick regulation that Western societies put into place has ever been largely determined by lipstick's fluctuating signification concerning wearers' class and gender. That said, however, advancing medical and scientific knowledge has also played a fairly steadily rising role in lipstick's historic regulatory scheme.

Thus, lipstick status laws, which were primarily intended to protect men, long predated laws concerning lipstick safety. Safety laws, in turn, long focused solely on human safety before very recently also branching out into environmental and animal safety. In the future, Western societies should expect to see a continuation of lipstick status regulations, albeit probably informal social ones, as well as increasingly comprehensive lipstick safety regulations regarding a broadening array of human, environmental, and animal well-being issues.


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