That was a question people had even back in the forties, when it was already a multi-million dollar business.
For an answer, one big magazine of the era sent a reporter to the factory that produced one of the most popular brands — Tangee — to find out.
Below the photos of the process, also see five big stars of the forties rockin’ the red lipstick, plus vintage ads for some of the top lip shades at the time.
Lipstick: Mouth paint is a big US industry (1947)
From LIFE magazine – October 20, 1947
To most American women, lipstick is a form of clothing; without it, they feel undressed. Consequently, lipstick production is a big industry.
In 1946 alone, American women spent an estimated $29,200,000 for 5000 tons of lipstick — 190 million individual lipsticks in all.
From this, the federal government collected $5,840,000 in luxury taxes — enough to pay the US President’s salary for the next 77 years.
How is lipstick made? The process in 1947
Lipstick is manufactured by combining perfumes, color pigments and oils with a wax base, as shown in these pictures made at the Tangee factory.
Good lipstick must spread on the lips smoothly and easily, yet once applied, it is expected to stand up under all wear and tear except the most violent kisses. The stick must not melt in hot weather, or become too hard in cold.
Lipsticks are made in every shade of red, from light orange to dark purple, to suit every feminine complexion and wardrobe.
Recently, one manufacturer introduced a lipstick of cold, funereal blue, which he claims perfectly complements white-haired matrons.
How lipstick is made: The lipstick factory line
On final inspection line, lipsticks and cases move slowly past girl inspectors on long belts to the end of the table (background), where they are boxed for shipment.
Imperfect lipsticks and containers are rejected by inspectors, who record them on control sheets.
The plant, at Long Island City, New York, can turn out 250,000 lipsticks a day.
How is lipstick made: Manufacturing steps
Image 1: Lipstick-making begins with pouring and mixing of ingredients in large stainless steel vats, which are heated by steam to approximately 190 degrees F.
Presently, a workman (foreground) pours out a sample from a new mixture for testing and analysis in the company laboratory. Here, batches of four different shades are being compounded.
Image 2: On the other side of vats, girl worker fills the mold with hot liquid lipstick from a faucet on the base of the vat. After cooling, the excess is scraped from the mold with a putty knife.
Image 3: Molds are opened, revealing perfectly-shaped lipsticks inside. Lipsticks are sorted and examined carefully before being encased in their fancy metal containers.
5 famous actresses of the 1940s who loved their lipstick
1. Lucille Ball
2. Paulette Goddard
3. Judy Garland
2. Veronica Lake
’40s actress Janet Blair wearing red lipstick
More lipsticks from the 1940s: Tangee Red
Vintage ’40s lipstick: Tangee’s Pink Queen
Vintage forties lipstick made by Max Factor
NOW SEE THIS: 40+ fabulous ’40s hairstyles for women