How is lipstick made? Look back to the lip makeup’s 1940s heyday

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How is lipstick made - 1940s factories

Note: This article may feature affiliate links to Amazon or other companies, and purchases made via these links may earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you. Find out more here.

Everyone’s seen it, billions have worn it — so have you taken a moment to wonder: How exactly is lipstick made, anyhow?

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.

Tangee lipstick 1947


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.

Lipstick industry - 1940s

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.

Vintage 1940s woman all dressed up


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.

ALSO SEE: Lip colors & vintage lipsticks from the ’60s

1940s lipstick factory women


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.

Vintage lipstick manufacturing - 1940s

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.

ALSO SEE: Women’s shoes from the 1940s: Stylish high-heeled vintage footwear

Vintage lipstick factory molds and manufacturing - 1940s


5 famous actresses of the 1940s who loved their lipstick

1. Lucille Ball

MORE LUCY: I Love Lucy & the chocolate factory: The famous ‘Job Switching’ episode (1952) | ’50s magazines featuring the lovely Lucille Ball

Vintage 1940s actress Lucille Ball wearing red lipstick


2. Paulette Goddard

Vintage 1940s actress Paulette Goddard wearing red lipstick


3. Judy Garland

MORE JUDY: How Judy Garland’s career began | See Judy’s home in 1942 | About the classic Wizard of Oz movie

Vintage 1940s actress Judy Garland wearing red lipstick


2. Veronica Lake

Vintage 1940s actress Veronica Lake wearing red lipstick

DON’T MISS: See top vintage nail polish colors & retro brands


’40s actress Janet Blair wearing red lipstick

Vintage 1940s actress Janet Blair wearing red lipstick


More lipsticks from the 1940s: Tangee Red

Vintage 1940s Tangee Lipstick (1947)

Vintage 1940s Tangee Lipstick (1948)

ALSO SEE: How to do ’50s eye makeup – brows, lashes, shadow & more – with tips from the pros


Vintage ’40s lipstick: Tangee’s Pink Queen

1948 Tangee lipstick

Pink Tangee lipstick from the 1940s


Vintage forties lipstick made by Max Factor

1940 - Max Factor lipstick

NOW SEE THIS: 40+ fabulous ’40s hairstyles for women

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