Research team discovers lip paint from 4 millennia ago


Published in Scientific Reports, the study, A Bronze Age lip-paint from southeastern Iran, has identified the oldest lipstick ever to exist by.
The research explains how archaeology, chemistry, and mineralogy researchers from the University of Padua, in collaboration with archaeologists from the Faculty of Archeology of the University of Tehran (Iran), analyzed and identified the contents of a very particular chlorite bottle. Dated between 1900 and 1700 BC by radiocarbon, the finely sculpted bottle contains what is believed to be lip paint.
 Dark red, the bottle contained elements based on hematite, manganite, and braunite, mixed with waxes and vegetable oils, quite like that of a modern lipstick.

Comments from Prof Massimo Vidale of the Department of Cultural Heritage at the University of Padua and corresponding author of the study, “This discovery reveals that Iranian artisans from 5000-4000 years ago had already developed a very advanced knowledge on metallic, natural, and synthetic compounds that could produce not only of black kohl eyeliner, white lead face foundation, but much more. Eye shadows which, thanks to the addition of copper, lead, and perhaps urea, could change basic colors towards shades of blue and green, and now to add to this is the newly discovered lip paint. The minimal traces of lead minerals suggests that such artisans understood the dangers of direct ingestion of lead. It also suggests the possibility that cosmetics were used in formal and ceremonial social contexts, as an important component of the public manifestation of the dominant role of an elite stratum of the population.

old lip-paint

On the right, a false-color SEM image (by Federico Zorzi) which highlights the different mineral phases of the substance: in red, hematite; in yellow, braunite crystals; in pink, fragments of ground quartz. The lighter particles are minute crystals of galena.