The Invention of Smear-Proof Lipstick

Have you ever wondered where smear-proof lipstick came from?  You can thank Hazel Bishop, an American entrepreneur who was born on August 17, 1906.

Bishop was an organic chemist during World War II.  By day, she designed aviation fuels for bombers.  But in the evenings, she conducted hundreds of experiments in her kitchen to create a lipstick that wouldn’t smudge.

Bishop dreamed of starting her own business at a time when women were just beginning to work outside the home.  She brainstormed that professional women could use a long-lasting lipstick that wouldn’t come off on coffee cups and shirtsleeves.

Bishop experimented with various combinations of waxes, oils and dyes that would stain color into the skin.  Her company, Hazel Bishop Inc., finally launched its “kissable lipstick” in 1949 with a slogan of “Won’t eat off – bite off – kiss off!”  At $1 a tube, it sold out on its first day.  Within three years, annual sales grew from $50,000 to more than $10 million.

Unfortunately, Bishop became the victim of a high-level boardroom dispute.  She lost control of the company she founded, as well as the right to use her own name.  But she found success a second time as a financial analyst in the cosmetics industry.  In speeches, she constantly advocated the importance of chemistry in the development of new cosmetics.

The main ingredient in Bishop’s original No-Smear Lipstick was bromo acid, which is actually corrosive to the skin.  Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversees ingredients in American cosmetics, but it does not regulate the level of toxic or dangerous contaminants in finished products such as lipsticks.

One concern is the presence of lead, which had been detected in pre-2012 studies at up to 3 parts per million.  More recently, scientists used an Agilent ICP-MS to test for the presence of toxic elements in 48 lip products including lipsticks, lip glosses, moisturizing sticks and lip stains.  Potential toxins such as arsenic and vanadium were found in the parts-per-million or parts-per-billion range.  Lead was found most prominently in metallic and pearl finishes, but at levels of no more than 2.4 ppm.

As the study concluded, “a person would have to consume almost forty tubes of lipstick with the maximum lead levels to meet or exceed recommended reference dosage levels.”

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