Gleams & Notions

Applied Science

By Harvey M. Fishman, Consultant | November 4, 2013

I thought it would be interesting to do some research to discover when certain cosmetic applicators were first used and, later, improved upon.

The first is the lipstick container, but a short discussion of the history of the product is necessary. In ancient days, “lipsticks” were not sticks. They were liquids applied to the lips with fingers. Egyptians extracted a red dye from a plant and added iodine and some bromine mannite. Shimmering effects were achieved by using a pearlescent substance from fish scales. Today, pearlescent materials are still available from fish scales.  In 16th century England, bright red lips and a stark white face became fashionable. At that time, lipstick was made from a blend of beeswax and red stains from plants. Only upper class women and male actors wore makeup. However, a century later, cosmetics were so popular that a bill introduced into the English parliament in 1770 contained the following drastic provision:

“All women of whatever age, rank, profession or degree, whether virgins, maids, or widows, that shall, from after such Act, impose upon, seduce and betray into matrimony, any of his Majesty’s subjects, by the scents, paints, cosmetic washes, artificial teeth, false hair, Spanish wool, Iron stays, hoops, high heeled shoes, bolstered hips, shall the penalty of the law in force against witchcraft and like misdemeanors and that the marriage, upon conviction, shall stand null and void.”

Meanwhile, in the US…
The first commercial lipstick was invented in 1884 in France. It was covered in silk paper and made from deer tallow, castor oil and beeswax.

In the US, in the 1890s, lipstick was sold in paper tubes, tinted papers or in small pots.

By 1915, it was sold in cylinder metal containers. A tiny lever at the side of the tube had to be slid up to move the lipstick to the top of the case.  In 1923, the first swivel-up tube was invented. Since the 20th century, lipstick has become a common fashion aid for women.

The Spray’s the Thing
Another useful cosmetic applicator is the aerosol spray can. This concept of an aerosol originated as early as 1790, when self-pressurized carbonated beverages were introduced in France. In 1837, a man named  Perpigna invented a soda siphon incorporating a valve.

By 1862, metal cans were being tested, but they were constructed from heavy steel and were too bulky to be commercially successful. Further progress was made in 1899 when a patent was issued for aerosols pressurized with methyl and ethyl chloride as propellants.  In November 1927, a Norwegian engineer named Erik Rotheim patented the first aerosol can that could hold and dispense products and propellant systems.  This was the forerunner of the modern aerosol can.

During World War II, the US government funded research for a portable way for service men to spray malaria-carrying bugs. In response, Lyle D. Goodhue and William N. Sullivan at the Department of Agriculture developed a small aerosol can using a fluorocarbon (liquefied gas).

In 1949, Robert Abplanalp invented a crimp on a valve that enabled liquids to be sprayed from a can under pressure from an inert gas. He patented this crimp in 1953, formed a company called Precision Valve and was soon manufacturing millions of aerosol cans annually in the US.

The US aerosol industry made a dramatic change in 1978, when it eliminated chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) propellants in response to growing concern over ozone depletion. They were replaced by water-soluble hydrocarbons, which remain in use today.

Harvey M. Fishman

Harvey Fishman has a consulting firm in Wanaque, NJ, specializing in cosmetic formulations and new product ideas, offering tested finished products. He has more than 30 years of experience and has been director of research at Bonat, Nestlé LeMur and Turner Hall. He welcomes descriptive literature from suppliers and bench chemists and others in the field.