Back then, the Bésame Cosmetics founder explained, red implied, “youthfulness, which was always more desirable since people did not live very long.”
Ironically, up until about the 18th century, many red lip and cheek rouges were made with poisonous ingredients such as cinnabar (derived from red mercuric sulfide), lead, rubric, orchilla weed, red chalk and alkanet, according to Lisa Eldridge‘s Face Paint: The History of Makeup. So, while the wearer might have applied a pinch of red on their lips and cheeks to appear more youthful, healthy and beautiful, it would’ve had the opposite effect and deteriorated them from the inside out.
Moreover, in ancient times, you had to carefully tread the line between looking sexy enough to find a partner but not too sexy that you were considered damaged goods.
In ancient Greece, for example, sex workers were required by law to wear red lipstick and obvious face paint to mark their status in society. Otherwise, they’d be punished for not only deceiving the public but potential spouses for posing as “respectable” women.