Erotically charged cosmetics may make you blush in more ways than one – Susie Dent

Deep Throat, Orgasm, Bang, and Spunk: language from the top shelf that would make quite a few cheeks flush.

Too many brand names of cosmetics are about pleasing others (Picture: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for IMG)
Too many brand names of cosmetics are about pleasing others (Picture: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for IMG)

Which would be fitting, for these are names of blushers and lipsticks that have been offered by some of today’s top make-up brands. Fancy a Gash lipstick? Or Asphyxia if you’re feeling really bold? A quick scan of most ranges suggest that the cosmetic lexicon is nothing if not full frontal.

This isn’t a new thing. Almost a decade ago I visited a department store with my daughter who wanted to be introduced to a few bits of teenage make-up. She was hypnotised by the acres of shimmering seduction that promised a whole lot more than beauty. As Charles Revson, creator of Revlon, once put it “in the factory we make cosmetics; in the store we sell hope”.

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My daughter and I soon realised that make-up counters are also selling sex, in spades. Among the palettes of lipsticks, blushers, and foundations we tentatively browsed were Nude Juice, Lovejoy, Fanny Audacious, and Screamer. We discovered we could pick up a MILF for around £20 and bag a new Snatch for a tenner while scooping up a bit of Perversion along the way.

On a recent scout around those same make-up aisles, I can see little has changed. The opposite in fact – the G-spot blush stick is now a thing, as is the 69 lipstick, and Harry Styles’s Pleasing Pen.

As a lexicographer of every aspect of English, from slang to swearing, I’m not exactly squeamish. I work with comedians on 8 out of 10 Cats does Countdown after all. But should we really be suggesting to our teenagers that their nail varnish won’t cut it unless it’s Pussy Red, Taint, or Load?

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Cosmetics have never been too far from morality. Another of today’s brands is called Sinful Colours, a distant echo of Jezebel, who famously painted her face before becoming spectacularly undone.

As late as the 20th century, cosmetic artifice was believed by many to be both impure and improper, a camouflage for sin. And for those with deep misgivings it was pointless anyway, since there could be no cure for a woman whose attractions were on the wane because, as a 1908 manual on The Secrets of Beauty and Mysteries of Health put it, she had abandoned the “freshness of innocence” and been “hardened and branded by the indelible stigma of sin”.

Not that demureness reigned entirely. As time moved on, some shops in the early 1900s offered make-up by the back door for those wanting to furtively purchase a decadent shade of lipstick.

While some brands stuck to wholesome names such as Plum or Dahlia Purple, others began to add a splash of risk. A Revlon ad from 1952 features a pouting crimson-mouthed temptress and an invitation to all others “who love to flirt with fire; who dare to skate on thin ice” to join their ranks, ushering in a new era of suggestiveness in the cosmetic lexicon.

There is a curious mismatch between the naming of make-up and that of face creams.

In a book from 1908 entitled The Secrets of Beauty and Mysteries of Health, the false allure of external adornment is contrasted with sentiments of gentleness, which bestow the chance to “illumine the little sphere we shine in, till we radiate an angel’s light in a dark and sordid world”.

If this kind of moralising has disappeared from the mainstream, celestial language has found a new home all over the jars we covet as we seek a wrinkle-free existence. Anyone with some spare cash, for example, can buy themselves Pure Energy Daily Radiance Cream which in turn will convey Instant Illuminating Radiance. Beneath the foundation then we must all be angelic – paint our faces, however, and lust roars in.

I used to imagine young male copywriters competing with each other to come up with the next Lube in a Tube lipgloss, the sniggering equivalent of the rest of us who once furtively looked the rudest words up in the dictionary at school.

But is it really still all about the shock ending? Perhaps the opposite is true – that this is all about female empowerment and women setting the tone for exactly what they want. But too many of these names are about giving pleasure rather than receiving it, and about looking good for others. Look no further than the Glow Job, Naked Honey, and lipstick shade of Suck for that.

Will Snog, Aroused, and, I kid you not, Secretions Magnifiques (a perfume apparently “as real as an olfactory coitus that sends one into raptures”) still be tempting us in a decade’s time? Who knows.

What seems certain is that, for all their obvious glee in throwing off the shackles of Dusky Rose and Tickle, modern make-up brands are still pondering the sinfulness of it all. The journey from Jezebel to Joyrider may not be quite as far as we think.

Susie Dent is a lexicographer and etymologist. She has appeared in Dictionary Corner’on Countdown since 1992, and co-hosts with Gyles Brandreth the podcast ‘Something Rhymes with Purple’.


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