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Sasabeni - the green lip trend in Edo

You may think green lipstick sounds like a present-day trend, but you'd be surprised to know Japanese women from the early 1800s were painting their lips green using safflower lip cream.

green lipstick trend in Edo Japan called sasabeni

Safflower for Red

In many cultures red is considered a powerful lively colour, and is one of the major colours used in makeup. Japan in particular has been using red for makeup since the Jomon period; 14,000 - 300 BC.

By the 3rd century, safflower, a precious source of red dye, had arrived in Japan from the middle East and Egypt via the silk road. A few hundred years later safflower is being used as red dye for makeup for high status men and women.

In late Edo, a prosperous period, women of all statuses started enjoying makeup. Out of all, 'beni' (red/safflower) was exceptionally popular as an accent colour and was used for lips, eyes, cheeks, and even nail tips.


Like the present, Edo was bursting with new trends and stylish celebrities. Naturally, the people of Edo would attempt to replicate looks made by high rank celebrities like Kabuki actors and Oiran, resulting in new kimono patterns, makeup styles, hairstyles, and more.

One look that caught peoples attention was 'sasabeni' (bamboo grass lip) which was achieved by using 'komachibeni', a luxurious Kyoto-based brand of lipstick using safflower. This lip cream would be sold in a ceramic cup, and shined a bright green when dry, and red when moist. A wet brush would be used to apply this onto the lower lip. Layering the komachibeni would create the luminescent green colour that people admired.

Although komachibeni could only be afforded by celebrities, the townspeople of Edo looked for other ways to replicate the colour, and ultimately landed on painting the lower lip with charcoal, and applying a thin layer of affordable 'beni'.

In spite of the effort that went into finding a cheaper alternative to the original sasabeni look, this trend was short-lived like most trends in Edo and in present day. Nevertheless, it is an interesting example of our ability to adopt ideas, and desire to replicate items at a lower cost.


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