One of the great childhood pleasures of the twentieth century, wax lips have been altering the appearance of young tykes for over a hundred years. Found in candy aisles and Halloween trick or treat bags, these novelty items have yet to go completely out of style. And, to whom do we owe thanks for a century of fun facial accoutrements? Why, the petroleum industry, of course!
The story begins with kerosene, which was once used to illuminate most of the nation’s lamps. The manufacturing of kerosene creates a solid byproduct called paraffin wax. In the early 1900s, there was plenty of this stuff lying around and enterprising people were busy trying to find new uses for it. Over at Crayola, for example, they used it to manufacture children’s crayons. It could also be used to make phonograph records and candles. Some even marketed the substance as a cheap alternative to chewing gum.
Over at the American Candy Company, someone came up with the idea of making wax novelty candies. They created items such as horse teeth, vampire fangs, and the iconic pair of red, supple lips that look like a collagen experiment gone horribly wrong. Each of these items was made from a mold and included a flap of wax hidden on the underside that one could bite into, thereby affixing the colorful novelties to their face. The wax was often slightly flavored and sweetened, usually with either a hint of cherry or mint.
Despite the added flavoring, wax lips were never really intended to be actually eaten, just chewed. But place anything in a candy aisle or a trick or treat bag and it is likely to be consumed by a kid.