Lipcolor 101

Lipcolor 101

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By Gina Jet

Dark lipstick.

As you already know, lipcolor is available in a zillion varieties because it’s a product that is used by half of the global population! Lipstick is the #1 selling cosmetic in the world, so every makeup company has a marketing strategy to promote the “best new thing” in lipcolor, but truthfully the formulas haven’t changed much over the decades. The basic type of lipstick is still a mixture of petroleum, wax, and pigment. Some is shiny, some is not, some smells like candy, some does not.

So what makes the millions of versions of basically the same product differ from one another? Two things: purpose and formula. People who’ve been wearing lipcolor forever know that one size does not fit all in the lipcolor department, because they do different things. They’re not just about color, they’re about functionality. An experienced makeup wearer knows that specific products are better suited for specific situations. It all comes down to lifestyle. An inexperienced makeup buyer/wearer will become so overwhelmed by simply picking a lipcolor that they will almost always just grab one randomly off the rack and buy it without thinking about what it’s actually for. To color the lips? Well, yea, but…

The purpose of this article is to introduce the beginner to the various types of lipcolor and when to use them.


  1. LIPSTICK: Best for “general purpose” wear, i.e., short blocks of time and when it needs to be removed easily.

When we think of the word “lipstick,” our minds immediately go to that classic gold tube with shiny red color inside. If you’re of a certain age, you remember that heavy waxy smell that came out of the tube when you removed the outer cover. Ahhh, yes. The unmistakable smell of petroleum! Well, we’ve come a long way over the decades, so it’s helpful to know what the differences are in today’s formulations. These solid forms of lipcolor, in a stick of course, are formulated with a blend of waxes, oils, pigments, and yes…petroleum. The fancy kinds will boast expensive softening ingredients like glycerin, lanolin, shea butter, Vitamin E, and some are even infused with hyaluronic acid.

This solid-form lipcolor-in-a-stick can be broken down into subcategories too, by finish, opacity, and durability:

  1. Glossy (super shiny), matte (no shine), satin (kinda shiny), pearl (iridescent), etc.
  2. Sheer, full-coverage, lightweight, etc.
  3. Regular Wear, Long Wear, All Day Wear, 12-Hour, etc.

Cheap Lipstick vs. Expensive Lipstick: The differences between these are not just in the price point. There’s a reason that they vary so widely in cost and it’s because of how they are manufactured. Big, expensive, mainstream brands are produced in labs and factories that are strictly regulated and monitored for quality control, and that requires higher production costs. The (very) inexpensive brands are usually imported from countries with little-to-no quality control measures. The other reason is the ingredients. Inexpensive brands will contain very little (if any) in the way of costly emollients and conditioners and are truly a “bare bones” product. It depends on the brand, obviously, but I actually like some of these brands because little-to-no emollients produce a much “drier” product that stays on longer than their too-moist counterparts. Lastly, the more expensive brands tend to be made with glycerin instead of petroleum, which helps prevent that unsightly “sludge” that builds up on your lips.

TIP: “Wet” lipstick comes off easier and “dry” lipstick stays on better. Lipcolors that have a lot of moisturizers and conditioners tend to go on easy and come off easy. Cheap lipcolors that contain little to no emollients and conditioners are dry and therefore they stay put longer without smearing.

  1. PALETTES: These are regular lipcolor formulas and are not designed to be worn for long periods.

Lipstick Palette

Palettes are my favorite for many reasons but the main one is because they give me a dozen colors and finishes available at my fingertips without having to hunt for other products. They’re a big time-saver, and for a professional artist that’s very important. Portability (meaning in my makeup kit) is also a key factor because it saves me from having to bring a dozen or more separate lip products with me on jobs. However, for the home-consumer, these aren’t very portable. You’re certainly not going to carry one of these in your purse, but having one on your makeup table will give you access to a variety of shades, finishes, and “looks” very quickly. I LOVE lipcolor palettes! If you own a palette, you also need a few lip brushes in various shapes and sizes.

NOTE: You can make your own palettes! You can purchase empty palettes from Amazon or eBay and fill them will all of your favorite colors and finishes for a custom palette that only you will have! You can also buy empty, multi-cell plastic containers at dollar stores and craft stores. Yay!

  1. STAINS: This formula is good for people who don’t like the regular messy, easily-smeared lipsticks.

Lip Stains

These are starting to make traction in the marketplace because they’re a “hybrid” product in that they’re like a lipcolor and a gloss “all-in-one.” However, not all of them are glossy. Some are matte, and those ones are like a watery, color-infused paint. The point of the stains are supposed to be that they stay on for a long time without maintenance, but I have not experimented with enough of these to be able to attest to that truth. I’ve tried several varieties; one was like a magic marker that went on thin but “stained” my lips with no gloss or shine whatsoever, and another one I tried went on with a brush (like nail polish) and was sheer in color but super-shiny. The latter came off quickly and left me wondering what the whole point was.

  1. LIQUIDS: My preferred choice now since they’re much more durable than regular, easily-smeared lipstick.

This variety has taken the marketplace by storm in the last decade because of the staggering variety of formulations. They’re popular because of their durability and some formulas claim to stay put for 24 hours or more! I love that the lid doesn’t come off in my purse. I hate that!

Most people don’t wear lipcolor for 24 hours but there’s a big advantage to lipcolor that stays on:

  1. It won’t come off when you kiss someone
  2. It won’t come off onto your wine glass and leave an embarrassing smudge
  3. It won’t destroy your pillowcase if you fall asleep with it still on
  4. It won’t smear if someone hugs you
  5. It won’t leave a mark when you kiss your dog or cat on their forehead
  6. It won’t rub off when you’re eating (greasy foods are an exception)
  7. It won’t require touchups and constant checking when you’re on a date

NOTE: Not all liquid lipcolors are “long wear” so you must check the package! Liquid lipcolors come in glossy or matte, satin or pearl, sheer or full-coverage, and long wear or regular wear.

So if long wear lipcolor is so great, then why isn’t all  lipcolor long wear?

Three reasons:

  1. because some people don’t like the way it feels. It tends to feel heavy and “tight” on the lips, and some formulas are downright uncomfortable. You might have the urge to put some lip gloss on top of it to improve the feel of this product, but doing so can affect its stay-on properties.
  2. The second reason is that it’s more expensive and less accessible than normal lipstick. You must go to a drugstore, Target, Walmart, et. al. to find it.
  3. The third reason is that not everybody wants a lipcolor that stays on and is hard to remove. Suppose you’re just going to run to the grocery store really quick. You don’t need a bulletproof lipcolor for that, and it is tough to remove. You’re not going to simply wipe this stuff off with a Kleenex. Longwear formulas must be removed with remover wipes or oil. (Editor’s note: Or say you’re crossdressing for a fun Saturday night with the girls but you have to show up in church Sunday morning. You definitely don’t want any lipcolor visible while you’re sitting in the pew.)

6) PENCILS: Yes, lipcolor also comes in big, fat “jumbo” pencils that are worn like lipstick but those aren’t the ones I’m going to discuss here. I’m referring to lip liner pencils. Lip liner pencils also come in tons of varieties:

a) wooden pencils that you have to sharpen

b) plastic ones that you “roll up”

c) plastic ones that “self-sharpen”

d) regular wear and long wear

e) colored and colorless

Colorless? Why on Earth would anyone even bother with a lip liner that has no color? Well because lip liner has one job, and (hint) it’s not to draw a colored line around the lips. That’s an afterthought. The real reason we use lip liner is because it’s made of wax, and since most lipsticks are petroleum-based, petroleum cannot “cross” wax. Lip liner is meant to be a little “fence” that your oily lipstick can’t jump over! That’s why some people use colorless lip pencils, so that they can enjoy the protective benefit of the waxy liner and not have to worry about matching it to their lipcolor! Colorless or nude lip liner is so much more forgiving.

The ”other” job of lip liner is to reshape or “correct” an “undesirable” lip shape. If you don’t like the way your lips are shaped, then you can change them! It’s a skill that must be learned correctly or else it won’t be effective.

TIP: Creating a “false lip” works best with matte lipcolors. If you use a shiny lipcolor to fill in your lips, the shine will be a dead giveaway. Apply your “fill in” color with a lip brush for more precise control.


Lip gloss

I will only briefly discuss lip gloss here because it’s a no-brainer product that hasn’t got a lot of differing attributes to explain. However, one difference should be included and that is the new-ish addition of long wear glosses on the market.

As I mentioned previously, some people don’t like the uncomfortable feel of long wear lipcolors and may be tempted to put a lip gloss on top of it to “soothe” the dry feeling. You should not do this without knowing that lip gloss will absolutely affect these products’ ability to stay on for a long time, and that is their entire job. This is precisely why some makers include a lip gloss with their stay-on product. However, only a small handful of makers do this (CoverGirl, L’Oréal, Wet ‘n Wild, and one or two more that I can’t think of right now). The answer to this dilemma would be to use a stay-on lip gloss! Long wear lip glosses contain the same active ingredients that the colors do, so they won’t (shouldn’t?) affect the stay-on properties of the color underneath. Don’t quote me on this because I cannot guarantee this across all brands and all formulas. I know that these three, at the very least, come with soothing glosses and I know there are more.

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Category: Makeup, Transgender How To


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