Why Are Lipsticks Like Marie Antoinette

We knew it, you confirmed it - the most important quality that you seek for in a lipstick is -
Then as well - consistency, texture, coverage, long lasting, moisturizing, no smell, no irritating ingredients, "lightness", cost , packaging, company reputation...
In this blog, i would add definitions so as to make sure we are talking of the same shit.  I know there is the risk that I might sound like one of those preacher/academics clutching an aspirin between their ass cheeks, but please bear with me as I noticed that some terms are used when another is meant -
As I have read your comments, I was pretty sure that most of you have had your share of disappointments, some self-inflicted but most are marketing induced.

With this blog, even if it is a little on the tight-ass academic side, I hope to somehow give you info that will help either manage your expectations or detect a bullshit to stop further unnecessary disappointments.

Lipstick 101 Lesson One:   Lipstick 1,2,3

This is the lipsticks composition-
formula     +      pigments    +    fragrance 
The formula is made of  (base texture + actives) which was discussed in a previous blog and the same principle applies for lipsticks.
  • Pigments are those that impart either color (dyes) or sparkle (ie, pearls, minerals...)
  • And of course, fragrance added which you all agreed to hate.   BUT-  Lipsticks being made of wax, SMELL of wax - some more rancid than others.   Oftentimes, we have no choice but to add fragrance because the option is much worse. We just have to deal with it.
Lipstick 101 Lesson Two:  More to the texture than meets the eye

You normally equate a texture for its finish as we like distinguishing them- matte, shiny, sheer, pearl- but in fact a texture is more than that.

A formula will intrinsically have the following characteristics:
  • glide - how smoothly the lipstick slides on your lips upon application. So a lipstick will either have a good glide or by your terminology, gritty - poor glide.
  • comfort - if it feels like you are wearing nothing when you apply the lipstick, it is said to be comfortable. The more you feel that you are wearing something, the less comfortable it is.
  • payoff - if the color intensity when applied is less that that you see in the bullet, the lipstick is said to have less/low color payoff. 
  • coverage
  • wear - how long it will last
  • and yes - finish. (matte, semi matte, sheer...)
And our task is to make sure that these characteristics respond to those of your expectations.  And we base your expectations to the brands that you can afford.

Evil, but true.  I will not give you Chanel qualities if your point of comparison is Avon.

Lipstick 101 Lesson Three:  Actives "enhance" the formula's performance properties - (or do they really?)

These are the usual claims that you will hear from the likes of me:
1)  moisturizing - we add more emollients or vitamins or plant extracts and we hell make sure to claim.  Everyone is just compelled to have this.
2) long lasting - to really increase the wear of the lipstick, we add what we call volatiles in the formula.  Ingredients that, evaporate as you apply the lipstick to fix the formula to your lips.  With continued usage, this is guaranteed to dry up your lips.  No ifs, buts about it.
To see which lipsticks have this, just look at the packaging they come with.  Are they air tight? (you know those longer proportioned slimsticks? Most of them are in these packaging and they have this distinct "click" when you close them).    
3) no transfer - works in the same principle as long lasting lipsticks.   What is good for your married man lover to hide you from his wife, is bad for your lips.  Both cases, you lose.
4) sun protection factor, SPF -  Ok, here is the deal with sun protection.  Because all lipsticks contain pigments,  the pigments in itself act as a shield - so in effect, all lipsticks will have a certain protection value to them, the darker and more pigmented, the higher.   
The thing is- if I want to claim to have SPF , there are two things i need to do- 
  • First - is to subject it to an independent SPF testing that costs money (which is nothing  for a big brand).  Side note :  i can claim SPF 5, 8, 10, 12, 15... nothing in between like 11, 6.  If my lipstick tests 14, I have to claim 12.  That's the regulation.
  • Second, I have to add an active SPF ingredient to it.  (I am not allowed to claim SPF based just on the natural protection of the pigments.) 
 Most common active SPF ingredient is titanium dioxide which is a white pigment.  
This is a bummer.   
Because first, as an active ingredient, it may affect the stability/performance of my formula.  So sometimes, a formula is already beautiful but with its addition, the properties are affected.   
Second, the white pigment affects how the color registers - so particularly tricky in color matching!
There ends our lesson on basics of Lipsticks.  Whew!  (Nosebleed)
With this working knowledge, I now unleash the the bitches.

As far as lipsticks go, there are two things that you should know.

 Bullshit N°1  The curse of Marie Antoinette
"You cannot have your cake and eat it too.  (But as we are marketing biatches, we will make it appear you can.)"  
OR paraphrasing-
You cannot have something without sacrificing another thing.
  • If you want it creamier, then it will be softer and bullet will be weaker, less comfort
  • If you want it moisturizing, then it will not last as long. If long lasting, then it is drying
  • If you want better glide then you have to lighten the formula ie, pigment, sparkle, cream
  • and so on...

    Sure we can balance qualities somewhat- but if you want more of something, you are bound to get less of something else- you studied that in Science, action-reaction - that is just how nature works.

    And yet- we will never say it that way- you will always feel you are getting every freaking thing your heart desires! That is also why you have come to demand more from your lipstick- because we would like to pretend to be giving you more.

So, the moral of this lesson is -  

If your true NEED is to really have a beautiful color, do not ask for everything from your lipstick formula or you will end up with mediocre qualities.
  • If you must have moisturizing, then accept to reapply lipstick more frequently.
  • If you refuse to reapply frequently, then apply a lip balm/moisturizer first before you apply your long lasting lipstick.
  • If you must have a high SPF protection, then apply an SPF balm as an extra layer 
Sorry, there is NOT one product that will have all the superlatives.   NONE.  NADA. RIEN. NIENTE.

You either accept that, or keep on buying bullshitful of products and keep on being disappointed over and over and over again.

 Bullshit N°2  It's never only about the "color".

What determines the color is not just the pigments but the combination of formula+pigments.
You know this really. 
If I go to my lab with a color swatch and ask them to match it on the existing formula that we use, not unless the formula is similar, I will not have the same result.
It is like applying paint on plastic against applying it on a concrete wall.  The color will take on the characteristic of the material that it is applied to.  
The matte, semi matte, sheer as you know are more a function of formula and not pigment.   
If you want the pearl/shiny lipstick- this is now based on adding shiny pigments like pearls, minerals... A shiny ingredient i like is called metashine, they're really fine particles of brilliance which, the last time i checked is not allowed in latin america but is ok with the rest of the world.  
If you add sparkles/pearls, the color perception will not be the same- but most of the time, we throw the request to our labs- that goes- oh i want this but with sparkles.  The lab will have to adjust the pigments with the sparkles.  It is not that straightforward.  But that is their problem.
Now some formula can take in a lot of color pigments and some cannot.
Some can take in sparkles and pearls and some don't.
So If i pick a certain formula for my line, I will have a range of colors, pigmentation, sparkle limitations.

Now you might wonder (like I did) why I just don't use different formulas to have as varied an offering as possible?

Aha!  You have forgotten that my main point here is to make money.

If I have a common formula for one whole line, it is cheaper to have tons of one common formula made and then just add pigments afterwards rather than having several kilos of formula for each shade.

That is also the main thinking that goes to separating a line of mattes, semi mattes, sheers, frosted, creamy... so I can optimize use of a formula to many shades.

Plus, for every formula used, I have to make a series of tests and then register to each and every country I sell to.  That process of registration costs me a lot of energy and money.

So less formula i have, less i spend, more the Council of the Clueless earn.

Bullshit N°2 The Carmine Corollary
Something on pigments.  There is this certain type of crimson red lipstick which is so vivid and beautiful that no self respecting brand will not have this color.  I personally call it Rowena Red but you can more relate to it as China Red (you can see it in one of my colour matching example).  All the women in my family wear this color for occasions when we mean business.   
This type of red is near impossible to create without using a pigment called Carmine.
And guess where carmine comes from?  Crushed beetles.     
Everyone has it-  yes, even the company B.S. the first to boast of natural everything!   
No animal testing?  Sure!
Animal slaughtering? Definitely!    
Look I am comfortable in my place in the food chain and I will trade my ex-boyfriend for barbecue.   I wear leather and have a few mink stoles.  And, if there is a real possibility of dying of starvation, it is plausible that I will eat a vegan, so I will not be casting a stone here.

But what I think is, go ahead if you feel like killing em beetles in the name of beauty, but do not go beating your chest with self righteousness about not harming/testing the animals and all that BS.  Just own to it! I will respect you more for that.  (Natalie Portman may not agree - but then again, what is this she's wearing?!)


  1. Hey,

    Nice blog you got there! I love it :)
    I'm a new follower now! Maybe you can check out mine as well and maybe you can become a follower too?

    I love comments!

    Thanks :)

  2. Hi Tessa!
    Welcome to the women who h<3te Beautya nd the Bullshit Club!
    Yes, I checked out your blog and will make myself a follower. I noticed that you take so many shots of your nailpolish in different light conditions.
    I will post something that might be practically useful for you on that end.
    In the next few days- cheers!

  3. I wrote a very different version of this article a week ago which i took out a few days later. It tackled more on politics of the lipstick line rather than the texture which on hindsight may be too much of complex information too soon- ergo this revised article starting with textures first. But i will advance to the politics and business of the lipstick in the next blog.
    Apologies from an over-anxious new blogger- but i figure- no post is better than bad post.

  4. Hi Rowena,

    I read your previous article a few days ago and was really inspiring to me. Hope to see more that later.
    And this one, crushed beetles! Really nerve cracking. Is it only the China Red lipsticks contain these insects? or all the pigments have these?

    Nice work! Can't wait for more!

  5. Yeah! It's back - and there's more!

  6. ah, finally it's back ;) I read the first post with interest, then it disappeared and I thought, you had to edit it or wanted to add something, but then it was gone for several days ^^ This post is different, but also very interesting and somehow more structured.

    I knew that with the crushed beetles, I also think they are used in certain drinks like "campari". I don't know if this is sold in America, but you can get it in Europe, it's a ruby red liquor. Nowadays they claim to put in Tartrazin and other things for the red color, but for years they got it from crushed lice.

    As for the color/pigmentationi/moisture/lasting qualities thing, as I prefer moisture to lasting quality, I would always re-apply my lipstick several times before chosing one that dries out my lips.
    And as I am a sheer/shimmer lover and not a fan of dark or bright lipstick-colors, I don't have the pigmentation problem, either ... with nail polishes though, I'm totally different *grins* sheer nailpolishes are a pita, especially if you need more than 3 coats to archieve the bottle color.
    But sheer lipsticks are fine ;)

  7. I only got through 1/2 of that original post before something interrupted and when I came back and it was gone I wondered if I had dreamed it! And now you tell me that you can't make me a lipstick that knocks 30 years off my lips and gives me back my early 20's pout? I am verklempt. Unsurprised mind you... I'll settle for something that keeps them hydrated and doesn't bleed. I'm a reapply-er anyway.

    For Caitlin...equating Carmine beetles to lice is misleading. They are more akin to aphids since they live on plant juices, not animal/people ones.

  8. Hi Cathy Lee!
    I am glad that you found it inspiring!
    It is tricky to write about the inside strategy and be positive- so i was dilly-dallying with that article. (I have this strict dictum that I should always have a positive agenda in everything that I do- keeps me from doing evil things:-)
    But- yes, that is reality- i will put that article back this saturday.

  9. Hi Caitlyn-
    Yes, I have a tendency to post and edit online as I go (bad bad habit!) and since i was gone for a week, i was very enthusiastic to post - and on hindsight, my structure was all over the place. It will be back!

  10. Hi sandi-
    Haha! Thank you for teaching me a new word-verklempt- i love it!
    Well, we do have plumping lipsticks (i will write about that- not all plumping lipsticks are created equal).
    For the non feathering, solution is ... i think i will write that on the next post. heehee!

  11. Dear Rowena, I found your blog a few days ago and I'm reading every single post now. Maybe you'll cover this in a post I haven't read yet, but I have to say that I *have* found lipsticks that had excellent coverage, glide, colour and wear, but they have all been discontinued one by one. Why is that??!! I'm beginning to think there is a conspiracy to NOT give us the perfect lipsticks, because then we would not keep buying more in the search for the best formula.

    This fall I've tested the latest formulas and they're all better in all areas (except a bit sticky), but none of them match the greatness of Chanel Hydrabase, L'Oréal Invincible Platinum or Versace.

  12. Hey Rowena!

    Awesome blog here!
    I refuse to buy mascara and lipstick now.
    I stick to a nice coloured lipbalm :)
    Plus being in college, who needs lipstick anyways!

    Im a new follower now:)


  13. Hello, sorry for commenting on such an old post, but I'm just glad to have found someone who has the same ideas. I also believe that when it comes to lipsticks, you can't have it all. So when I hear girls complaining that this long-wear lipstick isn't moisturizing or that this moisturizing lipstick needs to be reapplied after 3 hours, I can't help but laugh.

  14. Hi Rowena, first of all, love your blog! Second, love the Natalie Portman zinger at the end >:) I think you should create a new section dedicated to exposing over-marketed celebs (Ha!). I don't care if you love or hate Natalie but I think you're a fool if you can't see that's she's 90% marketing bullshit (the number is based on a poll.....conducted by me, on me, certified by trusted board (me) taking into account 10% margin error). I mean, if she was really all she's cracked up to be, why would she have signed with Dior?? That's oxymoron.

    I actually had a blog equating Natalie with Creme de la Mer, I've since deleted it since it was neglected after the one and only post about Nat....maybe I should post it under a new one...hmmmm LOLZ anyway keep 'em coming, will ya?

  15. Carmine has been used for centuries to impart the famous red dye. There's no way in hell any company would stop using it in some form or another. It's used in textiles, cosmetics, and even food and beverages. Synthetic red dye is a known carcinogen and since carmine is from a natural source it is far safer for use in cosmetics and food. I mean really, who would want to ingest known carcinogens from your lipstick, candies, or your favourite cherry kool aid? Didn't think so

  16. Um, I'm a vegan, and if you try to eat me, I will claw my way out of you from the inside out!! Don't get me wrong, I love your blog, but what an obnoxious thing to say...


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