There is probably not one day that has gone by in the pandemic where I didn’t think about wanting to write a new Makeup Monday blog post. Fact is, makeup is one of my main pandemic coping mechanisms. It’s irrational, since there is literally nowhere to wear the makeup anymore. But what can I say? I love it, and it gives me joy.
Wanting to restart the MM series all started with my noticing, on the rare occasions I still went out in makeup, that I really intensely disliked the strong sharp matte look I’d been sporting the last few years (ie, Beauty Bakerie Lip Whip #iykyk). It was just… too much… for our demoralized pandemic world. Trying too hard, or believing too much in a viable future… or something.
Then summer came and I started swimming every day, and wanted something light and fresh and summery that also provided SPF. And Lo and behold: the makeup world was newly awash in the balm trend, so I had almost unlimited options to try.
At the same time, the soft “blotted” or “undone” look from Korea was finally getting some US traction, and I had loved those from my Urban Decay Lo-Fi days.
This led me to notice a new trend in lipcolors — and I’m sure this is a pandemic post-matte reaction – non-liquid products (bullets and pencils) that deliver a rich satin shine, while also wearing down to an even light semi-stain. Because: masks.
No, of course these don’t last like BB Lip Whip or CoverGirl Outlast (fans: I think they are discontinuing these!!!! I found my beloved 621 at Grocery Outlet for $2.99! I stocked up but… scary!), but under a mask they will maintain some level of even color.
Two years ago I actually conducted a giant K-beauty lip stain research project. I tried out about 25 Korean soft powdery lip stains and I loved them, EXCEPT not a single one was wearable for me in terms of color because no matter what shade I ordered, they were all too coral/orange for my cool undertone. I gave them all away to a friend!
And then of course, stains. Because, again: masks. I actually find it weird how few companies have innovated new stains for the pandemic, but anyway, I mention two below.
So this all prompted a huge – and hugely expensive – reconsideration of my lipstick life from the ground up. And this time, I went for it. I spent my former vacation budget on just trying. every. last. option. This included everything from luxury to drugstore.
The results were surprising. I found much more joy in drugstore offerings than I expected! And best results from dedicated makeup brands. You’ll see below there are no Armanis or Diors etc etc to be found. I did try them! But… I found that while those brands make lovely colors, the functionality is just … lacking. I think these designer makeup lines are basically like their fragrances: things for people who want fancy packaging and association with glamour. And they’re also about predictability. If you read reviews of OG prestige brands like Dior or even Estee Lauder, what you see are a bunch of people saying: “I’ve used this product for 25 years!!!” Which is great… but is it? Because if they’ve been using that product for 25 years, what they haven’t been doing is grasping and benefiting from the tremendous technical innovations in ALL of makeup during that time. So in fact, the good reviews are often proof that the products aren’t really that great. They are just predictable. Long story short, if you want makeup effectiveness: go to the companies that actually focus on makeup and innovate constantly.
So, without further ado, let me share some findings. By and large I tried a cool nude and a cool berry in most products. (for the sake of speed, I won’t be sharing links–you can find everything at Sephora, Ulta, and the company websites, and of course right now, it’s discount season!).
I have bolded my favorites.
Pat McGrath Lip Fetish Sheer Balm in Love Supreme, Flesh 3, and Dark Romance (you can get these three in a discounted set btw). WOW Best in CLASS! Some kind of sorcery, as you’d expect from PM, that melds luscious dynamic color with a nourishing balm, a sexy shine, and reasonable (for the genre) wear.
Perricone No Makeup Lipstick (w/SPF) in Rose: I turned to this over and over all summer long. It was simply perfect for a no-makeup finished look and UV protection. Very little color but enough to give a lift for your camping selfies.
Ilia Balmy Tint in Lullaby and Runaway. I finally gave in to the Ilia hype and bought these. And yeah… they are really all that. More color than Perricone, more natural wearable tones than Pat McGrath… just a basically perfect summer nourishing lip balm that lights up your face.
Kosas KosasSport Hylauronic Lip Balm in Rush. Kosas is a terrific brand for everything hydrating, moisture, oil, balm… all of that. This product has tremendous color, feel, moisturizing effect, and… best of all: amazing staying power! Highly recommend.
NARS Soft Matte Tinted Lip Balm in Unrestricted and Touch Me. These are true mattes, and so a real stand-out in the balm genre. As such they do have a slightly heavier coverage and they come in darker shades that feel more autumnal/wintery to me. So I’ll be getting them back out for winter! True to NARS quality, they last.
Chantecaille Lip Chic in Red Juniper. It took a lot to get me to spring for this v. expensive cult product but…. in the end I just wanted to try it and see if it lived up to the hype. They make several varieties of balm; i’ve only tried this one. I think it is worth the money, but by the same token I haven’t bought more. The colors in this brand are to die for; they are bringing the reds, fuscias etc. to the balm world. The company is committed to sustainability and environmental causes, and they last better than most balms. For me, the jury is still out on these. They are GREAT, but are they worth paying 2x the other options?
Buxom Power-Full Plump in Big O and Dolly Fever. This really does plump (gently), and I wore Dolly Fever over much of the summer! Anything you get in Buxom’s (Darling) Dolly shades is going to be great, esp if you are cool-toned like me. The clear Big O is terrific to put over any other drying stains.
Tahari Tinted Lip Balm (not sure which color from the box). So these are kind of a bullshit product that you get in a box set at Nordstrom Rack, but if you know that going in, you aren’t disappointed! I was ready to see what they’d deliver, and the box of 6 berry shades was mostly unusable, because the shades were over-bright and cheap-looking and the product smeary, but one of them I like a lot and wear now and again just to mix things up! And: the entire box is about 1/3 the cost of any of the above single products! I think this would make a terrific gift for a teenager or college student.
Various balms from natural foods stores like Burts Bees, etc. etc. These are fine and cheap but the colors are over-shimmery, smeary, or outdated.
Urban Decay Lo-Fi Lip Mousse in Echo and Amplify. Discontinued! Fans from before know that I’ve loved this for years, and wondered why others didn’t emulate this soft-edged, forgiving finish. Well, finally they are. But alas: this OG is no longer.
Buxom Pillow Plump Plumping Lip Powder in Darling Dolly and Spoil Me. I really love this product – you get a soft yet vivid effect–and these are BRIGHT! They’re kind of weird to apply–you’ll understand when you try them. But once you get the knack they’re great. I can’t say for sure this product plumps per se, but the powdery finish gives a plumping look to your lips, because of the volume.
Revlon Cloud Blotted Lip Color, in Berry Soft and Cashmere Mauve. A surprising stand-out. One of the delightful things about these products is you can slap them on without a mirror, like a gloss! They are soft, forgiving, and buildable! And so affordable! I’m a fan!
ColourPop Lux Velvet in Big Bang. Despite being a liquid, this looks very similar to the Buxom Lip Powder, and it lasts even longer! Sheer and velvety. Must leave plenty of drying time. I’d buy this in every shade but sadly they are all warm toned except this one. Definitely a product that harkens to K-Beauty. I hope they expand the line, though, because this blue-red is to die for. If you’re cool-toned and looking for a lasting, soft, not too high maintenance vivid red for cheap ($8)–try this!
NYX Powder Puff Powder Lip Cream Lippie in Group Love and Prank Call. These are the NYX knockoffs of the Buxom product. And… friends, they are good! As with all NYX lip products, you have to deal with the nasty smell. But wow, they deliver gorgeous colors, the powdery soft look, buildability, and wearability. Wear down to a really beautiful bright rose (weirdly, both of these colors wore down to the same rose shade!). Must leave plenty of drying time! Recommend you try for $5.99 or whatever they are, if you want to dip a toe in the powder genre.
PeriPera Lip Velvet. This was one of the first K-Beauty soft lip sheers to hit the US, and it’s good. I saw on sale at Walgreens recently; not sure if it’s being phased out. If so, go with the ColourPop Lux Velvet above.
LONG-WEAR SATIN SHINE
Trish McEvoy Essential Pencil in Nude and Sweet Berry. These were a real surprise, and I have to thank the Professor Is Out FB group for a lively discussion thread about lipstick that led to this recommendation. They go on gently, sheerly (but more opaque than a balm) to deliver a wonderful wearable, pandemic-appropriate, not-trying-to-hard, satiny sheen that wears to a nice even stain-y color. They only make these two colors, and the nude is too warm for me, but I’m deeply attached to the Sweet Berry.
Hourglass Girl Lip Stylo in Liberator. A glorious, soft satin sheen product in complex, sophisticated shades…I fell instantly in love, went back to Sephora to get more colors, only to discover to my horror that they’d been abruptly discontinued in-store. You can still get online but for how long? I think these are a kind of magic and I’m sad.
Makeup Forever Artist Rouge ShineOn in Lucky Mulberry. Aside from its cool packaging, which converts to a wand for more precise application, this product, like everything from MUF, just delivers. The colors are gorgeous, the sheen is perfect, and the wearability is spot on. Their regular Artist Rouge line is equally good, but more matte.
NEW SCHOOL STAIN
ColourPop Fresh Kiss in Berry Ripe. This products takes the mask-appeal of a stain but pumps it up with more opacity and volume on the lip, richer colors, and slight hydration to be less drying. The colors aren’t optimal for the older crowd (not surprising given the brand!) and Berry Ripe is really a vivid fuscia, and a bit much to start, but wears down to beautiful cool rose. Needs plenty of drying time.
OLD SCHOOL STAIN
Benefit Benetint Rose: you can’t beat this for mask-longevity; it’s the OG stain! While it dries fast to a totally dry/transparent finish, is drying on the lip, and so a bit unforgiving on aging lips especially, you can pump and plump it up with a nice balm, especially the Buxom Power-Full Plump Balm in Big O.