Blogging off topic today on lips – particularly red lips. If you like lipstick and/or working a red lip, please read on and give me advice, I have questions in here. If not – sorry! – pretend the blog is down today. Hey, I just freed up 20 minutes in your day! Waste it by going here to Gwyneth Paltrow´s new, inexplicable website GOOP (for pete´s sake) and explain to me what I´m missing. Is there any content there? Or do you just get the same tripe loading on all pages about nourishing what is real? The day I seek lifestyle advice from La Paltrow (“find inner peace by being rich and marrying that guy from Coldplay!”) is the day pigs fly, but I´m fascinated by the concept.
This is long and written in my usual maniacal, pedantic, obsessive style. Feel free to get a cup of coffee before settling in.
* * *
Early last summer I looked at the 35+ lipsticks and glosses in my drawer and divided them into three categories:
- Horribly dated frosts, too-dark shimmers and glitter glosses about which I will say nothing more, because if I did I´d have to put a bag over my head and enter the makeup witness protection program. I got rid of those.
- Variations on that pinky-brown YLBB (Your Lips But Better), complexion-enhancing shades that Bobbi Brown pioneered (in my mind, anyway) and everyone makes now, and lipstick lovers should own one. Or several. These I kept.
- The not-quite-right lipsticks from Gift With Purchase sets, because they were interesting and pretty and, like the interestingly pretty top I bought on sale at Neiman Marcus that never makes it off the hanger and onto my body, these lovely lipsticks never seemed to be right for the moment. I find it curious how seldom GWP lipsticks work on me, because I assume they pick their more universally flattering shades for their lippies, and they generally hedge their bets further by giving you warm or cool options. Those I tucked away or gave to the girls.
Leaving me with pretty much nothing else – which is funny, because I love lipstick. I wear lipstick and/or gloss every single day. I put it on to walk to the mailbox. It is the sole makeup item I carry in my purse for reapplication as needed, along with a small mirror. I don´t leave home without it.
This summer I went to several makeup counters, told the SAs not to let me buy anything YLLB, and we went from there. I wound up with several interesting pinks in various tones and finishes. But now it´s fall and time for red — the topic of today´s post.
I swatched reds until I developed what looked like some permanent, alarmingly pink skin condition on the back of my hand, and tried (fewer) shades on my lips until I looked like the Joker, due to spillover and multiple removals. Here´s what I found, and anyone on here who loves lips, particularly red lips, please chime in. I should clarify: I´m interested in a more matte finish, rather than shimmer, and I can always add gloss (although then they don´t seem to last as long.)
1) Stains, in brush or wand applicator formula. Full disclosure: this all started as a search for a reddish lip stain because I thought I´d ease into red, but I gave up, because the stain concept didn´t work out for me, although I´m open to suggestions. I have full lips with minimal lines, but stains tended not to flatter my face. Stains can be really drying (what´s up with that?), can taste terrible, last less well than you´d think, can be messy to apply, and often give that sucked-on-a-popsicle look with more pigmentation toward the inside of the lip – which looks sexy on a 20-year-old but is a little jejune on me. Two stains I want to mention: The NARS Lip Stain Gloss in Indian Red and Daredevil — both of which looked like hell on me (dried blood and hot pink, respectively) but they are so unusual and I am sure somebody out there must look amazing in them. Extremely heavily pigmented with a totally matte finish, and you need about three drops to spread quickly because they dry fastfastfast. Oddly, Sayonara, which gets a lot of static as garish on MUA, was a perfect YLBB on me.
2) Lip/cheek pot “stains.” The Bobbi Brown Raspberry Pot Rouge is a fun color, berry pink rather than red, for someone who wants a pop of color that (like many of BBs colors) has a neutral undertone to keep it from being super-bright. More a potted lipstick/gloss than a true “stain.” Laura Mercier Lip Stain in Scarlet is a brighter option – a pink-toned red that looks garish in the pot but is surprisingly buildable, for a very sheer berry veil up to something cherry-bright, but not as bright as you´d think. Again, more a satin-y lipstick/gloss than a true “stain.” You can put these on with your pinkie or a brush. No noticeable smell/flavor. Both of these are a nice intro to stronger color, not super long lasting, although Scarlet leaves a very pretty stain on the lips.
3) Poppy King´s Lipstick Queen line is my platonic ideal in terms of YLBB colors and formula, and I wish I had a dollar for every woman I know who´s whipped a LQ Natural Saint out of her purse. Poppy does one thing – lips — and she does it beautifully. All the colors come in two concentrations: Saint (10% pigment for a sheer color) and Sinner (matte, 90% pigment), and there are ancillary products (glosses, pencils, etc.) I discovered them in NYC – a small, well edited selection of no-shimmer colors that don´t bleed, taste or smell. I imagine an ideal customer is a woman who doesn´t want to spend a day pawing through 437 shades in Nordstrom to find two simple lipsticks – a YLBB and maybe something more fun. That doesn´t mean the rest of us can´t appreciate them, though. The downside: there´s no store stocking them around here, so I had to read up online and guess for my order. I picked:
Medieval, her new cherry-stained lip tint in a lipstick. A couple weeks ago a friendly Bobbi Brown SA gave me some incredibly enlightening information – my lips are more pigmented than average (who knew?), and they have a slightly cool (blue-brown) cast. This would explain a lot about the terrible things I´ve done to sheer lipsticks over the years – my lips have a weird way of sucking the life out of a color, and I have to be careful not to go too dark. It also probably explains how I can get away with a slightly warmer lip tone. Finally, it probably explains why Medieval turned out to be my first dud – it was like an $18 Chap-Stik. Where was the cherry stain everyone´s raving about? I got nada – no real color at all. It probably does work great on lighter lips. I also got Red Saint, her signature red, because I thought her Red Sinner looked too orange, although it´s supposed to be a true red. I can´t find a single review online. I´m curious, because I think Saint veers in the slightly pink direction. Anyone reading this have Red Sinner? I wonder if I should exchange my Medieval for that one, or should I get Pink Sinner, which looks kind of fab? Finally, Rose Sinner is a gorgeous, slightly warm blush pink-red for someone who wants a soft, romantic pinky-red that isn´t neon bright.
3) The Full Lip. I had these done by the SAs, so I could see a professional result and study various techniques. I tried:
Chanel, Bobbi Brown, Lancome – if you want to chime in with a specific color recommendation I´ll go try it, but everything I saw was too pink, too orange, too brown, too dark or too shimmery to interest me. For cool-toned reds, it is a precariously fine lipstick line between a red and a fuchsia, and it´s a personal taste thing, but I don´t want a bright pink lip. Also, I think it depends on the color, but all three lines can have a noticeable taste and smell, and I´d rather they didn´t.
One Laura Mercier, Truly Red, was a pretty blue-red, but waxy, very drying and came off in less than an hour, leaving me with the red pencil liner the SA´d used around my mouth, and I´ll never do that again.
Bare Escentuals Red Zin – a standout pink-red, slightly glossy, surprisingly long lasting given its creamy application. There are also two slightly warmer toned brown reds, and I´ve made a mental note to revisit this line in the spring, because there are some really pretty colors. Bonus points for no taste/smell.
MAC Russian Red – oh my God!! I realize for seasoned lipstick lovers this is like my discovering a great new substance called “air,” but I actually left this until fairly late in the game, even though it´s often named by makeup artists as a universally flattering true neutral red. I was sure it was too garish – it´s the Dita Von Teese/Madonna-in-Gaultier red. You know — that red. I swatched several MAC reds, including the (very slightly pink) MAC Red and the interestingly matte-velvet but too-dry Ruby Woo. The SA talked me into Russian and applied it with a brush, emphasizing my cupid´s bow. I literally squealed in delight at the results. No taste/smell. Not moisturizing, but not especially drying, at least on me. Lasted until I ate, then I needed a touch up in the middle, but the edges remained perfect and in place until bedtime. Amazing product. A hot tip based on my online browsing – if you try Russian Red as your potential Holy Grail red, and your first response is, those people are crazy, this is orange, then try MAC Red – that´s your HG red. I also bought their retractable brush because I loved the shape – a high, flat dome with a very sharp edge.
A slightly darker, slightly more muted variation, NARS Red Lizard, is a hair too dark for me but looks like it would be stunning on lots of ladies, and NARS Jungle Red is the yummy, slightly warmer alternative I´m now eyeballing.
Make Up For Ever (swatched at Sephora) – a lot of good-looking non-shimmer reds, some opaque and others sheer, but none seemed like the perfect fit (205 was too pink). I liked their red pencil, though – not too smeary, but not too dry. Also, has anyone tried their lipstick mattifying gloss? That looked interesting.
Hey, has anyone tried those Shiseido lip crayons? Those look cool because they´re automatic, and they have a bright red now.
Final random thoughts/questions for people with way more makeup knowledge than me –
1) Blush. I am in my 40s and wear foundation, am fairly pale (guessing a MAC 20/25), and I look better with a little bit of blush. The red lip is really messing up my blush game. Normally I can go either slightly cool or warm with blush, and with my usual YLBB lips, clashing lips/cheeks has never been an issue. I´ve always ignored the lip/cheek stain pots on the grounds that they do one job better than the other, but certainly with the Bobbi and Laura Mercier stains it was easier to use the same color for both, applying the cheek stain with an extremely light hand (or rather, one fingertip). I´m having trouble working a blush with the more saturated reds. Suggestions?
2) While I am in theory a pink-toned person, and thus should lean toward the blue-undertoned reds, I can “swing both ways” a little – a slightly warm red looks surprisingly pretty on me. I was surprised how few lippies are “true” reds – almost every red, on the skin and blotted down, falls pretty clearly in one camp or the other. And nobody can purple up a lippie like I can – I did heinous, Morticia-Addams things to all sorts of shades. Maybe a neutral pencil would fix that? Also, wouldn´t Morticia be a great name for a lipstick?
3) All of these could be put on straight out of the tube and look fine, but after seeing the Cupid´s bow look at MAC, I´m investing in their lip brush
(unless you tell me to get a different one.) too late, I bought it! I´ll continue to apply straight from the tube most of the time, but there´s something very sexy about the Precision Lip, and that you don´t get without the brush.
4) Your thoughts on lip prep, primer, and liner, if I don´t need it to prevent feathering? It´s not like I´m opposed to lip primer or liner, but the only time they used lip primer (at Laura Mercier) the color came off quickly. And using something like lip balm to pre-moisturize my lips also makes the color come off faster. I´m not dying to add another step to the process. Pencil all over tends to dry, I think? Also, I will never ever let someone just outline my lips in red pencil again. It´s one thing for your lipstick to fade all over; it´s another to be left with a ridiculous bright red line around my mouth. Would anyone like to give me a persuasive argument/product to try regarding lip primer or liner?
5) To any of you lipstick virgins out there, it seems worth stating – almost any red or pink lip color, including Russian Red, can be toned way down without too much trouble. I am hardly a makeup expert, but in addition to the old blot-with-a-tissue-after-applying, which doesn´t work that great with the dry matte colors, you can: put on lip balm (e.g., Chap-Stik) first and/or use your finger to dab the color on for a light, soft quasi-stain effect; apply a coat of your most neutral brown YLBB lipstick over top, and come to think of it, this is exactly how I use a tawny neutral lippie; apply a soft gloss and blot; if you are desperate and own no brownish lippies, apply a light dusting of tan or light brown eyeshadow (yes, I have actually done this. Of course, I also wear room spray.)
6) Finally, those MAC Makeup Remover Wipes – holy cow! They were the only thing that literally took all traces of red lipstick off my hands instantaneously. It was almost scary, I wonder if doing that to my face regularly would be bad? But if you´re wearing a Christina-Aguilera-level full face, one of those wipes would be a godsend (and apparently she uses them). If I really fall into this red lip thing, I am going to have to investigate further, although right now plain old jojoba oil (my trusty friend) on a Q-tip is getting the job done. Do you all use a special remover for lipstick?
So… did anyone read this far? Anything you want to add, argue about or educate me on? Fire away.
image: Painted Red Lips, Japan, allposters.com