Color Changing Lipsticks: Better Than Mood Rings


As I child of the '90s, I spent a solid part of my youth sporting a mood ring. There were the inferior 25-cent types that came out of dispensers at the grocery store. I collected those by the dozens. Then, there were the fancier ones in cool shapes that could be bought at funky bead shops or Claire’s. Those were the real prize. But regardless of their quality or provenance, mine always remained a cold sapphire hue. According to all the charts, blue meant “happy, calm, or peaceful.” Blue meant b oring. I longed for a fiery orange or at least a little green. Of course, it was only later that I learned that the colors were dependent on body temperature and, to absolutely nobody’s great shock except my own, the top of your finger doesn’t make major temperature swings throughout the day. After that, it didn’t take long for me to give up my mood rings and move on to other jewelry fads. (Tattoo chokers anyone?)

It should come as no surprise that the moment I heard about Dior’s Dior Addict Lip Glow Color Reviver Balm my nostalgia got the best of me, and I went out and bought some. A little more grown up than a mood ring, Lip Glow supposedly reacts to the “unique chemistry” of the wearer’s lips to create the perfect custom hue. It won't change if you get hot-tempered, but maybe that's a good thing. Then there's Smashbox’s O-Gloss Intuitive Lip Gloss With Goji Berry-C Complex and Sephora Collection Color Reveal Lip Balm, making similar claims about a custom color created by the lipstick’s reaction to the individual body’s pH levels. It was quickly turning into a “gotta catch 'em all' scenario.

The idea of color-changing lip color isn’t new by any stretch. Old-school brand Tangee has a similar product that dates back to the 1920s, and Avon has some from the '70s (when the color-changing lipsticks really took off). Then there’s a hard-to-find Hare Magic Moroccan Color Changing Lipstick that some people swear by and order in bulk via eBay.

Perhaps the most obvious statement to make about these is that results may vary. On the high end (Dior, Sephora) they mainly come in an innocuous shade of light pink that deepens on contact.(Physicians Formula pH Matchmaker pH Powered Lip Gloss and NYX Mood Lip Gloss are the drugstore dupes.) Then there's MoodMatcher which comes in a seriously freaky shades of lime green and acid yellow. Most exotic are the Hare Magic Moroccan ones. I tried the most ubiquitous one in a bright green shade first and was shocked when it turned a vibrant shade of berry pink upon contact with my lips—hello, cognitive dissonance. I was even more surprised when I tried to wipe it off and found the color stubbornly attached to my mouth. Points for long-lasting wear, at the very least. When I eventually got the color off (almost 24 hours and a few lip scrubs later), I tried out the Dior, which slid on in an almost-imperceptible, clear-rose shade but quickly turned a brighter shade of pink. It took a few minutes, but the end result was almost exactly the same as the drugstore stuff.

In the end, all the lip colors turned a fairly uniform shade of berry. Of course those that were already dyed a deep shade of pink or red went on more cherry-hued than the clearer (or yellower) ones, but I have to admit that the final results were all basically the same. This was starting to feel like mood ring déjà vu.

Turns out, it’s all due to an ingredient called Red 27. A dye the FDA lists as safe for use in drugs and cosmetics (but not those that will be used close to the eyes…), its specific formulation allows it to be colorless when dissolved in a waterless base (i.e. a waxy lipstick). Once exposed to moisture, it turns a bright pinkish-red. So, yes, it is technically reacting to your individual skin in that your skin has a higher pH than the lipstick tube and also has water in it, but other than that, things aren’t much more personalized. The only real difference lays in your skin tone. It will obviously look different on someone with dark skin than it does on someone with a pale complexion. That’s not chemistry; that’s just nature.

Because I really wanted to believe in the magic of the lipstick, I even swiped a few sticks across a dry paper towel. Then, I dripped a bit of water onto them. Sure enough, they turned the same bright pink that I had seen on my lips. Bummer. But, while their enchantment may have faded for me, I will say this for the latest addition to my makeup bag: take a lime green lipstick out in any bathroom, and you are guaranteed to make some fast friends.

—Victoria Lewis

Photographed by Tom Newton.