X Marks Your Perfect Lipstick Formula


A fun fact for the next icebreaker game you're forced to participate in: The modern day lipstick tube as you know it was patented nearly 70 years ago. And in the '50s, the classic, creamy bullet inside was pretty much the only option formula-wise. Not so much now! You've got the ones that stay on all day, the ones that give you just a kiss of color... there are the gloopy ones, the powdery ones, the ones in a pan and a tube and a teeny bottle. Like trying to order at Sweetgreen by just asking for a salad, saying you're in the market for a new lipstick isn't really saying much. My theory? All lipsticks must fall along two axes: one for pigment (sheer vs. opaque) and one for finish (matte vs. shiny). Here's what I'm talking about:


In quadrant I, top right, you’ve got your serious lipsticks: the full coverage mattes. Liquid mattes, like this one from The Lip Bar, go on in one coat, dry completely shine-free, and last throughout the day. The same is true of Fenty’s Stunna Lip Paint, though it's a little softer. The longwear you get from these guys is perfect for mask-on occasions, but comes with less time to play (good luck achieving a blurred outline, if you’re going for that) and less hydration. For a smudgier, creamier lip that’s still incredibly matte and opaque, try Lisa Eldridge’s Velvet lipsticks. The pigment-packed formula is in a class of its own... so rich, it really does look like velvet. It’s gorgeous, just probably not for beginners. A tried-and-true bullet like MAC’s Matte Lipstick, which is just a few notches less opaque and less matte, is more wieldable (and probably a little more comfortable).

In quadrant II you’ll find the most traditional lipstick formulas: Chanel Rouge Allure, Nars Audacious, the Kosas lipsticks… These guys are shiny but not totally glossy (satin finish is the word you’ll most likely see used), and have creamy, waxy formulas that pigment in one swipe and stay on well, but won’t hold up to a big burger bite. They're also quite forgiving to chapped or thin lips. I’m not going to say this finish is a dime a dozen, but I will say you’ve got options. Also in this quadrant are things like YSL's Glossy Stain, which combines high pigment with higher shine. And Anastasia Beverly Hills' gloss is even more opaque! Think of it like a liquid matte had a sexy weekend fling with a patent gloss.

If it were listed on Zillow, quadrant III would be the new hot neighborhood. Specifically the right side of the box, where something like Glossier's Ultralip sits. It demonstrates the trending texture (which can work like a tinted balm or a sheer lipstick depending on your application) beautifully, using cushy oils for moisturizing shine. Ilia’s Balmy Gloss is more gloss-like, so it's not as buildable—what you see is what you get. And the lower left corner of this quad is really all about finish. Tower 28’s lip oils are traditional glosses, albeit with some less sticky innovation. They're as shiny as a coat of gel nail polish, and leave color like you just chomped on a juicy piece of fruit.

Finally, quadrant IV is for the sheer mattes. These guys are unfussy and easy to wear, so you can reapply without a mirror and not worry about major clown smudges. They also won’t catch any windblown hairs the way something goopier might. Ohii’s Lip Smudge is the most pigmented, but a buildable pigmented! You can sheer it down if you want. Olio e Osso feels moisturizing but wears decidedly more matte than other balms. And a lip stain (or lip tint, depending where you’re shopping) like this Dear Darling one from Etude House dries with a finish like your own lips. In other words: no shine at all.

Of course, that's just a sampling of what's out there—there are so many more lipsticks I love that didn't fit in the chart. But, you know, they all fit in the chart. Somewhere. That's the point! I mostly hang out within arm's length of the very middle (so, not-too-mattes and not-overly-sheers)... and you?

—Ali Oshinsky

Photo via ITG