Lipstick Properties: What You Need to Know

: A beautiful woman applying lipstick to her lips.

Lipsticks are heavy sticks that you drag across your skin, applying a small layer of color in the process. To simplify it down to its bare essentials, lipstick must be solid at room temperature and strong enough to resist breaking under pressure.

Photo of a woman's lips with red lipstick applied.
Soft enough that it will leave behind a layer when you drag it across your skin. The layer stays longer. Even though your lips are one of the places on your face that moves around the most and encounters lots of water.


Oily ingredients, including waxes, waxy pastes, and oils, make up the majority of lipstick formulations. This is sometimes referred to as the lipstick base. You must find a good mix between being firm enough to prevent breaking and delicate enough to easily leave a lovely coating on your lips.

These greasy materials are very hydrophobic and water-repellent. This is crucial since drinking and spitting causes your lips to come into contact with a lot of water. Waxes are typically found to be lipstick's more substantial constituents. They are referred to as structural agents and are responsible for the sturdy structure of lipstick.

A red lipstick sitting on a blue surface.

Some of the most common solid wax ingredients that you’ll see are Carnauba Wax, candelilla wax, beeswax, microcrystalline wax, and ozokerite. These all have really high melting points above 60 degrees or 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

In spite of being on your lips or in a cool handbag, this keeps your lipstick mostly solid. In general, lipstick gets tougher the more wax it contains. At ambient temperatures, they are supple. They will therefore soften the lipstick as a whole to make it easier to apply.

Many of them also function as emollient moisturizers, which keep your lips smooth and hydrated. Different lipsticks utilize a wide variety of substances for this.

Castor oil, shea butter, and fatty esters like isostearyl, Iso stearate are examples of plant oils. Hydrocarbons are the basis for substances like mineral oil and polybutene. Phenol trimethicone is a common silicone.

Oils also give you a shiny finish, so matte lipsticks tend to have a bit less of these. This is why matte lipsticks often have the reputation of being really dry and sucking all the moisture out of your lips.

But the fact that they have fewer oils also means that they tend to last longer on your lips. So they form a harder layer that doesn’t move around and slip around so much.

An important aspect of the base is getting a smooth lipstick. It has to dry into small, microscopic crystals, not larger, chunky ones. This means the lipstick applies more smoothly and is less prone to breaking. A small layer of lipstick can be left behind without breaking off a large chunk.


The lipstick's hue is a result of the pigment. Lipstick's placement on your mouth is one of its key features. This indicates that it is one of the few cosmetics that we will actually consume a significant amount of.

Not as many as the places that spread fear would have you think. However, you do end up eating a fair amount of it. Because of this, some pigments are only permitted at particular doses or are completely prohibited from use in lip cosmetics.

The base contains a dispersion of the color pigment. This implies that instead of dissolving the base, it is broken down into tiny, microscopic fragments and distributed uniformly inside the base, giving the impression that the color is continuous.

It is like protein powder and a protein shake, but blended really well. You get a much nicer-looking lipstick if the pigments are ground up really finely and spread out really evenly in the base. The color additives in lipstick are usually in the final section of an ingredient list.

In the lipstick range, the lipstick base stays the same, and it’s just the pigments that change. That’s why you usually don’t see a range of lipsticks that have both matte and shiny finishes, but you usually see a range that has the same finish and different colors in it.

It’s relatively easy to change the pigments in lipstick, but if you want to change the finish, you have to change the oil. That means you have to re-jig the whole base, and this is a lot more effort.

There are lots of different pigments that you’ll see in lipsticks. These are things like inorganic colors like iron oxide organic colors and their lake versions, which have names like red 7 or red 7-lake.

There’s also carmine, which comes from crushed beetles. You’ll see white pigments as well, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. This makes your lipstick darker. So, when you apply it to your lips, it covers the color of your natural lip.

It looks more like the color in the tube than your lips, plus the color in the tube. There are also effect pigments and lipsticks, and this is how you get a glittery, shimmery, pearly, or matte finish. For shimmery effects, lipsticks use larger particles than your color pigments would; these are things like mica, bismuth oxychloride, and pearl.

These are usually added near the end of the lipstick-making process. So, you don’t end up mixing it too much and smashing it up. Not having these big flecks anymore. With matte lipstick, sometimes there’s still a bit too much oil for it to look properly matte, and so there’ll be something added like silica or clay.

On top of that, you want the lipstick to stay good for longer, so you have preservatives and antioxidants. Lipsticks are generally easier to preserve than other cosmetic products because they don’t contain water; they’re very oil-based.

That makes it a lot harder for mold and bacteria to get a foothold. So, usually, it’s just the surface of lipstick that’s a bit of a worry. So, preservatives like parabens and phenoxyethanol are added to stop bacteria and mold from growing on the surface.

But the big problem with oils and butter is that they tend to go rancid when they’re exposed to oxygen for too long. Antioxidants prevent this from happening. You’ll see things like vitamin E, BHA, and BHT.

But the oils and waxes in the base can still go rancid because, if you think about the lifetime of the lipstick, it’s relatively long. Oils and waxes on their own already sort of smell and taste funny. Like we don’t go around drinking oil for a reason. So, to hide this funny taste and funny smell, we have flavors and fragrances in there as well.

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