Literature scholars love pretending to be scientists or mathematicians, so bear with me while I explain the rubric I worked out after several false starts. I've ranked my lipstick formulas from 1 to 5 on each of three criteria: soothing, concealing, and long-wearing. When my lips are especially dry, I look for two qualities in a lipstick: a soothing formula and enough pigment and opacity to conceal flaws (flaking skin, healing cuts, vertical lines). I use the word "soothing" instead of "moisturizing" or "hydrating" because, in my experience, few if any lipsticks actually impart moisture to the lips. The most I can hope for is comfort. (Glosses are another matter, but they're also matter for another post.) I don't expect any of my lipsticks to wear especially long, but I've found that "long-wearing" is not always code for "hellishly drying," which makes me wonder how closely those two qualities correspond across lipstick formulas. Hence the third criterion. I considered applying my rubric to all of my lipsticks, but decided for sanity's sake (yours and mine) to focus on the nine formulas I find most comfortable. I've alphabetized them by brand because I can't think of a better way to do it.
A big caveat here: lip comfort is subjective, as are chemical sensitivities and allergies. You can't always predict how your skin will react to one chemical or another. I'm recommending the formulas that make my lips feel less like death of a winter morning, but as ever in the beauty world, ymmv.
Bite Matte Lipstick
Shade tried: Custom shade from Bite Lipstick Lab in NYC! I named it "Aviation," in honor of its purple color and violet scent (Aviations are made with crème de violette) and Bite's usual boozy nomenclature.
Note: I think Bite must be phasing out its conventional matte lipsticks in favor of the new matte lip crayons, because I can't find the lipsticks anywhere online. Just as well: Bite's "matte" lipstick formula is not really matte. This is a standard satin lipstick, just a bit more opaque than the Luminous Creme formula. I wish it were longer-wearing: I love the color but hate leaving purple lip prints everywhere. Still, it's very comfortable for dry lips, and it makes me want to try more Bite products in the future.
MAC Amplified Creme Lipstick
Shades tried: Up the Amp, Vegas Volt (returned)
Note: I find MAC's Amplified Creme formula to be very comfortable, but when I sent a tube of Up the Amp to my mother, she wore it for a single day and developed a rash that took weeks to fade. She still gives me grief about it! I've never heard of MAC lipsticks doing this to anyone else, but if you have especially sensitive skin, it may be something to keep in mind.
Maybelline Color Sensational Vivid Lipstick
Shades tried (from left): On Fire Red, Vibrant Mandarin, Vivid Rose, Brazen Berry, Fuchsia Flash
Note: Of these five, On Fire Red and Vivid Rose are very opaque; the others have a slight translucency that might not cover all imperfections, but the squishy, shiny finish does help to fill in lip lines.
NARS Sheer Lipstick
Shades tried: Dolce Vita (l), Flamenco (r)
Concealing: 2 (Dolce Vita), 4 (Flamenco)
Revlon Lip Butter
Shades tried (from left): Raspberry Pie, Candy Apple, Red Velvet, Pink Truffle
Note: There's a frustrating amount of variation between Lip Butter shades. Pink Truffle earned the 1 for soothing, but the others work fine on dry lips, with Candy Apple and Red Velvet both deserving 4s. Concealment factor differs from shade to shade, but all of the above are more opaque than you'd expect a sheer lipstick to be.
Revlon Matte Balm
Shades tried: Sultry (l), Mischievous (r)
Concealing: 1 (Mischievous), 5 (Sultry)
Note: Sultry is one of my favorite lipsticks for concealing dryness and other flaws, because rosy mauve color + non-cakey soft matte finish = flaws, what flaws? I assume the same is true of the other deep shades in the Matte Balm line, like berry-red Standout. Mischievous, on the other hand, is suitable only for the smoothest of lips. I can wear it without issues maybe twice a year. Avoid.
Revlon Super Lustrous Crème Lipstick
Shades tried (from left): Fire and Ice, Cherries in the Snow, Primrose, Mauvy Night, Berry Haute
Note: All of these lipsticks feel great on my lips, but Cherries in the Snow and Fire and Ice are by far the most pigmented (thus concealing) and long-lasting. Here I am wearing Cherries in the Snow yesterday, with particularly desiccated lips:
Revlon Super Lustrous Shine Lipstick
Shade tried: Plum Velour
Topshop Matte Lip Bullet
Shade tried: Get Me Bodied
And a few conclusions:
- High-end lipsticks don't seem more or less likely to suit my lips than drugstore lipsticks. (YSL's Rouge Pur Couture and Glossy Stain formulas didn't make the list; neither did NARS' Velvet Matte Lip Pencils, despite my undying love for Mysterious Red.) I do think you often get what you pay for in terms of evenness, finish, and pigmentation. But in terms of comfort? Not always.
- "Matte" doesn't necessarily mean "drying"; "shiny" or "creamy" doesn't necessarily mean "hydrating." This took me a long time to figure out. In my experience, all true flat mattes (e.g. NARS lip pencils) will be somewhat drying, but there are lots of modern mattes (e.g. Topshop Lip Bullets) that don't have that effect.
- None of the formulas I've mentioned have shimmer. Granted, I don't buy many shimmery lipsticks, but I do find that shimmer or glitter or frost tends to decrease the soothing power of a lipstick.