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The Lipstick Chronicals: What makes some lipsticks stick for up to 12 hours?

July 6, 2009

The crowds have gone wild for the new Colorstay Ultimate Liquid Lipstick from Revlon, launched in the USA in April of this year. Why? Because it is a one step, food proof, no smudge, 12 hour lasting and comfortable lipstick. Wow, sounds amazing!  To truly appreciate this fine feat of chemical engineering one needs to take a little look through history….

The early days

Grind up some pigment in a castor oil (Vegetable based) oil, mix this with some beeswax and harden. Voila!

This sounds oh so simple but getting a good dispersion and a great colour intensity  takes some hard work and a lot of grinding.  On the wear-ability scale these lipsticks won’t go the distance and will wipe off and wear off quite quickly – especially once you chow down into a nice greasy meal. Why? Well, this is because in chemistry terms like dissolves like and your oily pigment dispersion will be rubbed onto the first bit of oil you touch be that food or your hand or your partners lips!

Moving on a bit

Put the coloured bit (pigments) into a silicone base and make sure  some of the silicones volatile so that they evaporate once applied to the lips (to set it!)

Max Factor’s  lipfinity was one such product, prommising  durability and a kiss proof finish.  This was great and because we don’t come into contact with silicone so often in our day to day life the lipstick remained lip stuck for a good few hours.  The only problem with this was the matt finish.

Lets get glossy.

Prepare the first step as above and then make it glossy by adding a top coat!  The top coat consists of waxes and esters that don’t react with the base layer and form a hard to remove film from the lips.

Max Factor took its earlier attempts at long wear and created Lipfinity 12 hour wear lipstick utilising this two step technology. L’Oreal, Revlon, Estee Lauder….. the list goes on, all have something to offer those looking for long wear with gloss via a two step process.  However, this is not the end of the story.

All together now

OK so this time we are going to make our pigment dispersion in a base that doesn’t rub off and  that leaves the lips nice and shiny – All in one step!   The product that we have all been waiting for is finally here.

There are a few trick ingredients in this lipstick. The first ingredient to be found on the label is Isododecane. This is a solvent which is used to make things spread nicely. It feels very light on the skin and mixes well with silicones. In this formulation the Isododecane is used as a clay blend with Distearidmonium Hectorite.  This sounds awfully complex but it isn’t really. This modified clay helps to prevent the lipstick from sweating and helps the lipstick to withstand higher temperatures than a traditional lippy – making it more stable.

Another important ingredient in this mixture is the Dimethicone and  Trimethylsiloxisilicate. Again, these two ingredients would have probably been added as one proprietory blended silicone to give the lipstick good film forming properties, to improve wash off resistance and to give emolliency (moisturising) to the lips.

Finally we need to shine and that is where the polyethylene comes in. Polyethylene is a very versatile ingredient and depending on its size and weight can bring a whole range of properties to a formulation from Shine to film forming and thickening of the lipstick.

Mix all of that with your pigments and the dispersing agent (C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate) and you are in business – A lipstick that sticks, shines and moisturises all in one.


As you can see from above, a lot of chemistry goes into today’s top shelf lip sticks ensuring that you stay looking groomed and runway ready whatever you are doing.  I wonder what they will think up next?


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