Lipstick is an instant pick-me-up, with a track record as a recession-proof makeup item women can't get enough of. It is also having a fashion revival, so there's no escaping exhortations to pucker up prettily.
Tinted balms in a proper canister are the newest thing, bringing a grown-up look to a first lipstick for girls. These offer shine and some conditioning, so are also good for older women who don't like a lot of makeup, but want a hint of colour. Personally I'd rather go for a definite lipstick and then wear a genuine balm overnight to make sure my lips are in optimum condition for more colour. What I am always on the lookout for is colour-saturated lipsticks that last reasonably well without a drying feel.
A claim to be "moisturising and long-lasting" is pretty much the standard pitch for most brands' main lipstick lines these days, but that doesn't mean they all deliver. Increasingly though, they have what is known in the trade as a "light lip feel" which is at least pleasant to wear and one of the main reasons for the resurgent popularity of lipstick. There's a big variation in whether ingredients are truly moisturising or just slick on the surface, with the chosen colour pigment also affecting the feeling over time. (If you opt for a natural brand, you may find this gentler on your lips, but the colour selections are more limited.)
So it's a trade-off, which explains why most women stick to a more moisturising neutral by day and save the high maintenance, high-impact look for special occasions. If you're after a colour to last try a matte or semi-matte finish, but if you're not used to wearing this texture it will feel heavier than most modern moisturising formulas.
If "feel" is more important to you than staying power, then expect to touch up more often. This is particularly so with some of the higher-shine, lighter-feel lipsticks which brands have been adding to their ranges lately.
If you favour subtle colours close to your own lip tone, "disappearance" is less of an issue, although shades lighter than your natural lip tone don't look good when they wear away. The bulk of lipstick sales are for finishes neither too shiny nor too matte, and to test their stickability I swipe the colour on the back of my hand and check how it has lasted a few hours later. Write off colours that are all but gone an hour after application. Lasting, to me, means only having to touch up every three to four hours or after a meal.
Gloss wearers, on the other hand, don't seem to mind constantly dabbing the stuff on.
It all comes down to individual preference and here's another tip: sniff before you buy. I don't wear one prestige brand's lipsticks, because I don't enjoy their distinctive scent. There's also two budget brands' lipstick lines which I avoid because they smell of coconut and vanilla.
But in the past I've happily recommended two out of three of these lipsticks because it would be unfair for my opinion on their fragrance to sway my judgment against their sound performance.
Ultimately you have to simply buy the shade you like best and give it a go. At least the purchase needn't break the bank. You can get a good lipstick for under $25. Double that and you can buy an entry level offering for a luxury brand.
Whether you are swayed by a good price or prestige packaging, there's no doubting that with lipstick, either is just a quick swipe away.
For sheer design cleverness it is hard to go past Guerlain Automatique Hydrating Long Lasting Lip Colour ($65) which comes in a lidless-canister which you can open with one hand. Pull down on a little lever and the top slides back allowing the lipstick to push up. The glamorous grown-up gold packaging is another bonus for this medium-weight lipstick. (From Smith & Caughey's.)
Honourable mentions: Chanel's Rouge Allure ($59) and Lancome L'Absolu ($57) are other lipsticks that defy usual design conventions. The Chanel opens by pushing down on the smart black canister, thus releasing its gold inner-case. The black Lancome tube gives a satisfying click when a magnet snaps its lid back into position.
This one could take the prize for best new nude too, delivering a lovely moisturising feel drawn from credible natural ingredients. Karren Murrell Sandstorm ($29.95) uses lasting carnauba wax and hydrating plant oils, plus less obvious ingredients such as cinnamon to encourage plumper lips. I personally prefer the Aucklander's first deeper nude shade called Cordovan Natural, but for those who don't look washed out in paler colours, this creamier, sandier shade is right on trend.
Honourable mentions: Dr Hauschka Limited Edition Inner Glow Lipsticks ($49) come in five strong colours. New Zealand's own Antipodes and Living Nature also make decent, but less slick natural lipsticks.
We don't mean the ever reliable Blistex here or tints in tubes, but the sort of balm that wants to be a lipstick when it grows up. Revlon ColorBurst Lip Butter ($24.50) takes our prize. The gel-like formula with mango, shea and coconut butter glides on easily to shine and smooth and there are 20 shades to choose from, with quick selection aided by the colour-matched lids. You won't get fully saturated colour, but this offers more depth than other similar other products, making it akin to a sheer lipstick.
Honourable mentions: L'Oreal Color Riche Nutri Balm ($14.95) has a similar feel, but with barely there colour. Covergirl NatureLuxe Gloss Balm ($15.99) and Max Factor Xperience Sheer Gloss Balm ($19.99) are tube-style options to check out.
Of all the lipstick categories this probably disappoints me the most. While a light look is the point, the colours generally don't last at all well and considering that a number of prestige brands are using these lipsticks to woo younger customers, some may wonder where their money went, especially when comparing the often similar results with some of the balms.
Notwithstanding that comment, YSL Volupte Sheer Candy ($65) gets my vote because it is like a macaron compared with a candy chew. Frivolous, fun and oh so French.
Honourable mentions: Shiseido Perfect Rouge Sheer ($51) is a sound choice and Chanel Rouge Coco Shine ($59) looks chic.
BEST OF THE REST
Best value: The constantly changing colour choice sees fashion-forward Top Shop ($22.50) nudge ahead of the more glam L'Oreal Paris Color Riche ($23.99) and Max Factor Colour Elixir ($24.99), plus the moister, safer shades of Maybelline Color Sensational ($20.99). Covergirl Lip Perfection ($16.99) and Rimmell Lasting Finish ($14.99) are the steals.
Best matte: M.A.C makes the biggest and best range of vivid matte shades, and Top Shop does some economical ones, but my choice is Chanel Rouge Allure Velvet ($59) which is as richly cosseting as the name suggests. It's demi-matte, but the hint of a surface sheen only adds to the all-round appeal, plus it has more staying power than the standard Chanel lipstick.
Best care: Like a balm for more mature women, treatment sheers are lipsticks with a dual purpose. Bobbi Brown Lip Treatment Sheer SPF15 ($54) is a good one and Nars Pure Sheer SPF Lip Treatment ($64) does something similar, but the prices of these skinny minis seem to me, well, a bit balmy.
Best colour: M.A.C wins hands' down for its shade selection from nudes to brights and darks and an unmatched variety of textures. Nars is up there and Dior's reds are divine. Bobbi Brown offers the best consultant matching service for colours to suit your skin tones and as a self-serve selection L'Oreal Paris does colour-coding well.
Best all-rounder: Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Ultra Lipstick ($49), Revlon Colorburst ($26.50), Estee Lauder Pure Color ($57) and Shiseido Perfect Rouge ($51) offer good formulas and plenty of choices, but Lancome L'Absolu ($57) edges them with a more luxurious look and feel, with its pinks particularly enticing.
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