Have We Fallen Out of Love With Lipstick? ‘Skinification’ Is Shifting Our Use of Lip Products

Photo: Getty Images / Delmaine Donson
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The lipstick index describes the increase of makeup sales, particularly those of lipsticks and glosses, during times of economic uncertainty. Leonard Lauder, who first coined the term, hypothesized that, in the face of a gloomy economy, consumers turn to little luxuries as affordable agents of escapism.

But that logic doesn’t really hold when economic uncertainty stems from a global pandemic, particularly one that necessitates covering the lower halves of faces with a protective mask. Market research company the NPD Group reported that within the overall makeup category slump of 2020, lip products were hit hardest, down 41 percent year-over-year. After all, there’s little reason to bother applying Ruby Woo to lips that are hidden beneath an N95.

Experts In This Article
  • AJ Addae, AJ Addae is the founder and formulator of Sula Labs, a cosmetic laboratory specializing in black-owned beauty brand product development.
  • Melinda Solares, Melinda Solares is a pioneering beauty director for Sephora, and is the first Cuban to fulfill the role for the company.
  • Yarden Horwitz, Yarden Horwitz is the co-founder of Spate, a consumer trend researching and reporting company.

While the lip category has bounced back over the last three years, new launches have been decidedly, well, different—most notably, the lack of traditional lip formulas like lipsticks and glosses. 2023’s lip cosmetic offerings feature the likes of lip oils, tinted balms, plumping treatments, and hybrid formulations.

“In my many years working in beauty, I have observed there is almost always a connection between our collective climate and these kinds of category shifts that happen,” explains Melinda Solares, a beauty director at Sephora. “Years of covering our mouths made the beauty community miss lip products.”

Masks aren’t the only reason we’re seeing a major shift in the lip category, Solares adds. Turns out a lot of us want a little more skin care in our lip products.

The great skinification of, well... everything

The collective focus on well-being and self-care throughout the pandemic led to the rise of “skinification,” the presence of traditional facial-care ingredients, benefits, trends, and claims across the beauty and personal care categories. According to Yarden Horwitz, co-founder of trend-forecasting agency Spate, this quickly translated to makeup, “where we’ve seen marked increase in searches for skin tints, tinted lip balms, and lip oils, among others.”

The average beauty consumer knows more about skin care and ingredients than ever before, and Solares believes the blurring of the lines between skin care and other beauty categories was inevitable, especially given improvements in technology.

For AJ Addae, founder and formulator of R&D cosmetic lab Sula Labs, skinification is a direct result of those advancements in research and development. "I think ‘skinfication’ is a really exciting trend from a research perspective, because it reinforces the idea that the same approaches we have seen to optimizing facial skin function are very valuable for applications for other areas such as the hair and nails," she says. "Lip products have definitely been following suit in the research side of things lately, and it shows in the rollout of products that we have been seeing."

Makeup brands that feature traditional skin-care ingredients in their formulations are no longer the outliers—it’s now table stakes.

Today’s lip service

“Personally, I am a huge fan of a traditional, full-pigment lip color, but I have become obsessed with the comfort and benefits of lip products that can offer more,” Solares says, echoing the sentiments of many consumers.  At the moment, lip oils reign supreme within the lip cosmetic category. Spate reports a 30-percent year-over-year increase in search volume for lip oils, based on U.S. search history through March 2023. Sephora lists more than 25 different lip oils on its site, many of which launched within the last three years.

Tinted lip balms have also gained popularity, with a 19.1-percent year-over-year increase in searches, per Spate research. Coincidentally, out of the 47 lip products listed on Ulta’s website under new arrivals at the time of publish, nine are tinted lip balms. Of the remaining 38 products, eight are lipsticks and six are glosses.

Lip plumping products are back, too, though today’s offerings are decidedly less irritating and painful. There's also a rise in hybrid products like Makeup by Mario’s new MoistureGlow Plumping Lip Color, which lists its formulation type as “lip gloss/lip balm and treatment/liquid lipstick/lip plumper." Solares points to Rare Beauty’s new Soft Pinch Tinted Lip Oils, which feature an innovative gel-to-oil formula that starts glossy and leaves lips tinted.

What's next

So where do we go from here? Our experts all agree that the inspiration for tomorrow’s lip innovations is twofold: The trend cycle continues to rule the beauty industry, but the future is also dependent on innovation. Solares foresees a resurgence in tints, though with a modern-day twist. Meanwhile, Addae believes skin-care approaches will continue to drive new innovations. “I think we will be seeing a lot more sun care applications in the lip category as well," she says. "As more research becomes available, I think consumers will become more aware of UV-induced photoaging of the lip area, as the perioral area is a telltale area that displays some of the first signs of skin aging.”

In the meantime, shop some of our favorite of-the-moment, cutting-edge lip oils, balms, plumpers, and hybrid treatment products.

Dior, Addict Lip Glow — $40.00

Think of Dior Addict Lip Glow as the viral Lip Glow Oil’s cool older sister. It boasts the holy trinity of benefits—long-wearing, hydrating, and slightly plumping—all with the comfort and wearability of a balm.

Though it comes in 15 shades, the formula is infused with a color-reviver technology that adapts to the pH of lips to subtly customize whatever hue you choose.

Makeup by Mario, MoistureGlow Plumping Lip Color — $33.00

The latest launch from celebrity makeup artist Mario Dedivanovic is a unique hybrid gloss-balm-treatment-liquid-lipstick-plumper. The innovative formula is infused with water to create a juicy, weightless sensation on application despite the full-coverage, high-shine finish. It’s everything you love about a liquid lipstick, lip balm, gloss, and plumper, all in one tube.

Stila, Calligraphy Lip Stain — $25.00

This double-duty lip stain features a calligraphy-style applicator that allows for precision lining and even, all-over color distribution depending on how it’s used. The sheer, non-drying formula comes in eight buildable shades that boast an eight-hour wear time.

Summer Fridays, Lip Butter Balm — $31.00

Summer Fridays Lip Butter Balm is first and foremost a balm, so it soothes and hydrates dry lips instantaneously. But the ultra-nourishing formula also comes in five sheer-but-pigmented shades that make the product a true skincare-makeup hybrid.

Rare Beauty, Soft Pinch Tinted Lip Oil — $26.00

An innovative gel-to-oil formula starts glossy and dries down into a medium-coverage tint that’s surprisingly comfortable. It’s non-sticky and leaves lips looking smooth and soft all day long. And it layers seamlessly, so users can opt for a wash of color or a bolder pop.

Tarte Maracuja, Juicy Lip Balm — $31.00

Tarte Maracuja Juicy Lip Balm is part lip gloss, part lip balm, part lip color, and part lip treatment—which, in essence, amounts to a glossy, tinted lip balm. The formula features a cushion comfort complex that subtly plumps the lips and smooths the appearance of lip lines.

NYX, Fat Oil Lip Drip Vegan Lip Oil — $9.00

Often compared to formulas triple the price, NYX’s Fat Oil Lip Drip is a seriously impressive, wallet-friendly take on the lip oil trend. The ultra-glossy formula delivers up to 12 hours of hydration and features along with an XL doe foot applicator for easy application.

Hourglass, Phantom Volumizing Glossy Balm — $47.00

Hourglass Phantom Volumizing Glossy Balm comes in eight vampy hues that leave lips plump and juicy. The lip gloss/balm formula features a high-shine, vinyl finish that conditions lips.

Fenty Beauty, Poutsicle Hydrating Lip Stain — $35.00

This feather- and bleed-resistant lip stain features an oil-in-water formula that imparts long-lasting hydration. The stain goes on glossy and fades into a soft, but distinctly pigmented tint.

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